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9 Tips for Portioning Food This Thanksgiving

It’s almost time to gather the family and give thanks for the good things in life. As we move into November, and Thanksgiving grows closer, you’ll need to determine your menu and approach to portioning food. That’s easier said than done when you’re serving a small army of friends, family and loved ones.

It’s important to keep your post-Thanksgiving goals in mind. If you’re cooking for a large group, you might not plan for leftovers. However, if your crowd consists of only a few people, your guests may prefer a portion of a favorite dish to take home. With that in mind, consider the following nine tips.


1. Confirm the Number of Guests

Before you make your grocery list, confirm the number of guests who are planning to attend. Ideally, ask your invitees to respond at least one week before the big day. This way, you have time to prepare some dishes in advance to reduce your stress levels.

If your guest list consists of a “Friendsgiving” gathering rather than family, consider making DIY invitations so people can RSVP. Receipt of these cards gives you an instant headcount. Otherwise, text or call people to confirm before heading to the market, an important precaution in portioning food.

2. Consider Plate Size

Your mother might have told you to clean your plate if you wanted dessert. However, you’re all grown up now, and that advice could add unwanted inches to your waistline.

If you’re buying disposable eco-friendly dishes, select smaller salad plates instead of large economy sizes. Your eyes recognize the plate as full when food covers the visual field. This optical trick doesn’t work if you’re famished — but with all the courses you have, any nod toward portion control helps.

Portioning food with separate plates.

3. Think Beyond One Big Turkey

Are you going to make a traditional turkey for Thanksgiving? If so, plan to serve 1 pound per person to account for the weight from the bones and gizzards.

However, bear in mind that cooking a large bird takes considerable time and talent — you don’t want to sicken guests with undercooked poultry. If you have a substantial crowd, consider roasting several chickens instead. If you opt for this route, budget one-quarter of a chicken per person.

Keep in mind that various kinds of turkey will yield different amounts of meat. For example, heritage turkeys are generally leaner, as are wild turkeys, and they’re far different from your standard bird. Melissa Cookston, celebrity chef and “Winningest Woman in Barbecue,” advises families to be selective when they’re browsing their local supermarket.

Cookston says, “If you’re not familiar with them (and enjoy them) don’t risk Thanksgiving with the family on a wild turkey, unless you are also cooking a raised one.”


4. Make Room for Finger Foods

Even when you set a start time, your guests tend to trickle in slowly. People who arrive early want something to nibble on, but not to the extent it ruins their appetite. A good rule to follow is five to seven appetizer bites during the first hour, followed by two to three each hour after that.

Remember, your guests may have dietary restrictions. Try the following finger foods for a variety that will please nearly any palate:

  • Baked brie and pecan prosciutto savory fat bomb: If your guests are monitoring their carb intake, they’ll adore these finger snacks high in protein and fat. You only need four little ingredients and approximately 20 minutes to cook.
  • Sun-dried tomato and basil pinwheels: If you have a vegan or vegetarian on your guest list, these are sure to please. Even if your invitees eat meat, they’ll enjoy the savory goodness and antioxidants these treats offer.

5. Prep Ahead and Freeze Some Foods

Unless you have a double oven — or even if you do — you might struggle to get all the food on the table when the big day arrives. Save yourself a headache and give yourself more time to mingle by prepping and freezing individual portions ahead of time. Doing so can also help you dole out servings.

It helps to use visual guides when you portion foods. One cup of soup is equivalent to the size of a baseball, for example. A 3-ounce serving of meat is approximately the size of a deck of cards.

Portioning food on a countertop.

6. Serve More Fresh Vegetables

You don’t want to prep enough Caesar salad to feed King Arthur’s entire court if you are only entertaining a small crowd. However, offering a variety of veggies serves several purposes. They are safe for guests who follow any dietary restrictions, and many vegetables take little time to roast or sautéed lightly.


7. Switch to Smaller Flutes

You don’t want to run out of alcohol before the dessert course arrives, and you need enough champagne to make a toast. In general, it’s safe to estimate one drink per adult guest every two hours. Usually, the guests who abstain balance out those who overdo it a bit. Using smaller drink glasses helps remind revelers to consume in moderation.

To keep from going crazy during the festivities, serve an autumn punch instead of making individual mixed drinks. You can create a nonalcoholic version for designated drivers — as well as kids who want to feel like grown-ups with a fancy beverage in hand.


8. Cut Pies in Advance

The first piece of pie is always the hardest to remove. Plus, when you slice it at the table, other guests can feel slighted if Uncle Joe takes a large serving. Instead, cut your pies right after they cool. All you need to do is scoop out each slice when you’re portioning food.


9. Prepare Containers for Leftovers

Make sure you stock up on plenty of food storage containers before Thanksgiving. Stackable bowls save on refrigerator space. If your budget permits, opt for glass versions. They don’t contain the chemicals that plastic does.


Get the Perfect Portions This Thanksgiving

You don’t need to stress over portioning food this Thanksgiving. By following the tip above, you’ll ensure all your guests leave comfortably full and happy.


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Dylan Bartlett

Dylan Bartlett, aka, "The Regular Guide," writes about food, family and more on his blog. Check out Just a Regular Guide for similar topics, or follow Dylan on Twitter @theregularguide for updates on his work.

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