Tips & Techniques

Shop for a Crowd—Without Running Out of Room in the Fridge

Ah, yes the holidays: Your family and extended family and your extended family's uncle and cousin are coming into town and you need to grocery shop (and cook!) for your everyone. Time to panic get organized!

But, seriously, don't panic. You have help. Who would know better about shopping for tons of people than a person who, in fact, shops for tons of people on a daily basis? (No one.) So, I consulted our Test Kitchen Chef, Josh Cohen, to see what he has to say about planning for a behemoth of a grocery store trip.

Even if your list doesn't involve making enough roasted cauliflower to feed 60 people like Josh's did for a recent Food52 party, with a little bit of organization, shopping for, say, 10 or even 20 people will seem a lot more manageable.

The list

More manageable? Yes! Photo by Erin McDowell

Write down your menu—and, once that's done, write a prep list. You can do this for each dish or, like Josh does, separate this list into what you can "accomplish one day prior to when the guests arrive, and then tasks that must be done on the day of the meal."

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Hand-write your lists if that helps, dividing them by the corresponding sections in the grocery store (i.e. produce, dairy, etc.) to ensure you don't forget anything. Or, make like our highly-organized contributing writer (and resident baking expert) Erin McDowell, who types the ingredients she needs into a "pre-set list I have on my computer that breaks things down based on aisles of my grocery store." (Whoa!)

For more list tips, check out what our Creative Director, Kristen Miglore, has to say here.

How much?

Will this serve 4? Maybe 6? Photo by Mark Weinberg

Running out of food for your guests is high up on the anxiety list of anyone who's hosting. Here's Josh's strategy:

In order to figure out how many ingredients to buy, I estimate that guests will eat between 1/3 to 1/2 pound of whatever protein I am serving, and between 1/2 to 1 cup of any vegetable or side dish. The more dishes you are serving, the less of each dish your guests will eat.

This means if you serve a recipe that says it will feed 4 as part of a large feast with a lot of other dishes, it will most likely end up feeding almost double that—about 6 to 8 people. If you're feeling particularly worried about there not being enough food and leftovers, of course, you can always double the recipe.

Will it fit?

Before you go shopping, assess your amount of storage space. If there's limited room in the fridge, do half of your shopping one day (the first prep list, if you've divided your lists like Josh does above) and the other half after you complete your first prep lists. "Completion of the first prep list will often lead to more room in the fridge, which allows you to shop for the second half of your ingredients," Josh explains.

If possible, assess which ingredients will take up the most room in your fridge and save them for last. For example, with the cauliflower for 60 people, Josh only got the cauliflower a few hours before the guests arrived. It never went into the fridge—and never took up too much space.

How do you handle shopping for a crowd? Let us know in the comments below!

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1 Comment

AntoniaJames November 2, 2016
In the spirit of respect and helpfulness, may I suggest that these ideas provide a superb way to improve your effectiveness every week of the year, and not just for Thanksgiving, or when serving a crowd? (It describes perfectly how I've managed my kitchen for 30+ years, though I'd add a few refinements to present the complete picture . . . ) ;o)