How to Plan Your Thanksgiving Menu
But, if you’re planning on hosting the big feast this year, you may not be too keen on cooking all the dang food. From apps to sides to making sure the turkey goes in at the exact right time—the day is no small feat.
Here’s the thing: you don’t have to make every side or every appetizer.
In fact, one of the best ways to ensure your meal goes off without a hitch is to focus on a few key dishes that will complement your turkey and round out your menu. But how do you decide what to serve? Or, better yet, how much?
Read on for some tips and tricks from our resident chefs to help you finalize your Thanksgiving menu.
You spent hours preparing it and you expect your guests to want to take some home to enjoy over the next few days.
Because the weight of a whole turkey includes the bones, you’ll want to plan for about 1–1½ pounds of turkey per person.
So, if you’re expecting 8 guests for dinner, plan for about 12 pounds of turkey. If you’re hosting a large gathering and expecting around 14–16 people, plan for 24 pounds of turkey.
- 4 guests: 6 lb.
- 8 guests: 12 lb.
- 12–16 guests: 18–24 lb.
The purpose of appetizers is to make guests feel welcome, relaxed and to help take the edge off as they wait for the main event. You’ll want to supply enough so that people feel satisfied but not so much that they’re full before the turkey’s even cooked.
If you’re serving smaller bites, like stuffed mushrooms or crudites, plan on roughly 3–4 per guest. If you’re setting out cheese and crackers—which allows guests to graze as they wish—you should approximate 2 ounces per person with a handful of crackers.
- Small Bites: 3–4 per person
- Cheese and Crackers: 2 oz. per person with crackers
Cranberry Sauce & Gravy
While cranberry sauce can be enjoyed entirely on its own, more often than not, it’s used as a condiment or to complement bites of mashed potato and turkey.
Much like gravy, a little bit goes a long way, but you don’t want to run out of it either.
Depending on what your crew prefers, aim for ⅓–½ cup gravy and cranberry sauce per person. If your guests want leftovers or prefer one over the other, adjust accordingly.
- Cranberry Sauce: ⅓–½ cup per person
- Gravy: ⅓–½ cup per person
It seems like everyone has their own special stuffing recipe. So it’s no surprise your guests want to gobble up every last bite!
If they’re anything like us, they’ll want more than their fair serving—and then some! Aim for about ½–¾ cup per person. If your guests plan to take some home, you could bump that up to ¾–1 cup per person.
- Stuffing: ½–¾ cup per person (¾–1 cup per person for leftovers)
Okay, okay yes, the chart above might make it seem like mashed potatoes get the shaft when it comes to portion sizes, but there’s always room to adjust!
If your family and friends are silly for spuds, up the portion size to ½–¾ cup per person. If you’re skipping stuffing altogether, you can even bump that up to ¾–1 cup per person.
- Mashed Potatoes: ⅓–½ cup per person; ½–¾ cup for potato-lovers; ¾–1 cup without stuffing
This will depend on the type of veggies you’re serving, but you can roughly expect guests to eat 3–4 ounces, or about ⅓–½ cup.
For dishes like green bean casserole, plan for a little less to account for the heartiness of the cream and the crunchy onions. Corn cobs can be split in half for each guest, especially if you’re serving another veggie side, like Brussels sprouts or asparagus.
And while vegetables are good for you (and frankly, we could all be eating more greens), they’re not usually at the top of everyone’s “must have” list for Thanksgiving, so you can be a little more conservative.
- Green Beans, Asparagus, Brussels Sprouts, etc.: 3–4 oz. or ⅓–½ cup
- Green Bean Casserole: ⅓–½ cup
- Corn on the Cob: ½ cob per person
We’ll be the first to admit that if our Thanksgiving meal consisted of only turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes and rolls, we would die stuffed and extremely happy.
And while some of your guests are probably in the same camp as us, there is a ton of delicious food on the table. So, plan for about 1–2 rolls per person.
If you aren’t serving appetizers or you’re opting for just one main side dish, you can adjust to about 2–3 rolls per person.
- Rolls: 1–2 per person; 2–3 without apps; 3–4 for leftovers
Looking for some inspiration this Thanksgiving? Check out our list of 10 Thanksgiving Sides that are sure to impress every guest at your table!
This one comes with a big caveat: you know your guests best. Plan to serve them enough to feel satisfied while still being responsible.
If you’re serving drinks before, expect that your guests will drink more throughout the evening. You can also help space out their consumption by offering nonalcoholic options like sparkling water or mocktails.
If you do plan to serve drinks before dinner, having a few small bites for them to munch on will allow them to pace themselves until it’s time to eat.
- Alcoholic Beverages: 1–2 per person per hour
- For example, 1 bottle of wine will serve:
- 4 large glasses
- 6 moderate glasses
If your guests haven’t stuffed themselves full of rolls and turkey, ending the night with something sweet is always a treat.
Expect your guests to be a little more conservative when it comes to dessert and plan for about 1 piece of pie per person. If you’re opting for something less traditional, like ice cream, cookies or brownies, you can probably expect to serve about ½–¾ cup of ice cream and maybe 1–2 brownies per person.
If you know a few of your guests have strong sweet tooths, grab an extra pie! It’ll be appreciated and certainly won’t go to waste.
- Pie: 1 piece per person
- Ice Cream: ½–¾ cup per person
- Brownies, Cookies, etc.: 1–2 per person
The most important thing to remember when planning your Thanksgiving menu is to think about your guests—what dishes do you know will have them reaching for seconds? Do they have big sweet tooths? What do they absolutely refuse to eat?
Knowing these details will keep you from making dishes that go untouched or making too little of something that’s a crowd favorite.
So, think about the kind of meal you want to have, the people you’re planning to enjoy it with and go from there.
Don’t let Thanksgiving catch you by surprise! Check out our Ultimate Thanksgiving Planning Guide for tips and tricks from our chefs to ensure the big day goes off without a hitch!