Party-planning numbers that help nail the amounts of food and drink you need.

When it comes to feeding a big batch of friends and family, how do you figure out how much is enough? Here are some guidelines on determining how much to cook for a crowd, so people won't go home hungry, while you won't get stuck with a massive amount of leftovers.

finished field of dipping dreams 2
Photo by Denise Sakaki

Guest-imating: How Much Food to Fix?

The amount of food you plan for your party can change depending on the time of day, type of food, or even by the people attending. (Have you seen teenagers eat?) But as a general rule, consider these suggestions for individual portions:

  • Appetizers or snacks should consist of two to three portions per person, more if these are the only food being served
  • 3 ounces of dip or salsa (about 1/3 cup per person)
  • One cup of soup (less if it's a thick soup, like chowder)
  • 3 ounces of salad (about 1 cup)
  • 6 ounces of meat or main entrée
  • 5 ounces of starch (potato, pasta, or rice)
  • One and a half pieces of dessert

Though you can easily apply these numbers to whatever size crowd you're cooking for, let's try a sample shopping list based on a guest list of 10 people.

Chicken, beef, fish, or pork

  • 4 pounds

Potato or pasta salads

  • 3 pounds of potatoes
  • 1 pound of dry pasta

Hot dogs or sausage (main dish)

  • 20 hot dogs
  • 3 pounds of sausage such as bratwurst or kielbasa


  • Shrimp: 2 to 3 pounds, pre-cooked and peeled, or 3 pounds if raw and unpeeled
  • Clams and mussels: 2 pounds

Soups and stews

  • 2 1/2 quarts, if served as an appetizer
  • 1 gallon, if served as a main dish

Green salads

  • Two to three large heads of lettuce, or 2 pounds green salad mix
  • 3 cups of dressing

Of course, how you mix and match what you are serving affects how much you should make. For any two main dishes, such as chicken and fish, four pounds total are necessary, not four pounds of each. But consider adding a pound to the total, as many will want to try both dishes.

Who's Thirsty?

Punch, the perennial crowd pleaser

  • 1 gallon for every 10 guests

Beer, wine and cocktails

  • Two drinks per person, per hour is a good guesstimate
Photo by Meredith

Check out our cocktail party advice:

Find more recipes for Cooking for a Crowd.