Turkey countdown: Planning a feast that won't eat your budget

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Thanksgiving Dinner is less than a week away, so there's still time to make a plan for a fabulous feast that falls within your budget. Any cook worth their salt will tell you that waiting until the last minute gets in the way of frugal planning.

This year, you can be thankful that food prices remained stable. The American Farm Bureau Federation calculates a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 this year will cost $49.04. That's 44 cents less than in 2012.

The Associated Press says the Farm Bureau Federation menu averages non-sale prices from around the country for turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and coffee and milk. Just like grandma said, the survey says you pay more for store bought. The Farm Bureau budgets $2.18 for a dozen dinner rolls, but notes that from-scratch cooks can cut almost a dollar off that price.

WISN in Madison has regional numbers from the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, which finds the feast in Wisconsin will cost about a buck less than the national average.

The local Patch sites carried a story about saving money on the meal. It suggested cutting down on multiple side dishes and appetizers in favor of the essentials, andusing seasonal vegetables (like broccoli and Brussels sprouts) that are cheap and plentiful. It also suggested buying boxed wine, then making a switcheroo. "Serve it in a decanter and guests will never know the difference," the story cheerfully advises.

Cooks can expect to pay two to three times more for an organic or heirloom turkey. On MPR, Lynne Rossetto Kasper, host of "The Splendid Table," had no qualms about recommending a budget bird. The renowned food writer says the loss leaders in supermarket freezer cases can be cheaply transformed into tasty fare.

"If you brine that sucker, it will taste fabulous," she promised. (Here's her tips and recipe for brining, from the Splendid Table website. Brining involves submerging the bird in a salty solution prior to roasting it.)

A dietician who writes for the Winona Daily News reminded cooks to allow enough time to safely thaw a frozen turkey. Leave it in its original wrapping and place it on a tray in the refrigerator, allowing five hours per pound defrosting time. For example, a 16-pound turkey would need 80 fridge hours.

Another way to save is not to buy too much. An online Turkey Dinner Calculator figures what size turkey to buy for party. But the Food Network boils it down with the rule of thumb that says you need one pound for every adult at the table. (That allows for leftovers.)

Don't care to roll out pie crust and mash sweet potatoes? Make reservations instead of a turkey. WCCO compiled a list of restaurants that are serving the traditional feast. In the countdown to the big day, online reservation site OpenTable had openings at 33 metro area establishments. Eat out and have plenty of energy for shopping later!

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