Thanksgiving

Our Definitive Per-Person Guide to Planning Thanksgiving Dinner

November  4, 2016

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.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“In short, I'm pretty sure the pound & half of turkey/person assumes a house full of healthy appetites for turkey leftovers. A variable worth considering when ordering a bird.”
— Jennifer
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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:

Dinner

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).

Beverages

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).

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

12 Comments

Cristina S. November 6, 2016
This is fantastic! I am always cooking way too much. Thanks for the reality check.
 
d W. November 4, 2016
We---I do---roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for Thanksgiving. I cook a turkey breast and dressing and make cranberry relish for the day after. Throw in the pies and a big bowl of brussel sprouts, parsnips and some apples and I have a full weekend of leftovers, a variety of soups and sandwiches. My mom didn't like to do turkey. My husband likes turkey leftovers. I don't cook on Christmas do it is the same thing for Christmas eve and have people in with cold buffet. Later on Christmas day it is off to Chinese with friends.
 
Brenda S. November 4, 2016
Thanksgiving is our FAVORITE holiday - we tend to overdo, and everybody goes home with leftovers. I roast a whole turkey plus a brined breast cooked/smoked on the grill. Depends on your guests' preferences I think, but no way does 3/4 c. stuffing and 1/3 c. gravy cut it - I have a gallon of turkey stock in the freezer to make sure there's enough LOL. Also an assortment of desserts so everyone can have (or take home) a 'sampler'.
 
Caroline November 5, 2016
Yes! Totally agree :)
 
Mary November 4, 2016
Thanksgiving dinner is meant to be bountiful and the anticipation of eating the turkey sandwiches on Friday is a given. That being said, if in doubt I always roast a turkey breast as a back up and slice it up with the whole bird.
 
Theresia A. November 4, 2016
I am Canadian and I had a close look at your portion guidelines. It looks like overindulgence to me.... That is far too much heavy food for my taste.
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. November 4, 2016
These are general guidelines of what works for us (as noted above, we like to plan for leftovers!) to help those that might not be as experienced with hosting—and Steven Raichlen and Virginia Willis are with us on the 1 1/2 pound per-person mark (https://food52.com/blog/9023-the-definitive-pounds-per-person-guide-to-turkey-and-potatoes) — but if you know you're hosting a huge group or have all out-of-town guests it makes sense that you might not want that many leftovers!
 
Madeline R. November 4, 2016
I have 30 coming. That translates to a 45 pound turkey and 30 bottles of wine. I do believe that that is a bit generous...
 
Pisanella November 4, 2016
Surely 30 people will mostly bring their own wine?!!!
 
Toddie November 4, 2016
There are four of us and we are doing an 18-20 pound turkey. Stuffing to fill the bird and more baked on the side. We will have plenty of leftovers - which is the best part!!! We have our main meal at dinner time so we munch on apps all day rather than have lunch. This might work for you but it is a pitifully small amount, in my opinion. I do agree on one bottle of wine per person for dinner.
 
Jennifer November 4, 2016
I read this out of curiosity. I keep notes from year to year, so I have a good sense of how much food I should make. I'm curious to know whether others think 1 1/2 lbs. turkey per person is too much, too little, or just right. I'll have fifteen at dinner. I have ordered a 16-18 lb. bird and know I'll have more leftovers than I want. But then, my guests are largely from out of town and won't be staying with me, so I won't be packing doggie bags for them, nor will I be serving turkey sandwiches the next day. In short, I'm pretty sure the pound & half of turkey/person assumes a house full of healthy appetites for turkey leftovers. A variable worth considering when ordering a bird.
 
P.M. November 4, 2016
Thank you, this is a helpful tip :)