One of the biggest obstacles any host can face is figuring out how much food to prepare for the number of people expected. While there is no foolproof formula, there are a series of things to consider before you begin planning an event, such as the type of food you want to serve, the breakdown of guests you’re expecting (ratio of men, women and children), and the start time of your meal. Here are my tried and true tips—most of which I included in my book, Gatherings—to help you with your holiday meal planning:
- When deciding on a menu, keep your crowd in mind. Chances are you aren’t cooking for a group of unfamiliar faces this time of year, so think about your guests’ preferred palate preferences and which foods will go over well with those you’ve invited over.
- Once you’ve settled on a list of foods you’re going to make, prepare or order, anticipate which dish will be the most popular and make an extra large serving of that (see more about food quantities below).
- If you have mostly men in attendance, you should increase suggested quantities by half. Ladies will likely eat the amount listed below, but you can probably expect to have some leftovers. Teenage boys should be counted as two eating adults, while anyone under the age of 12 usually consumes half of what a fully-grown person might eat.
- If you don’t want to offer your guests a full meal, don’t host them between 11:30 am–1:30 pm or between 4-7 pm. Any other time of day requires nothing more than munchies and snacks, unless you want to set out a larger spread, which is totally fine.
Suggested Food Quantities
Snacks and Starters:
- 4-6 pieces/bites per person per hour (before a meal)
- 12-14 pieces/bites per person (as a meal)
- For appetizers not served in pieces (such as cheeses) estimate 1 oz. per serving.
Soups and Salads:
- 1 cup soup per person (for starter course)
- 1 ½ – 2 cups soup per person (for main meal)
- 1 cup salad per person (for starter course)
- 2-3 cups salad per person (as a main meal)
- 6-8oz. protein per person
- 5-7 large shrimp per person
- 1 cup each side/starch/grain per person
- 1 ½ dinner rolls per person
- Cookies and squares: 3 pieces per person
- Cake/Pie: 1 piece per person
- Ice Cream: 2/3 cup per person
- Creamy sweets (pudding, mousse, etc.): ½ – ¾ cup per person
One issue many of us have when faced with an overflowing house is where to sit everyone. Here are two ideas to help you make the most of your space:
- If you don’t have an extra table, or there are too many kids to seat at one, consider doing two sittings: feed the kids first, then shoo them off to play while the grown-ups eat.
- Set up a buffet with food that requires no more than a fork to eat, making it easier to stand in the hall, sit on the sofa, or hang out where you’re comfortable.
Here are a couple of our recipes for feeding a crowd:
Make-Ahead Chocolate Cake for a Crowd (top with powdered sugar and holiday sprinkles for a festive looking sweet you can make right now)