Frugal Living » Cooking for a Crowd- How Much is Enough?

Cooking for a Crowd- How Much is Enough?

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Creating a buffet-style meal for a large family gathering is a great way to celebrate any occasion, graduations, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, family reunions, and more. It can overwhelming trying to figure out just how much food you’ll need per person when you’re cooking for a crowd.

Cooking for a Crowd Guidelines

For individual meats, fish, poultry:

  • 5 – 6 ounces per person
  • If the cuts of meat have bones in them, figure on 8 oz per person

Meat Serving Sizes

For multiple meat meals and buffets (such as deli trays):

  • 3 – 5 ounces per person

For pasta dishes:

  • A pound will serve 4 – 6 people
  • 2 oz for a side dish, per person
  • 3 oz for a first course, per person
  • 4 oz for a main dish, per person

Spaghetti Salad

For Vegetables:

  • If figuring a premixed salad, estimate one handful per person.
  • One head of lettuce will feed approximately 5 people, 4 medium heads will serve 15-20.
  • Other Vegetables- 4 oz per person


For appetizers:

  • Estimate about 8 items in total per person.
  • Make 2-4 of each item per person, keeping in mind that everyone may not take all of the items.

For desserts:

  • 1 Slice of cake, tart or pastry
  • 4 oz pudding/mousse
  • 5 oz ice creamCalculate one full portion of dessert per person.
  • For multiple desserts, people tend to sample smaller portions of each item.

Group Desserts

Keep in mind that the more food choices you offer, the smaller the serving sizes will be.

Some worthwhile tips:

  • When creating trays of cold-cuts of meats and cheeses, make smaller trays. This is easier to store in the fridge, easier to replace on the table, take up less room, and also look a bit classier than refilling the large tray.
  • If there are several desserts to choose from, set up a separate dessert table. This makes it easier to replenish the desserts, but also for people to “graze” without wandering down the buffet line with those still trying to eat lunch/dinner.
  • Be sure to keep cold foods COLD and hot foods HOT to avoid potential food poisoning. It’s considerably easier to keep smaller dishes warm (or cold) as needed and refill.
  • Chafing dishes can be purchased very inexpensively and reused multiple times. (Although you’ll need new sterno!). If the party is very informal, small kiddie pools filled with ice work lovely for drinks and various salad dishes.


  • Disposable tableware, plastic ware, and cups can save a considerable amount of clean-up time, allowing you more chance to enjoy your guests


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