How Much Should I Make? Planning for Thanksgiving Dinner

Created by: Jessica Williams, Butter With A Side of Bread

With a holiday in which the meal is the main event, it can be difficult to estimate just how much food to make. No one wants to have so much leftover that it spoils, however with the right amount of leftovers you can enjoy all your hard work for a few more days! Here's a quick guide to help you decide just how many dishes and how much of each to serve on Thanksgiving.

How Much to Plan for Dinner & Dessert:

Small Dinner Party: 4-9 guests

  • Appetizers: 2-3 small plates (No need to make a lot – aim for each guest to have 3-4 bites total)
  • Turkey: 14-15 lbs.
  • Side Dishes: 4-6 dishes that each serve 6-8
  • Dessert: 2-3 pies or other dessert recipes that each serve 6-8 

Medium-sized Gathering: 10-16 guests

  • Appetizers: 3-4 plates or small platters that each serve 8-10
  • Turkey: 16-18 lbs.
  • Side Dishes: 5-7 dishes that each serve 6-8
  • Dessert: 4-5 pies or other dessert recipes that serve 6-8

Grand Family Feast: 17-25 guests

  • Appetizers: 5-6 plates or platters that each serve 8-10
  • Turkey: 20+ lbs., also consider serving a small ham in addition to the turkey
  • Side Dishes: 5-7 dishes that each serve 10-12
  • Dessert: 6-7 pies or desserts that each serve 6-8

A Few More Tips:

Planning for Kids

If you're planning on having several small children in attendance, instead of offering them the same traditional Thanksgiving fare as the adults, consider serving a few alternate dishes. Simple ideas such as a bowl of Goldfish crackers, string cheese or raisins are a welcome sight for little ones. I've even set out bowls of M&M's, gummy bears and licorice for dessert and I was surprised at how much everyone enjoyed it - not just the children!

If you have kids attending your dinner and are not sure whether to factor them in as 1 guest or not, here's a quick guide:

  • Kids aged 12+: Count them as an adult
  • Kids aged 6-11: Count them as half of an adult portion
  • Kids aged 5 and under: Count them as a third of an adult portion

The only exception here is dinner rolls, I'd plan on 1.5 per person, regardless of their age.

Dietary Restrictions

There are a variety of different dietary restrictions these days. I recommend sending out a simple message to your guests beforehand and encourage them to let you know of any special considerations. You may have to add or swap out dishes to accommodate individuals who are gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, etc.

Turkey for Tomorrow

Plan for leftovers! That's easily one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving. There's something amazing about having a slice of warm apple pie for breakfast with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy. Adjust your meal to ensure you have enough leftover of your favorite dishes. If your family can't get enough of Aunt Irma's cornbread stuffing, make a double batch and make sure to have containers on hand for everyone to take some home. In the serving suggestions above I factor in leftovers because I simply consider them part of the meal.

What’s Popular at Your Dinner?

When estimating how much of each side dish to make, remember to consider how popular a recipe might be. In our large family dinner we usually make enough mashed potatoes for everyone and a few neighbors (if you're envisioning a giant bowl of mashed potatoes, you have it right!), but we only make enough green bean casserole to serve half the guests.