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 Hey there, party people! Today we’re covering the basic guidelines of estimating, serving, and converting food quantities so you can easily cook for and feed a big crowd of people. Get ready to spend less time stressing and more time impressing with this simple guide to feeding large groups and calculating food for parties. Plus, there’s plenty of recipes for crowds too!

Cooking for a crowd

As a former catering chef and line chef, I cooked for a large crowd of people everyday of the week – Monday through Sunday – for yearsssss. Whether for large dinner parties, weekend brunches, Thanksgiving buffets, and Christmas dinners – I’ve had to serve hundreds of people at a time – without sacrificing quality or taste.
So I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed in the kitchen and like you are about to feed a ravenous army of humans. Whether you’re comfortable in the kitchen or a culinary newbie, my tips for cooking for a big crowd of people will help you feel confident entertaining. Roll up your sleeves and get ready to take on your next hosting gig – with plenty of conviction and zeal!

How to calculate food for big groups and parties

The first step to hosting a big crowd of people and throwing a stellar party is in the planning. To get an idea of right amount of food to buy for a party, you first need to figure out a few things:

  • Step 1: Know Your Guests. Start by getting a headcount and the number of guests. Are they hearty eaters? Any vegetarians? Kids in the mix? This info is gold when planning your menu.
  • Step 2: Consider the Type of Event. A sit-down dinner will require more substantial portions than a mingle-and-nibble cocktail party. Brunch or lunch parties can also be a little lighter.
  • Step 3: Allow for Allergies. These days it seems like just about everyone has some kind of food allergy or sensitivity. Make sure you’re inclusive with your menu so the vegans and glu-tards don’t feel left out! I typically like to include at least one vegan item and one gluten-free item on the menu just in case.
  • Step 4: Add a Little Extra. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hosted and someone brought along an unexpected guest. Maybe it’s a friend or family member from out of town or a new significant other, but whoever it is, you want to come across as gracious and inviting. I like to plan with the intention of having some leftovers (throwing a party is a lot of work, so having an easy dinner planned for the day after is always a boon), which also covers my tushy in case of an interloper.

How to calculate serving size

Okay, now that you have your guest list and dinner menu plotted out, now it’s time to do some basic math. Here are my go-to catering calculations and formula when making food for a crowd:

  • The Golden Rule of Portion Size: Generally speaking, an adult will eat about 1 pound (or about half a kilogram for all my friends across the pond) of food total, per meal. If you know big eaters, up that amount to 1.5 pounds. Remember that this includes all the courses, so don’t feel like you need a pound of meat per person! For kids, halve or third those quantities depending on their age.
  • Appetizers: If you’re serving a meal afterward, plan for 3-5 pieces per person. If you’re throwing more of a cocktail party with small bites and hors d’oeuvres, plan for about 8-10 pieces per person.
  • Mains & Sides: You’ll need about 6-8 ounces of protein per person, about 1/4 cup of uncooked grains, and 1/2 cup of veggies per adult. Don’t feel limited to a meat with two sides, though. These measurements could look like a big slice of baked sausage ziti and a side chopped Italian salad or a bowl and a half of all beef no bean chili with all the fixin’s and a side of beer bread.
  • Don’t Forget Dessert. Half the fun of throwing a party is you have an excuse for dessert! You’ll need roughly 1 slice of cake or pie per person, or about 2-3 smaller items like cookies or truffles per person.
  • See What Sticks: One of my favorite ways to host is to offer a variety of dishes. A good mix of 2-3 appetizers like dips or bites, 1-2 main dishes, 2-4 sides, and a couple of dessert options practically guarantees there is something for everyone. 

Recipe for crowds: converting food quantities in recipes

When it comes to calculating food for a crowd and a buffet of food, I have a few hacks I like to use:

  • Scaling Up Recipes: Online, it’s hard to find recipes that feed a crowd as most are written for 4-6 servings. However, most of the time you can use your favorite recipe as a base. For example, say your favorite tuscan bean soup recipe serves 4 and you have 12 guests, so triple the ingredients. This works for everything from soups and stews to side dishes (like vegetables, potatoes, rice, beans), pasta sauces, and casseroles. Use this free guide to scaling recipes.
  • Baking is a Different Beast: I always suggest sticking to the recipe for items like pies, cupcakes, cakes, cookies, or ice cream because dessert recipes can be a bit more finicky and require more precision in terms of ingredient ratios and baking vessels. That typically means you have to make the dessert multiple times. But, don’t forget the power of a good store-bought cheat, like cool whip for frosting, to preserve your sanity!
  • Bulk Buys: If you’re hosting a shindig and cooking for big crowd of people, you know the expenses can add up quickly. Big-batch cooking loves big-batch buying and pantry staples. When making food for a crowd, try hitting wholesale clubs and bulk sections to get the most bang for your buck.

FAQs: frequently asked questions

How many appetizers per person? 

Again when serving appetizer foods for a crowd, it depends. Are appetizers coming before the main course? If so, you’ll need about 2-3 hors d’oeuvres per person. If soup or salad is your appetizer, 1 cup per dinner guest should do.

However, if the whole menu is appetizers, you’re going to want to 2-3x the hors d’oeuvres and dip portions listed above.

How much queso per person?

If you’re serving big crowd of people a dip, like warm chili cheese queso or pico de gallo tomato salsa, you’ll need about ⅓ of a cup per person.

How much soup per person?

That depends. Do you plan on offering the soup as an appetizer? If so, you only need about 1 cup per person. If, however, the soup is your main dish, I’d recommend bumping that up to about 2-3.5 cups per person. And again, don’t forget some inexpensive fillers like crusty bread or a salad to help fill people up! 

You should also keep in mind how hearty the soup is — for example, something rich like seafood bisque or corn chowder with chicken is going be much more filling than miso soup. 😉

How many people does a quart feed?

That depends entirely on what you have a liquid quart of. A quart of my carrot ginger soup would probably only count as 2-3 servings, but a quart of  all bean chili would serve 4 pretty comfortably. A quart of ice cream has about 8-10 servings. When feeding a big crowd of people, I suggest going back to the Golden Rule of food quantities per person — you’ll need between 1-1.5 pounds of food total per person. 

How much pasta for 40 people?

While the amount in cups, noodles, or sheets of pasta will change depending on the shape, generally speaking, you can count on 2 ounces of pasta as a proper serving size. That said, I also recommend serving some garlic bread and a salad on the side just to cover your bases if your cooking for a large group of people!

How much meat per person?

When it comes to feeding large groups meat and protein, you typically only need about ½ pound per person, with the other ½-1 pound of food coming from apps, sides, and desserts. This proportion doesn’t change depending on what type of meat you’re serving.

How much beef per person? 

Looking to feed your group beef? You’ll want to estimate about ½ pounds of beef roasts, ground beef, or boneless steaks per person.

How much ham per person? 

Using the information above, you can see a 10-pound ham will feed a group of about 20 people. 

How many pounds of chicken per person?

And, 10 pounds of chicken will feed about 20 people.

How to calculate beverages for a party?

Wondering how much juice, soda, punch, beer, or alcohol to serve at your next soiree? I’ve got you!

  • When stocking your bar for entertaining, plan on one bottle of wine per 8 guests.
  • One gallon of punch will serve up to 10 guests.
  • A one liter bottle of alcohol can make up to 22 mixed cocktails.
  • You’ll want to purchase about 2 pounds of ice per guest.
  • Don’t forget plenty of garnishes, such as lemons, limes, fresh fruits, and fresh herbs.

Estimating drinks: Party guests will typically consume 2 drinks during the first hour and about 1 drink per hour after that. If you’re having a 4 hour party, you’ll want to plan for about 5 drinks per person.

Pro entertaining tip: The amount of drinks you need will depend upon the time of day you are hosting your party. Party guests always drink more at night than during the day – so plan accordingly. 

Recipes to feed a crowd of people

Planning to cook food for a large group? After decades of cooking and hosting experience, these are my favorite big batch foods for a crowd to try. P.S. They’re all these recipes are easy to scale up for a big crowd of people!

Drinks to make for large groups

Easy breakfast food for a large group

Appetizers for large parties

Dinner ideas for a big crowd

Side dishes to for feeding large groups

Desserts recipes that feed a crowd

There you have it, everything you need to know to painlessly plan your next party and feed a large group of people! Until next time, party on, my party people!


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