How much do Americans eat on Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is a beloved American holiday centered around food, family, and gratitude. The traditional Thanksgiving meal usually consists of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, vegetables, cranberries, and pumpkin pie. With so many delicious foods on the table, it’s no wonder Thanksgiving has a reputation for overindulgence.

How many calories do people eat on Thanksgiving?

According to the Calorie Control Council, the average person consumes about 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving day. This is about twice the recommended daily calorie intake for most adults. Here is a breakdown of the typical number of calories from popular Thanksgiving foods:

Turkey with skin 465 calories per 3oz serving
Stuffing 365 calories per cup
Mashed potatoes 220 calories per cup
Gravy 35 calories per 1/4 cup
Green bean casserole 270 calories per cup
Cranberry sauce 225 calories per cup
Dinner roll 100 calories per roll
Pumpkin pie 316 calories per slice

As you can see, it’s very easy to consume a large number of calories from just one plate on Thanksgiving. Even if you moderate your portions, a full Thanksgiving dinner will likely pack over 1,000 calories.

Why do people tend to overeat on Thanksgiving?

There are several reasons why it’s tempting to overindulge on Thanksgiving:

  • The holiday atmosphere encourages relaxation and celebration.
  • People look forward to traditional dishes that are only served once a year.
  • Large platters with generous portions make it easy to overeat.
  • Multiple course meals extend eating over several hours.
  • It’s considered a special occasion for indulgence.

With so much emphasis placed on food and feasting, it can be difficult to practice portion control on Thanksgiving. The abundance of delicious options leads many to eat past the point of fullness.

How do portion sizes compare to regular meals?

Thanksgiving portions are much larger than typical serving sizes. Here’s how they compare:

Food Regular portion Thanksgiving portion
Turkey 3-4oz 8-12oz
Mashed potatoes 1/2 cup 1 cup
Stuffing 1/2 cup 1 cup
Green beans 1/2 cup 1 cup
Gravy 1/4 cup 1/2 cup
Cranberry sauce 1/4 cup 1/2 cup
Rolls 1 roll 2-3 rolls
Pumpkin pie 1 slice 1-2 slices

As you can see, a single Thanksgiving plate contains 2-3 times the normal portion sizes. It all adds up to a very calorie-dense meal.

Do people gain weight over the holidays?

Yes, average Americans tend to gain 1-2 pounds over the holiday season from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Large meal portions and snacking on leftovers.
  • Increased alcohol consumption at parties and events.
  • High-calorie seasonal foods like eggnog, cookies, pie.
  • Less time for exercise with a busier social calendar.
  • Stress and fatigue leading up to the holidays.

The small weight gain is mostly attributed to increased calorie consumption. However, stress and lack of sleep may also contribute by disrupting metabolism. The good news is the weight gain tends to be temporary. People can easily get back on track by reducing portions and increasing physical activity in the new year.

How many Americans travel for Thanksgiving?

According to AAA, roughly 49 million Americans travelled for Thanksgiving in 2022. This is up 1.5% from 2021, indicating travel numbers are rebounding after pandemic declines. About 88% travelled by car, while 4% flew and 8% used other modes like trains or buses.

Of those travelling for the holiday, most went to celebrate with family and friends. High food costs did not appear to reduce enthusiasm for the Thanksgiving meal. Many see it as the perfect time to reconnect over special dishes.

Do Thanksgiving leftovers get wasted?

Americans generate about 200 million pounds of food waste over Thanksgiving according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. A survey by the Ad Council found that 40% of respondents had leftover turkey discarded rather than eaten.

However, practices may be improving. New refrigeration technologies help keep leftovers fresher for longer. There is also greater awareness around proper freezing and reheating techniques. Meal planning apps provide recipes to repurpose leftovers creatively.

How much do Americans spend on Thanksgiving?

In 2022, the average American spent $64 on the Thanksgiving meal itself. This includes food and beverages for an average gathering of 4 people. Total Thanksgiving expenditures reached $23 billion.

Here is how the breakdown compares to recent years:

Year Average cost of meal Total food spending
2022 $64 $23 billion
2021 $60 $21 billion
2020 $56 $16 billion
2019 $49 $15 billion

As you can see, Thanksgiving food costs were significantly higher in 2022 due to inflation across grocery items. Turkey, eggs, potatoes and other staples got more expensive compared to prior years.

How do costs compare for homemade vs. restaurant meals?

Preparing Thanksgiving dinner yourself costs far less than dining out. Here is a side-by-side comparison:

Meal Homemade Restaurant
Turkey, stuffing, sides for family of 4 $50 $100-$200

As you can see, even with inflated grocery costs, homemade Thanksgiving dinner costs just a fraction of a restaurant meal. Dining out can boost convenience. However, preparation at home provides big savings.

How do Thanksgiving traditions vary by region?

While turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie are standard across the U.S., regional Thanksgiving meals show some variations:

  • New England – seafood like lobster, clams or oysters. Maple sweet potatoes. Boston cream pie.
  • South – fried turkey, sweet potatoes, cornbread, pecan pie, collard greens.
  • Midwest – green bean casserole, wild rice stuffing, jello salads.
  • Southwest – posole stew, tamales, chile relleños, tres leches cake.
  • Pacific Northwest – smoked salmon, Dungeness crab, hazelnut appetizers.

These regional twists allow families to incorporate local flavors into the traditional Thanksgiving feast. However, the turkey remains the centerpiece across all areas of the country.


While exact totals vary, the average American consumes around 4,500 calories and gains 1-2 pounds over Thanksgiving. Portion sizes are 2-3 times larger than regular meals. Thanksgiving calorie intake comes mostly from generous portions of traditional dishes like turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and pie.

Holiday overeating is driven by the celebratory atmosphere as well as pressure to overindulge in beloved family dishes. Americans spend billions on inflated Thanksgiving meal costs, travelling, and leftovers. Still, the holiday remains focused on enjoying time with loved ones, counting blessings, and upholding meaningful food traditions.

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