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Holiday Feast - To Go Takeout Thanksgiving Dinners More And More Popular

There’s a quicker and easier way to do everything these days. Change channels by remote. Send letters by fax. Grab lunch at drive-through windows.

But takeout Thanksgiving dinner?

Skyrocketing numbers of people are ordering precooked Thanksgiving dinners - complete with a 10- to 12-pound turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, rolls and pumpkin pie. Just take it home, heat it up and - presto! - dinner for 10. That’s tough to beat at prices ranging from $29.95 to $34.95.

At the Tidyman’s Warehouse Foods store in Coeur d’Alene, the number of takeout dinners sold leaped from 10 two years ago to 118 last year, said Valerie Martin, food service manager.

It’s just one of the ways people dodge the annual duty of preparing a feast.

Consider: To prepare a 12-pound turkey with 3 pounds of stuffing, a family has to plan on five hours of cooking. To eat at 2 p.m., someone has to get up and begin preparations by at least 8 a.m. Compare that to heating an already prepared bird for an hour.

The same applies to peeling, boiling and mashing potatoes, or stirring and repeatedly tasting gravy. The precooked side dishes can be popped in the microwave for four to five minutes, and they’re done, with little mess to clean up afterwards.

Ready-made Thanksgiving dinners fit perfectly into what sociologist George Ritzer calls the “McDonaldization of Society.” A professor at the University of Maryland, he has studied the phenomenon for more than a decade.

“Nothing is safe,” Ritzer said. “You would think that something so traditional, so family-oriented, would be immune from that process, but it’s not. The principles that have made McDonald’s such a success are invading every aspect of our lives.”

But not all people who buy ready-made dinners do so for convenience, say supermarket deli workers. Some customers are elderly and not able to prepare a big dinner. Others buy the dinners to donate to less fortunate families.

Deli workers at the Coeur d’Alene Tidyman’s prepared 25 of the estimated 125 dinners they’ll sell this year for employees of a keyboard company in Hayden Lake, many of whom are working on Thanksgiving.

“It works out cheaper for (the company) than going to Domino’s,” said Daphne Conner, the assistant deli manager.

As effortless as fast food may seem, these ready-made meals don’t materialize without a lot of work by someone.

Before arriving at the supermarkets, the meals are put together in parts, like a giant assembly line stretching across the United States.

In the Tidyman’s package, the precooked, frozen birds come from North Carolina, the No. 1 turkey-producing state. The potatoes are from Minnesota and the salads from Oregon.

Some of the meals arrive at the supermarkets ready to go, in a big box with convenient carrying handles and a decorative turkey motif on the sides. Others need assembly by deli workers.

The demand seems almost unlimited.

Seven or eight years ago, Rosauers pioneered ready-made Thanksgiving dinners in this region, said George Jenkins, a buyer for the supermarket. Rosauers’ business remains steady, but it shares the market now with most other supermarkets. After years of making the dinners on site, Rosauers now orders them prepackaged from United Retail Merchants, its food distributor.

Last year, Supervalu, which distributes food for Tidyman’s and other grocery stores, sold about 600 prepackaged Thanksgiving dinners. This year, buyer Jeanne Gibbs expects that number to be between 800 and 1,000.

“That’s a real growing area, just total takeout meals,” Gibbs said. “Everyone is doing more of that. People just don’t take the time (to cook) like they used to.”

Albertsons also reported solid business in takeout dinners.

The popularity of precooked dinners hasn’t eaten into business at restaurants, which have offered Thanksgiving meals for years.

Last year, the line at Granny’s Buffet was “out the door, wrapped around the building for most of the day,” said Rachel Hoskinson, a cashier.

At C.I. Shenanigan’s, which also offers a Thanksgiving buffet, five pages of the reservation book already were filled on Tuesday.

“I’ve been told it’ll be booked solid,” said waitress Sonja Ortega. “I hope we are, I’m working a double shift.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo Graphic: Frozen turkey meat


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