What to CookThanksgiving

Our Definitive Per-Person Guide to Planning Thanksgiving Dinner

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This year, our goal is to make The Big Day (that would be Thanksgiving, of course) as stress-free as possible. First, with our magical, meal-planning Thanksgiving Menu Genie, which narrows down the options and sorts all of our favorite recipes to help you create the perfect meal.

And now, to help us all breathe even easier, we’re featuring Brittany Zeller-Holland’s illustrations of our per-person guide for planning Thanksgiving dinner (along with some explanations, detailed below), so you no longer have to question how much of everything you'll need to plan on.

Photo by Brittany Zeller-Holland

If some of the numbers feel on the generous side to you, well, that’s because they are. As a general rule, we'd rather aim high than come up short—plus, Thanksgiving leftovers are some of the best around.

Hors d'oeuvres

One exception to this comes at the beginning of the meal, where we’re planning on only 4 one- to two-bite starters per person. That’s because the meal is the main event, and we don’t want anyone headed into it with a full (or even partially-full!) belly.

This is not to say you even need to do 4 different appetizers, or that any of them have to be over-the-top elaborate—a well-stocked cheese board could do nicely. If you need more ideas, here are a few of our favorites:

Laurie Colwin's Rosemary Walnuts

Laurie Colwin's Rosemary Walnuts by Food52

Deviled Eggs, Purgatory Edition

Deviled Eggs, Purgatory Edition by MeghanVK

Endive with Pecorino and Honey

Endive with Pecorino and Honey by Emiko

Chevre Devils

Chevre Devils by gingerroot


For all of the main event dishes—everything from 1/2 pound of potatoes to 3/4 cup stuffing—we’re planning for overflowing plates. And 1 1/2 pounds of on-the-bone turkey per person is our standard, with one exception: with small birds (12 pounds or less) you'll need to plan for 2 pounds per person (because smaller birds have a smaller meat-to-bone ratio).


We’re planning on a full bottle of wine for every person (21 and over) that’s attending. Yes, you’ll probably have extra, but wine keeps and is nice to have on hand. Plus, if anyone gets going on politics, you might find yourself refilling more glasses than usual.

Not sure what type of wine to go with? Pinot noir is a safe bet. If you’re expanding your offerings beyond wine, we’ve got you covered there too—you’ll never run out of alcohol at a party again.

What's left?

Now that your plan is in place and your portions are calculated, with a full two and a half weeks to go, you can start thinking about your tablescape (and how nice it will be not to panic at the last minute about whether or not you bought enough potatoes).

How to Build a Holiday Tablescape
How to Build a Holiday Tablescape
Grey Linen Table Runner with Center Stitch

Grey Linen Table Runner with Center Stitch

Gold Edged Ecru Dinner Napkins (Set of 4)

Gold Edged Ecru Dinner Napkins (Set of 4)

Food52 Vintage-Inspired Brass Mixed Candlesticks (Set of 3)

Food52 Vintage-Inspired Brass Mixed Candlesticks (Set of 3)

Geometric Placecard Holders (Set of 6)

Geometric Placecard Holders (Set of 6)

From $28

Tell us: Do you have any tried-and-true numbers you go by when planning your Thanksgiving meal?

Automagic Thanksgiving Menu Maker!
Automagic Thanksgiving Menu Maker!

Tags: Illustrations