How Much to Cook Up to Serve for Thanksgiving Dinner

Nothing is worse than cooking Thanksgiving dinner and running out of food. It is important to err on the side of excess while sticking to your budget.

There is no exact formula for cooking for a crowd, so you have to consider your crowd. Do they really enjoy eating? Will many children be present? Are most people in your crowd weight conscious? All these questions and similar ones impact how much food you prepare.

Quantity planning for holiday appetizers

Appetizers and drinks don’t have to be a pain in the neck, but planning them tends to be confusing. Because appetizers don’t lend themselves to a quantity chart per se, you can let the following list guide you:

  • For appetizers preceding a full meal: Offer at least four different types of appetizers and six to eight pieces per person. For example, say you have 20 guests. In that case, you’d need at least 120 total appetizer pieces.

  • The more variety you have, the smaller portion size each type of appetizer will need to have: Therefore, you don’t need to make as much of any one particular appetizer.

  • When you serve appetizers to a crowd, always include bulk-type appetizers: Bulk-type foods are items that aren’t individually made, such as dips or spreads. If you forgo the dips and spreads, you’ll end up making hundreds of individual appetizer items, which may push you over the edge. To calculate bulk items, assume 1 ounce equals 1 piece.

  • Always try to have extra items: Black and green olives and are great for extra filler.

Quantity planning for holiday drinks

The following list give you some general beverage-serving guidelines for entertaining:

  • Soft drinks: One to two 8-ounce servings per person per hour.

  • Punch: One to two 4-ounce servings per person per hour.

  • Tea: One to two 8-ounce servings per person per hour.

  • Coffee: One to two 4-ounce servings per person per hour.

  • Water: Always provide it. Two standard serving pitchers are usually enough.

Quantity planning for soups, sides, main courses, and desserts

The following tables can help you determine how much food you need for some typical soups, sides, main courses, and desserts. If the item you’re serving isn’t listed here, you can probably find an item in the same food group to guide you.

Buffet-style affairs typically figure at a lower serving per person, because buffets typically feature more side dish items than a plated meal does.

Don’t use the quantity tables as an exact science; use them to guide you and help you make decisions for your particular crowd. If you’re serving a dish that you know everyone loves, make more than the table suggests. If you have a dish that isn’t as popular, you can get by with less.

Soups and Stews
Soup or Stew Per Person Crowd of 25 Crowd of 50
Served as a first course 1 cup 5 quarts 2 1/2 gallons
Served as an entree 1 1/2 to 2 cups 2 to 2 1/2 gallons 4 gallons
Main Courses
Entree Per Person Crowd of 25 Crowd of 50
Chicken, turkey, or duck (boneless) 1/2 pound 13 pounds 25 pounds
Chicken or turkey (with bones) 3/4 to 1 pound 19 pounds 38 pounds
Turkey (whole) 1 pound 25 pounds 50 pounds
Side Dishes
Side Dish Per Person Crowd of 25 Crowd of 50
Asparagus, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, corn kernels, peas, black-eyed peas, and so on 3 to 4 ounces 4 pounds 8 pounds
Corn on the cob (broken in halves when serving buffet-style) 1 ear 20 ears 45 ears
Pasta (cooked) 2 to 3 ounces 3 1/2 pounds 7 pounds
Potatoes and yams 1 (medium) 6 pounds 12 pounds
Rice and grains (cooked) 1 1/2 ounces 2 1/2 pounds 5 pounds
Side Salads
Ingredient Per Person Crowd of 25 Crowd of 50
Croutons (medium size) N/A 2 cups 4 cups
Dressing (served on the side) N/A 4 cups 8 cups
Fruit salad N/A 3 quarts 6 quarts
Lettuce (iceberg or romaine) N/A 4 heads 8 heads
Lettuce (butter or red leaf) N/A 6 heads 12 heads
Potato or macaroni salad N/A 8 pounds 16 pounds
Shredded cabbage for coleslaw N/A 6 to 8 cups (about 1 large head of cabbage) 12 to 16 cups (about 2 large heads of cabbage)
Vegetables (such as tomato and cucumber) N/A 3 cups 6 cups
Breads
Bread Per Person Crowd of 25 Crowd of 50
Croissants or muffins 1 1/2 per person 3 1/2 dozen 7 dozen
Dinner rolls 1 1/2 per person 3 1/2 dozen 7 dozen
French or Italian bread N/A 2 18-inch loaves 4 18-inch loaves
Desserts
Dessert Per Person Crowd of 25 Crowd of 50
Brownies or bars 1 to 2 per person 2 1/2 to 3 dozen 5 1/2 to 6 dozen
Cheesecake 2-inch wedge 2 9-inch cheesecakes 4 9-inch cheesecakes
Pie 3-inch wedge 2 to 3 9-inch pies 4 to 5 9-inch pies
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