Know the Right Quantities of Food with a simple formula
How Do I know the right quantities of food to serve at a party?
I was in high school and my mom told me I could have some friends over to watch a big football game. I invited about ten people and went to the grocery store for snacks. I came home with 20 party-size bags of chips, several dips, some cookies, lots of soda, and I don’t even remember what all else. The bill was $150. When I saw the look of horror on my mom’s face as I lugged in bag after bag of junk food, I realized I may have been a little excessive. She didn’t set me up with a car washing business to pay back the money, but she did teach me how to plan food for large groups.
I come from a large family of six siblings, who now have six spouses, and a total of 24 grandkids. Family gatherings are huge. My mom and I often do the meal planning. For casual weekend get togethers, we plan chili or creamy ranch chicken tacos. For Memorial Day and July 4th, we do burgers. For Thanksgiving and Christmas there is always a turkey. On Easter we serve ham. Random family Sunday dinners call for pot roast.
As a Southern woman, nothing causes me more panic in party planning than figuring out amount of food. The thought of someone leaving hungry, empty platters, and crumb-bottomed bowls make me cringe. At the same time I don’t want to be eating leftover burgers, turkey, pulled pork, or crudité for the next week. Even worse, I don’t want to spend a fortune on too much meat, which is always the most expensive part of the meal. After a moment or two of panic, I hear my mom’s voice, “Break it down per person.”
How do we know how much food? It’s a simple formula that involves a little basic math. We start with this question. How much meat per person? That one question takes an overwhelming idea of planning enough hamburgers, turkey or ham for 20, 50, 100 or 1,000 people and makes it simple. You can do the same for things like mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, or potato salad. How many potatoes per person? Or how many pounds of potatoes per person? Most food you serve at a party or gathering can be broken down per person.
I’ve created a handy chart listing our favorite party food types and how much I serve per person. You can get it free by subscribing below!
Extra tips for planning the right amount of food for a party
- Always round up your estimates, rounding down could mean a shortage.
- Some menu items will be more popular, so plan more of those and less of the less popular items.
- The more choices you offer, for example basic vegetables at a large Sunday dinner, the smaller your calculation of individual portion size should be. Most of us only get an obligatory spoonful each of green beans, corn and carrots to avoid the stink eye from our parents or to be a good example to our kids.
- With a large assortment of food you can assume your guests will have a little of everything, but the portions will be smaller.
- To save on costs, add fill-you-up items to your menu. Our grandmothers knew that starches like bread and potatoes are perfect for this. They are inexpensive and filling. For hors d’oeuvres, nuts, olives, pretzels, crackers, baguettes, etc., provide a little extra security that you’ll have enough, but require no extra work.
- If it’s a crowd you know well, like family, you understand their food preferences and can adjust based on that. We are a family of carnivores. Always make more meat. We also love our biscuits, especially when it’s for sausage, gravy and biscuits, so we always plan more biscuits. What does your crowd always go for the most?
- Cut out anything you know will be unpopular. Don’t invest time or money in it. Will anyone really eat the jellied beets that retain the shape of the can? (The answer is no. Skip them).
- My kids are big eaters, so I count them as adults.
- For Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, we intentionally plan for leftovers. After all that cooking, we all want to eat those special meals a few more times over the next couple of days. My whole family comes back to my parents’ house to eat it again at lunch or dinner the next 2 days. No one ever eats as much on round two, and even less on round three. We plan extra turkey/ham and rolls for sure to make those glorious second-day sandwiches (for which you will need this key ingredient).
- It’s never too early to start including your kids in learning the ropes of planning and prepping for a party or gathering. I remember exactly which jobs I had as a kid for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.
- For traditional dinners where we repeat the same menu, like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and family Sunday dinners, I make notes on my recipes about how much we ate, how much I should make next year. “Next year quadruple recipe.” Or, “Two pans was too much. 1.5 is plenty.”
- Be aware of food allergies. Provide a few simple foods that anyone could eat. Salads (leave toppings that contain dairy, gluten, nuts, etc., on the side), meats, and simple veggies and fruits are an allergy-sufferer’s best friends. They are also perfect for dieters. Your guests will love you forever. My sister-in-law does this for me, and I appreciate it a lot.
What to do if you have too many leftovers?
Clearly this is a problem I am prone to. I’ve had parties where half my guests show up on a diet, and the food quantities that worked great for the same crowd six months ago leave me with way more food than I thought. I don’t mind leftovers. I take the opportunity to prepare freezer meals. I use the same math and think how much my family will eat in a meal, and portion it out and freeze. I pull these dinners out on those extra busy nights when my dinner plan or day falls apart. It’s a life saver, and I’m glad to be able to pull out grilled chicken breasts or burgers for a quick and delicious meal. Not everything freezes well, though. Meats and veggies do great. Don’t freeze anything with dairy (except cheese), potatoes (get grainy), mayonnaise and mayonnaise-containing dressings (mayo separates), or pasta (gets mushy). So if I have lots of potato salad, I keep enough for us to eat in the next few days and send the rest home with guests or offer it to neighbors.
What do I serve at my party?
I have some recipes that are really easy and delicious to serve at a casual party, and each of these recipes has the instructions for making them allergy-friendly or not. Buffalo chicken sliders, garlic and thyme crusted pork, chili, creamy ranch chicken tacos, taco bar (with 2-minute restaurant guacamole), Mexican chicken salad, pulled pork sliders/salad with creamy BBQ dressing, Pizza Soup, and Quick and Easy Chicken Noodle Soup.
Hopefully all these tips make planning the right quantities of food for your next party or gathering a lot less stressful, and you won’t have to set up your own car washing business to pay for all the extra food no one ate.
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