How to Calculate How Much Food to Buy for Thanksgiving Dinner

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Hosting Thanksgiving dinner can be a challenge, juggling the many details involved in putting a big spread together. One of your first concerns will probably be calculating how much food to buy for Thanksgiving dinner. With careful attention to detail, you can determine your menu, organize your shopping and prepare a delicious feast. Involve the kids in planning and enlist their help with preparations -- it's how memories are made.


The amount of appetizers you need to feed hungry Thanksgiving guests depends on how long they'll be waiting for dinner. If you ask guests to arrive at noon but you won't be eating until 3:00 p.m., plan on about seven appetizers per hour for each guest, although they may eat less after the first hour. This means, if you're expecting 12 guests, you'll need 84 appetizers for each hour. Determine your appetizer menu to plan how many appetizers you want to make to reach this number. Keep appetizers light so the kids won't spoil their appetites and everyone will have room for turkey.


The general rule of thumb for a Thanksgiving bird is to figure 1 lb. of uncooked turkey per person. Even if you're expecting both children and adults, this formula will even out across the entire group as some people eat a little more and others eat a little less. This should also give you a little leftover for those traditional turkey sandwiches and even maybe a pot of homemade soup.

Side Dishes

Buy enough vegetable sides to serve about 4 oz. of vegetables for each guest and 2 oz. of rice or grains for each guest. Figure one medium potato and sweet potato for each guest. If you're making a tossed salad, count on about six servings per head of lettuce and offer a choice of creamy salad dressings. Figure on two dinner rolls for every guest to make sure you have enough. Plan to have a little extra of everything -- you want to have plenty for your guests, and leftovers are always good.

Desserts and Drinks

With pies being the traditional dessert of choice for Thanksgiving, it isn't that complicated to ensure you have enough for everyone. Most pies will serve six to eight, so if you will serve 12 people, you'll need at least two pies -- three if you want to give guests a choice between varieties. Purchase one bottle of wine or sparkling cider for every five adult guests. You'll need about 4 oz. of coffee per hour per guest to serve coffee drinkers. Have milk, fruit punch, and lemonade for the kids.