Farm Bureau survey shows average Thanksgiving meal cost for family of 10 less than $5 per person

Iowans preparing to shop for their annual family Thanksgiving dinner feast can rest assured knowing the traditional meal is still a bargain at just under $5 a serving for a family of 10.  According to the 32nd annual American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Thanksgiving Dinner Price Survey, the average cost for the annual feast comes in this year at $49.12. 

The price survey of the classic staples of a Thanksgiving meal showed a 75-cent decrease from the 2016 average cost of $49.87 and reflects the second consecutive year of a price decrease.  Despite rising food costs for some items at the grocery store, the average Thanksgiving dinner has been stable since 2011, averaging around $50 for a family of 10, and that’s great news for Iowans shopping on a budget.  

With record Iowa soybean and corn yields the past few years, the food supply has been abundant, and in many cases, consumers have seen lower retail prices.  However, the abundant supply available for consumers is reflected in lower commodity prices and extremely tight margins for Iowa farmers. 

“One way Iowa's dairy farmers have responded to lower grain and feed prices is increased production of milk and cheese,” says Tim Johnson, senior research and policy analyst with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF).  

Lower grocery store costs are certainly welcomed by consumers, but the downturned ag economy has seen Iowa farm income drop the past three years.  “With farm income down and margins tight, farmers are looking for ways to diversify and manage through the downturned farm economy,” says Johnson. “While consumers certainly enjoy the savings at the grocery store, the downturned ag economy has forced farmers to take a close look at their operations to remain sustainable. 

Iowa turkey production was disrupted in 2015 due to the highly pathogenic Avian influenza (HPAI), or ‘bird flu,’ yet since that time, retail prices have remained stable for turkey, the centerpiece, and highest priced item of the traditional Thanksgiving meal.  The study also found that turkey supplies are abundant, despite the devastating losses in many flocks. 

“According to the latest USDA NASS analysis, the number of turkeys raised in Iowa surpassed 12 million in 2017, representing a 3 percent increase from the previous year,” says Johnson.  “The overall trend in the U.S. is very similar, also showing slight growth and continuing rebound from lower production in 2015.”

Foods showing the largest decreases this year in addition to turkey were a gallon of whole milk, $2.99; a dozen dinner rolls, $2.26; two 9-inch pie shells, $2.45; a 3-pound bag of sweet potatoes, $3.52; and a 1-pound bag of green peas, $1.53. 

Items that increased moderately this year over last, included a half-pint of whipping cream, $2.08; a 14-ounce package of bread stuffing, $2.81; a 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix, $3.21; a 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries, $2.43; and a 1-pound veggie tray, $.74.           

The full survey shopping list includes turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of celery and carrots, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and beverages of coffee and milk, in quantities sufficient to feed 10 people. 

A total of 141 volunteer shoppers checked grocery store prices in 39 states for the annual Thanksgiving survey.  AFBF’s survey menu has not changed since it was first conducted in 1986 to allow for consistent price comparisons.  For the full Thanksgiving grocery list, infographics and video bites, visit