Thanksgiving marks the start of what is collectively called the holiday season, a time when families gather, gifts are given, and lots of food is eaten. Rising food costs and a return to larger celebrations will make this Thanksgiving different from a year ago for many. But old favorites like turkey with stuffing and sweet potatoes with marshmallows should also give celebrations a timeless and traditional feel.
Heading into the holidays, the FinanceBuzz team surveyed 1,200 U.S. adults to find out how financial concerns might impact their Thanksgiving meal, which foods are most essential on turkey day, and more.
- Nearly two-thirds of Americans — 63% — expect rising food costs to impact their Thanksgiving celebration this year.
- Almost one in four people (24%) said they may need to cut back on food at Thanksgiving due to rising costs.
- Thanksgiving leftovers are eaten for 3.36 days on average, though 11% report eating leftovers for more than seven days.
- Tradition reigns at the dinner table: Turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes are deemed the most essential foods. When it comes to pie, 45% said pumpkin pie is a must-have.
- Do marshmallows belong on sweet potatoes? 62% of women said yes, and a whopping 76% of men want marshmallows.
The impact of rising food costs on Thanksgiving
Rising food costs will impact how Thanksgiving dinner looks this year. Per the USDA’s food price outlook, grocery prices increased by 3.5% in 2020 and another 2.5% so far in 2021. Those rates are 75% and 25% above the 20-year food inflation average of 2% per year. This underscores how large an impact the supply chain issues are having on grocery prices, and by extension, our wallets.
Another factor that will increase costs for some this year: 39% of people plan to have more guests around the Thanksgiving table this year vs. last.
To combat rising food bills, Americans will look for ways to save at the grocery store with 44% saying they'll be looking for sales more than usual and 25% saying they'll use more coupons than usual. Others may have to take more drastic measures to manage Thanksgiving dinner costs. Almost one-quarter of Americans — 24% — say they may need to cut back on food and 21% will have fewer guests this year because of rising food costs.
The foods that are most essential on Thanksgiving
Regardless of how much it costs in the end, Thanksgiving is all about the food for many. To find out which foods people consider the most essential parts of a traditional Thanksgiving meal, we presented survey respondents with a list of 17 quintessential Thanksgiving dishes. We asked them to pick up to six that they consider the most important parts of a turkey day dinner.
Only seven items were chosen by at least one-third of people, making them the core components of a Thanksgiving meal according to our survey. Turkey led the way, as it was selected by the highest percentage of respondents overall. While turkey coming in first was expected, nearly one-third of people (32%) did not consider the bird to be essential.
Only one other dish was chosen as most essential by more than half of people — an honor that stuffing (or dressing, depending on where you live) earned. It just edged out mashed potatoes to be named the preferred Thanksgiving side dish. Gravy, rolls, cranberry sauce, and sweet potatoes rounded out the most essential Thanksgiving foods.
Controversial Thanksgiving foods
These essential side dishes aren't without controversy. Cranberry sauce can come in many forms, but 68% said cranberry sauce should come from a can.
Another source of debate: Should you put marshmallows on sweet potatoes? The answer was a resounding yes, with 62% of women and 76% of men saying they want marshmallows.
The most essential Thanksgiving pies
Of course, no Thanksgiving meal is complete without a pie for dessert. Nearly 45% of people chose pumpkin as the most essential pie. Apple pie beat out sweet potato for second place.
How long people eat Thanksgiving leftovers
It is common for there to be a large amount of food remaining at the end of turkey day, making the eating of leftovers a Thanksgiving tradition of its own. This is a great way for people to get more value out of their meal, as turning leftovers into creative new dishes like sandwiches and soups can be a tasty way to save money in the days following the holiday.
We found that over 50% of people eat leftovers for two to three days after Thanksgiving. Calculations show that the average person eats leftovers for around 3.36 days. A surprising amount of the population enjoys their Thanksgiving remnants for far longer than that, though. We found that 11% of the population, more than one in 10 people, spend a full week or more eating their holiday leftovers!
Ways to save this Thanksgiving
While rising food costs are poised to make things more expensive this year, Thanksgiving is a holiday that almost always puts a bit of a strain on finances. Here are some tips on how to keep a little extra cash in your wallet on turkey day:
- Optimize your grocery shopping. There are plenty of tips and tricks for savings on groceries, from clipping coupons to using rewards apps to earning cash back by using one of the best credit cards for buying groceries. Approaching a grocery trip with a plan can help your dollar go further when buying Thanksgiving supplies.
- Hack your way to big Costco savings. Costco is already a favorite of cost-conscious shoppers across the country, thanks to their affordable pricing and bulk-sales approach. For savvy shoppers, there are additional Costco hacks that can help wring even more value out of a trip to one of the wholesale giant’s stores.
- Earn rewards when you gas up. Not everyone’s Thanksgiving costs come from hosting, as many people travel across the country to be with family and friends during the holiday. Anyone planning a long drive to be with loved ones should be sure to use one of the best gas credit cards and earn rewards for every fill up along the way.
FinanceBuzz surveyed 1,200 U.S. adults ages 18 or older, who comprise a nationally representative sample, on October 13, 2021.
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