11/01/2011 05:59 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2012

Thanksgiving Quantity Control: How Much Food To Prepare For Your Crowd

The only thing worse than ruining the turkey on Thanksgiving? Running out of it before your guests are so stuffed they never want to see a piece of poultry again.

Thanksgiving is pretty much exclusively dedicated to pigging out, so portions matter. Whether you're cooking for a family of four or a crowd of 24, it's worth your time to calculate how much food you'll need before hitting up the grocery store and toiling away in the kitchen.This way you're guaranteed to avoid coming up short (and to prevent a family fight over the last slice of pumpkin pie). Crunching the numbers ahead of time can also help you determine how many people you can afford to invite.

To ensure your holiday dinner is memorable for the right reasons, we found a few handy calculations and calculators to use. (Remember, these are rough guidelines. Please adjust accordingly if your family is comprised of amateur competitive eaters.)


Generally, the more appetizers or side dishes you make, the smaller portions you'll need of each. For appetizers, Cooking for Crowds for Dummies (who knew such a book existed?) recommends serving at least four different starters, and six to eight pieces per person. A few tricks? Dips are way less time-consuming to make, like this crowd-pleasing cheesy artichoke and spinach recipe. And stocking up on lots of pickles and olives will fill in any gaps.


For sides, Cooking for Crowds provides a handy breakdown:

Veggies: 3 to 4 ounces of each per person

Potatoes or yams: 1 per person

Rice, grains, or stuffing: 1 1/2 ounces per person

The Almighty Turkey

The turkey is the star of the Thanksgiving show, and Butterball doesn't want you to screw it up. The company's website features a "Plan Perfect Portions" calculator to help you nail down the size of the turkey you'll need. It's a great tool because it's nuanced, letting you account for the number of adults and children you'll be serving and whether or not you want leftovers. It even asks if you're cooking for "big eaters" or "light eaters." (Light eaters on Thanksgiving? Really?) So for example, if you're serving 20 adults and 5 children labeled "big eaters," you'll need to shell out for 33 pounds of turkey (45 if you'd like leftovers). Once you know how much bird to buy, the site offers more tools to help you determine turkey thawing and cooking times.

Don't feel like using the calculator? Recommendations from Real Simple to YumSugar range anywhere from 3/4 to 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person.


Sure, you can serve cake or cookies at Thanksgiving … as long as there's also pie, lots and lots of pie. Whether you serve pumpkin, sweet potato or even apple pie, Cooking For Crowds advises that one 3-inch wedge equals one serving. So two or three 9-inch pies would serve a crowd of 25, depending on how much your guests like dessert. Come to think of it … just make three pies.

Have you run out of food on Thanksgiving? How did you handle the crisis? Or do you typically send your guests home with leftovers? Tell us in the comments.