Thanksgiving Budgets: Dollars and Sense

Author: V. Todd Miller at [email protected]

In Louisiana and across America, consumers must contend with rising grocery costs year-round.

As Thanksgiving approaches, there’s finally good news for local shoppers preparing for a big holiday meal. The average cost in Louisiana of ingredients for a Turkey Day spread for 10 people is $50.43, according to the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation.

That’s $6.98 less than the national average for last year and $13.62 less than the 2022 national average.

This lower Thanksgiving dinner price is welcomed this holiday season.

“As costs go down, we can focus on the true meaning of vacation while keeping tabs on our calorie, fat and sodium intake,” said Jennifer Duhon, a registered dietitian and regional coordinator for the LSU AgCenter.

She suggests using the US Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate as a sane guide to healthy holiday eating. MyPlate recommends filling half of each plate with fruits and vegetables.

According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, approximately 90% of the US population does not meet the recommendation for vegetables and 80% does not consume enough fruit. There’s plenty of room for produce on holiday menus, however, Duhon said.

Green bean casserole is a family tradition for many, and green beans are a great source of fiber, vitamin C, and folate.

“To lighten up the calories, fat and sodium, substitute plain Greek yogurt for the canned cream-based soup,” Duhon said. “This gives a tangy flavor and added protein.”

Sweet potatoes are another Louisiana tradition. Instead of a high-calorie casserole, Duhon suggests opting for an easy baked recipe.

“Sweet potatoes are a low-calorie, fat-free, nutrient-dense source of healthy carbohydrates, fiber, and many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, potassium, and vitamin C,” she said.

As the star of the Thanksgiving meal, turkey is an excellent choice for lean protein. A 3-ounce serving of turkey provides 135 to 170 calories, 22 grams of protein, and numerous other vitamins and minerals, according to AgCenter nutritionist and ServSafe-certified instructor Quincy Vidrine.

She dispelled a long-standing myth about the bird.

“Turkey contains the amino acid tryptophan, which you may have heard causes drowsiness after the big meal,” Vidrine said. “But the turkey isn’t high enough to induce drowsiness on its own. The feeling of a food coma is most likely due to overindulgence in many different foods.”

According to Vidrine, physical activity is a great way to balance your day. She suggests looking for a local “turkey trot,” which can be anything from a fun 1-mile run to a full 5K. If your community hasn’t planned one, she said, take the lead and start one.

According to Vidrine, defrosting the turkey seems to be what consumers are struggling with the most. She said you should never defrost a turkey on the counter or in the sink. The USDA recommends thawing in the refrigerator, which provides a safe, consistent temperature.

Vidrine suggests planning one day for every 4 to 5 pounds of weight. Therefore, a 20-pound turkey should take about five days to thaw in the refrigerator.

Duhon said he should be careful not to cause cross-contamination. Prepare the turkey without ready meals and fresh produce. Never rinse turkeys or other poultry as this increases the risk of cross-contamination.

Finally, both Duhon and Vidrine said to be careful to cook the turkey to the correct internal temperature: at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. This 20-pound turkey takes about 4 to 4 1/2 hours to cook, unstuffed.

If you have questions about whether the turkey is ready or safe to eat, remember that the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline is available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central Time at 1-888-674-6954. Experts are available for calls from 8am to 2pm on Thanksgiving Day