Holiday hullabaloo

Thanksgiving crunch time for shoppers and travelers

JANELLE PATTERSON The Marietta Times Merilee Ward’s haul for this week’s Thanksgiving meal includes a turkey, some stuffing, corn and green beans at Giant Eagle Monday.

Whether you’re traveling to see family or bringing them all home, this week’s holiday gatherings are expected to have more out-of-towners at the table than last year, thanks to a stronger economy.

AAA has projected an increase in the number of people on the roads and in the skies over last year’s numbers, so it may be good for the cooks at home to know that the American Farm Bureau Federation is seeing a decrease in the overall cost of Thanksgiving dinner this year.

“Thanksgiving kicks off the start of a busy holiday season, and more thankful Americans will travel to spend time with friends and family this year,” said Bill Sutherland, AAA senior vice president of travel and publishing. “A strong economy and labor market are generating rising incomes and higher consumer confidence, fueling a strong year for the travel industry, which will continue into the holiday season.”

The Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined as Wednesday to Sunday and AAA projects 50.9 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more away from home this Thanksgiving, a 3.3 percent increase over last year. The 2017 holiday weekend will see the highest Thanksgiving travel volume since 2005 with 1.6 million more people taking to the nation’s roads, skies, rails and waterways compared with last year. AAA and INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, predict travel times in the most congested cities in the U.S. during the holiday week could be as much as three times longer than the optimal trip.

For those staying home, those hours will likely be spent prepping a meal.

“We’re having the in-laws over for a traditional meal and maybe movies or football,” said Merilee Ward, 34, of Marietta.

Ward was gathering the final fixings for Thursday’s meal Monday at Giant Eagle, pushing around her son Reese, 3, in a cart while looking for a brining kit for her turkey.

“We have my husband and his siblings and their spouses and kids coming, it’s not huge but it’s family,” said Ward. “My sister-in-law is bringing all of that dessert stuff and I’m working on turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, maybe sweet potatoes, and some kind of desserts, pumpkin pie of course. I’m not a big pumpkin pie person but others love it.”

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the classic items found on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table for 10 this year will cost an average of $49.12, a 75-cent decrease from last year’s average of $49.87.

A 16-pound turkey, usually the largest purchase, will average $22.38 this year. That’s roughly $1.40 per pound, a decrease of 2 cents per pound, or a total of 36 cents per whole turkey, compared to 2016.

“It depends on how much food you want to buy. You tend to over-buy but everyone likes to eat on Thanksgiving. I just keep an eye on my turkey because those can get expensive,” said Ward.

At least one thing to be thankful for this year?

“For the second consecutive year, the overall cost of Thanksgiving dinner has declined,”said John Newton, AFBF director of market intelligence. “The cost of the dinner is the lowest since 2013 and second-lowest since 2011.”

For others, spreading out the feast’s fixings across a weeklong family visit can make the day-of less stressful.

Nicole Fortune, 25, of Oak Grove, said while cost is definitely a factor, so is time.

“Part of the problem with two little kids is it’s really hard to spend any extended amount of time in the kitchen,” said Fortune. “Plus my husband works retail and my father isn’t coming in until Friday so what I’m leaning towards is instead of one large meal, we’ll spread out the traditional sides across my dad’s visit; having mashed potatoes and pork roast one night and chicken and dumplings another.”

She said this year might be the return of a tradition she and her husband started their first Thanksgiving years ago.

“When we were first dating our first Thanksgiving together and the next few after that was just ordering a pizza and baking a pumpkin pie,” she said laughing. “We might go back to that this year.”

On the other hand, Bradley Thomas, 28, of Parkersburg, is considered the head chef of Thanksgiving in the Thomas house each year, with a multi-course themed spread.

“We change it every year, this year we’re doing a New England-themed feast,” explained Thomas. “Tuesday is shopping day, Wednesday is prep day until about 2 a.m. and then Thursday is a little strategic in how we get each course finished but we do our turkey in an electric roaster so that frees up the oven for all of the other courses.”

Thomas said he plans to feed 10, and then host an additional 10 for desserts at the end of the night.

“We typically wait to try and buy the freshest ingredients possible,” he said. “But it’s hard to have crab and lobster on hand for the soup courses… thankfully the Kroger in Belpre is one of the best places to get fresh seafood I’ve ever seen so with a little pre-ordering we should be good.”

Other items on the menu at the Thomas house include New England favorites like a chestnut stuffing.

“We’re just going classic this year,” he explained. “Many of the recipes are from other peoples’ families and we’re putting it all together.”

By the numbers

¯ Road trip ready: 89 percent of all travelers – 45.5 million – are planning a Thanksgiving road trip, an increase of 3.2 percent over last year.

¯ Cheaper airfare: Consumers will pay the cheapest average airfare since 2013.

¯ Fuller skies: The largest growth in holiday travel is by air travel, at 5 percent, with 3.95 million travelers.

¯ Alternate travel: Travel by trains and other modes (including buses and cruises) is expected to increase 1.1 percent to 1.48 million travelers.

¯ Fueling up: Drivers will pay the highest Thanksgiving gas prices since 2014.

¯ Holiday high: Car rental daily rates will hit a five-year holiday high at $70/day, which may be due to an increase in domestic demand and cost of newer vehicles.

Source: AAA Thanksgiving Travel Forecast 2017.