Louisiana cooks shopping for Thanksgiving will find the costs of basic dinner items up this year. The 2010 Thanksgiving market basket will average $40.64 for 10 people, according to an LSU AgCenter survey.

“That’s an increase of $3.12 from last year’s Baton Rouge average of $37.52 – or an increase of 9 percent,” said LSU AgCenter family economist Jeanette Tucker.

The cost of a 16-pound turkey at $16.28, or roughly $1.02 per pound, reflects an increase of 18 cents per pound or a total increase of $2.81 per turkey. "This is the largest contributor to the overall increase in the cost of the 2010 Thanksgiving dinner," Tucker said.

Turkeys are still a bargain

While this reflects a notable change, Tucker said turkey remains a bargain for the frugal shopper – healthy, delicious, lean meat for around $1 per pound. She said the cost increase could be attributed to several factors, notably higher grain costs that have increased the cost of production of food animals. Poultry production also is down from historic levels.

The LSU AgCenter and Farm Bureau surveys both looked for the best possible prices without taking advantage of special promotional coupons or purchase deals.

Research suggests that four out of five Thanksgiving turkeys are sold on a holiday special. U.S. Department of Agriculture research in 2004 found that whole, frozen turkeys sold in November were two-thirds the cost consumers paid for similar turkeys during the other 11 months of the year.

"This suggests that many consumers will probably purchase Thanksgiving turkeys for considerably less than either survey reports," Tucker said. With projected holiday price decreases, wise shoppers may wish to purchase a second turkey to keep in the freezer for future low-cost meals.

Other food items up .... and down in price

Other items that showed a price increase include three pounds sweet potatoes, $2.66 (up 45 cents); 12-ounce cubed stuffing mix, $2.84 (up 41 cents); 12- ounce bag of fresh cranberries, 2.85 (up 33 cents); one gallon of whole milk, $4.07 (up 19 cents); 30-ounce pumpkin pie mix, $2.73 (up 5 cents); and 16-ounce frozen green peas, $1.31 (up 2 cents).

Items showing a price decrease this year include 12-ounce brown and serve rolls, $1.63 (down 50 cents); two 9-inch pie shells, $2.15 (down 29 cents); and 8 ounces of whipping cream, $1.62 (down 16 cents).

The Farm Bureau study didn’t provide enough information to replicate the costs for a group of miscellaneous items such as coffee, celery, carrots and other ingredients necessary to prepare the meal – onions, eggs, sugar, flour, evaporated milk and butter.

"Thus, the AgCenter used last year’s national average of $2.50," Tucker said.

Consumer Price Index data indicate the cost of food at home increased 1.4 percent during the 12-month period ending in September 2010. The 9 percent increase in the cost of the Thanksgiving market basket suggests these items saw greater price increases than the market as a whole.

The Farm Bureau survey was first conducted in 1986 when the average cost of a Thanksgiving meal for 10 was $28.74. According to Consumer Price Index data, the 1986 Thanksgiving market basket would cost $57.28 in 2010 dollars, indicating the real cost of the holiday meal has actually decreased over time.

“On average, American consumers have enjoyed stable food costs over the years, particularly when you adjust for inflation,” Tucker said.

Consumers can enjoy a wholesome, home-cooked turkey dinner for just over $4 per person - less than a typical fast food meal. “That’s a real bargain in these challenging economic times,” Tucker noted.

Shopping tips

The family economist offers several tips for saving money when shopping for the Thanksgiving meal:

– Always use a list and minimize the number of trips to the store.

– Develop the list based on store layout to save time as well as money.

– Shop alone and avoid going to the store just before a meal.

– Check store ads and flyers for money-saving specials.

– Use coupons to reduce the cost of products you usually buy and use.

– Purchase generic or store brands when practical and money-saving.

– Remember that items placed at eye level on shelves are often more expensive.

– Purchase fruits, vegetables and fresh seafood in season to avoid higher prices.

– Purchase fresh, unpeeled, unwashed, unpackaged vegetables.

– Buy in bulk whenever practical to save on costs per ounce or pound.

– Determine the cost per serving when selecting meats.

– Check unit pricing to save money.

– Avoid expensive single servings and snack packs.

– Be flexible to take advantage of in-store specials.