How Much Food Do You Really Need for Thanksgiving?
Lack of food has never been an issue at any Thanksgiving dinner I’ve ever attended. I’ve never seen this. But if you’re hosting your first year, or (due to the pandemic) you’ve just forgotten how to plan meals for more than four people, it’s a good idea to keep basic minimums in mind, if only to quell your anxiety.
These minimum values are, of course, only approximate, and assume that your family loves and eats turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing, and all other staples for Thanksgiving. But before we get to food, let’s start with the most important of all menu items.
One bottle of wine is normally enough for two people. I’ve seen some Thanksgiving guides claim that the bottle will be enough for three, but it’s a holiday and people might want to drink a little more than usual. Don’t get in their way.
If you only serve wine and everyone at the table loves wine, I would be wrong, one to one and a half bottles for each guest. If some of your guests are kids or you have a case of beer in the game, feel free to drop it down to one bottle for every two guests. If you have a lot of beers in the game, are having lunch with a group of non-drinkers, or have a guest who is excited to present the cocktail they made for the occasion, you can use one bottle for every three guests. However, I never follow my own advice. I always buy too much wine and serve extras at various festive events throughout the season.
The weight you see on a turkey package includes bones, offal and all kinds of connective tissue, so a 12 pound turkey won’t make 12 pounds of meat, so look at it this way: One pound of packaged turkey for every guest who eats meat, you stay no leftovers, a pound and a half with some leftovers, and two pounds of turkey for each guest will leave you with a healthy amount of leftovers.
However, I do not recommend buying a turkey over 14 pounds. These massive 20-pound birds take forever to cook — unless they are sliced apart before cooking — and cooking them well is even more difficult. You can buy two turkeys, but I’m a big fan of extra ham , extra duck, or – if you really want to impress everyone – extra tympano . This way, everyone can enjoy a little turkey while still enjoying the variety .
Potatoes and yams
When shopping for Thanksgiving, I find it better to think about potatoes than pounds. Regardless of what kind of potato dish I’m making – whether it’s a simple puree or a jagged yam dish – I look at the potatoes in front of me and ask, “How many of them can I eat as part of a regular meal?” If I think about russettes or a large sweet potato, I usually come to the conclusion that one potato or sweet potato will do, so I buy one for each guest; If I’m looking at a smaller yukon or something similar, it’s two potatoes, so I buy two for each guest.
This is, in truth, overkill. While I can eat a large baked potato if served with plain protein and one vegetable on the side, that’s not the case on Thanksgiving. Buying one large russet per person (in most homes) will result in at least some leftovers, which is good.
A quarter cup of cranberry sauce per person is “normal”, but you can go up to half a cup per person if your guests are big fans. A 12-ounce bag of cranberries can make just over two cups of sauce, and a jar of jelly can make six servings. I usually serve one or two types of homemade sauce plus a can of aspic, and that is always too much for the seven or eight people I usually cook for. (I will never stop offering both types of cranberry sauce. Many people like both!)
Filling or dressing
Regardless of what you call it , a piece of wet, seasoned bread is a must. Half a cup per person is the minimum, but 3/4 cup will ensure you have a little more for filling the waffles , leftover sandwiches, and the like. Most filling and dressing recipes are around 10 cups of the product, so one pot is sufficient for most households.
Half a glass of gravy per person is enough for lunch, but I always double that amount, so leftovers are enough. I usually make “extra” gravy a week or two in advance, call it “emergency gravy,” and put it in the freezer.
Under no circumstances should you buy less than two rolls per person. Everyone will eat at least one during the meal, leaving each person with one roll on which they can build their remaining slider. For this reason, I buy two buns for each diner guest, and then two more for each person who will enjoy the leftovers at my house over the weekend. This way, everyone will be able to use at least three of the remaining sliders.
Casseroles and other side dishes
You could not serve anything other than the above and be in perfect order. Nobody leaves hungry. But Thanksgiving is overkill, so there are always a few free side dishes – mostly casseroles. You don’t need more than half a cup of sides in total per person, and most standard Thanksgiving side dish recipes make 8-10 cups of food. This means that one casserole is enough for 16-20 people, so cook as much or less as you like depending on your desire for variety and remember that your leftovers will grow exponentially with each additional side. That is, the more sides you make, the less turkey people will eat and the more turkey you will have. This means you can make more turkey sliders.
Two pieces of pie per person is a reasonable amount of pie for Thanksgiving dinner, but do more if you want to keep eating the pie over the weekend. You can get about eight slices from a standard 9-inch pie, so plan accordingly. I believe that two pies is the bare minimum, even if you only serve yourself and your spouse. One pumpkin pie is “enough” for four people, but Thanksgiving should be about joy and abundance, and there is nothing more joyous than a copious amount of the pie.