When cooks shop for their Thanksgiving meal, they’ll find the cost of the basic dinner items cost more this year but remain affordable, according to LSU AgCenter family economist Jeanette Tucker.

The 2008 Thanksgiving market basket will average $41.30 for 10 people, according to an LSU AgCenter study. That’s up by $4.99 from last year’s Baton Rouge average of $36.31 — an increase of 14 percent.

The study is based on an American Farm Bureau Federation survey, which looked at costs of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream and beverages of coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient to serve a group of 10.

The cost of a 16-pound turkey, at $15.89, or roughly 99 cents per pound, reflects an increase of 14 cents per pound, or a total increase of $2.29 per turkey.

“This is the largest contributor to the overall increase in the cost of the 2008 Thanksgiving dinner,” Tucker said.

Both the LSU AgCenter and Farm Bureau investigations looked for the best possible prices without taking advantage of special promotional coupons or purchase deals. Research suggests that four out of five whole, frozen Thanksgiving turkeys are sold on holiday specials.

U.S. Department of Agriculture research in 2004 found that whole frozen turkeys sold in November were two-thirds the cost that consumers paid for the same 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.

Other items showing a price increase this year included: a 12-ounce cubed stuffing mix, at $2.76 (up 92 cents); two 9-inch pie shells, at $2.46 (up 45 cents); a 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries, at $2.75 (up 43 cents); a 12-ounce package of brown-and-serve rolls, at $1.95 (up 41 cents); and a 30-ounce pumpkin pie mix, at $2.25 (up 27 cents).

These price increases likely can be attributed to inflation, increased labor costs and higher energy prices, which affect processing, packing, refrigeration and shipping.

Items that showed a price decline included: 3 pounds of sweet potatoes, at $2.76 (down 39 cents); a 16-ounce package of frozen green peas, at $1.23 (down 3 cents); and an 8-ounce container of whipping cream, at $1.48 (down 2 cents).

Surprisingly, the cost of a gallon of whole milk was unchanged at $4.48.

Insufficient information was provided by the Farm Bureau study to replicate the cost survey for a combined 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 $3.29,” Tucker said.

Consumer Price Index data indicate that the cost of food at home increased 6.2 percent during the 12-month period ending in September.

“The 11 percent increase in the cost of the Thanksgiving market basket suggests that items in this basket have experienced greater price increases than the market as a whole,” Tucker said.

The Farm Bureau survey was first conducted in 1986 when the average cost of a Thanksgiving meal for 10 was $28.74. According to the Consumer Price Index data, the 1986 Thanksgiving market basket would cost $57.37 in 2008 dollars, indicating that 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 adjusted for inflation.

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

Although the LSU AgCenter does not make any statistical claims about the data, the survey results reveal price trends in Louisiana, the family economist explained.

Tucker offered several tips for saving money when shopping for Thanksgiving:

• Always use a list, and minimize 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 that 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 cost per ounce and pound.

• Determine 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.