Which Holiday Foods Are Worth Making From Scratch Versus Buying From the Store?

High prices at the grocery store have more people asking whether they should make their favorite recipes from scratch or buy ready-to-eat.

Thanksgiving dinner complete with a roasted turkey on a bed of citrus and fresh herbs, gravy, a beet salad, mashed sweet potatoes and wine all on a purple tablecloth-lined table.
Photo: Brie Passano/Food Stylist: Lauren McAnelly/Art Director: Kyli Hassebrock/Allrecipes

Over the past few months, we've been seeing record-high grocery prices, and those high prices can certainly impact our wallets when it comes to shopping for festive holiday meals to share with loved ones. The question that's popping into a lot of our minds now as we prep for family and friends is, should we make everything from scratch, or buy ready-to-eat? Which is more cost-effective?

To try and answer the question, we checked in with Alyssa Pike, a registered dietician, and senior manager of nutrition communications with the International Food Information Council (IFIC). We also shopped options at our local stores for cost comparisons.

Pike suggests that when deciding whether to go homemade or store-bought, consider how many people you'll be feeding; how much time each recipe will take to make; and how much the ingredients will cost versus buying a store-bought option. Also, before going to the grocery store, take stock of what you already have in your pantry.

"When it comes to prepping for a big holiday dinner, we often default to going right to the grocery store or restaurant without taking inventory of what's already in our kitchen," Pike tells Allrecipes. "The first place I would begin is in your own fridge and pantry. Do you already have a few ingredients that could be used in a homemade dish or dessert? Or, would it be simpler and faster to choose an already prepared option?"

Make or Buy — By the Numbers

Shopping at our local stores, we found a fully-cooked turkey dinner from Publix that serves 7-10 people for $65 in Florida (price at the time of publication). The meal includes one 10- to 12-pound fully-cooked turkey, 2 1/2 pounds of dressing, 2 1/2 pounds of mashed potatoes, 32 ounces of gravy, 28 ounces of marshmallow delight, and 16 ounces of cranberry orange relish. By our math, buying each of these prepared items à la carte, including a fully-cooked turkey to finish at home, comes to a total of about $80.

If we break down the cost of making similar dishes from scratch at home, buying all of the ingredients needed, a similar meal totals $102. Here is the breakdown:

Smaller Gatherings

If you're hosting an intimate gathering for the holidays, from 2-4 guests, we took a look at costs there, too. Shopping at Publix in Florida again, we found a turkey dinner that serves that range for $40. In addition to 1 1/2 pounds of Boar's Head Turkey Breast, the meal includes 1 pound of dressing, 1 pound of mashed potatoes, 14 ounces of marshmallow delight, and 16 ounces of cranberry orange relish. Buying each of these prepared items à la carte, including the turkey breast, comes to a total of about $40 as well.

If we break down the cost of making similar dishes from scratch at home, buying all of the ingredients needed, the meal totals about $100 with plenty of leftovers (unless you halve the recipes below, which will reduce costs):

Buying Just the Sides

"For larger dishes like stuffing, sweet potatoes, or cranberry sauce, buying ingredients at the grocery store could be the more cost-effective option," says Pike. "One way to compare prices is by locating the price per ounce of a food item at the grocery store. It should be located in very small print next to the price of the item on the shelf. This is a helpful way to compare the cost of items that come in various sizes."

For comparison, we found that around the holidays Whole Foods offers a Classic Just-the-Sides Package for 4 for $55 (price at the time of publication); including green beans with roasted shallots, creamy mashed potatoes, traditional herb stuffing, cranberry orange sauce, and turkey gravy. Its Southern Just-the-Sides Package for 4 comes in at $65 and includes green bean casserole, maple mashed sweet potatoes, corn pudding, cranberry orange sauce, and turkey gravy.

Again, if we break down the cost of making similar dishes from scratch at home and bought all of the ingredients needed, the dishes could total close to $120:

The Bottom Line? Do What Works for You

Of course, holiday meals aren't necessarily an all-or-nothing scenario. Maybe you go the route of picking up prepared side dishes and making the turkey at home, just the way you like it. Or, pick up a cooked turkey and focus on sides, like your grandmother's asparagus casserole and the cornbread dressing recipe that's been handed down for generations. Or maybe you forego traditional entrées altogether and make the meal all your own.

"Ultimately, how much time, energy, and money you are able or want to spend on your holiday meal will decide if you should focus on homemade dishes or store-bought," says Pike.

"The holidays are a hectic time, so try not to put pressure on yourself to go the exclusively homemade route," she adds.

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