So you're hosting friends and family for dinners or holidays. But how much food do you make?! Here's a fool-proof guide to portions to make sure everyone's plates are juuuust right!

The last thing you want to happen when you're having guests over for dinner is to run out of food before everyone's plates are full! But knowing the right quantity to prepare ahead of time can be a little tricky!

We are putting together this helpful guide so you can prepare the right amount of food when having company! We want you to be able to provide enough food for everyone, without a ton of waste afterwards! Although it is definitely always better to have too much food than too little, as leftovers are never a bad thing around here!

Planning Your Menu

Once you have a good grasp of your guest list, it's time to plan your menu. Choose dishes that are both delicious and manageable for you to prepare. When selecting recipes, we like to opt for dishes that can be made in advance or ones that are easy to scale up if you have more guests than expected! Here are some great Shelf Cooking resources if you're still in the menu-planning stage:

Consider Buffet-Style vs. Plated

With a plated meal, you have more control over portion sizes. BUT this could lead to waste for guests that don't have large appetites! Buffet-style helps less food get tossed in the trash can after the meal. Leftovers still in the serving bowls aren't a bad thing; they can always be used later!

It's better to have a little extra food than not enough, especially if you have a bit of a margin for error in your preparation. Leftovers can be a great perk of hosting a dinner party. They can be enjoyed the next day or repurposed into new dishes.



  • Light Bites: finger foods, bruschetta, and other small canapés should plan on 4-6 pieces per guest if these are the only pre-meal option. If you're serving a soup or salad alongside, you can reduce this to 2-3 pieces per guest.
  • For more Substantial Appetizers (like mini quiches, stuffed mushrooms), aim for 2-3 pieces per guest if they are the sole appetizer. Adjust the quantity based on the size and richness of the appetizer.

Main Course:

  • Meat or Fish Dishes: plan on serving approximately 6-8 ounces per guest. If it's a larger portion or if it's the only protein in the meal, consider serving 8-10 ounces.
  • Poultry Dishes: entrees like chicken or turkey, can be slightly smaller, around 8-10 ounces per guest due to the leaner nature of the meat.
  • Vegetarian: for a main course like a tofu stir-fry or pasta dish, aim for 8-10 ounces of the protein or 2-3 cups of the main dish per guest.
grilling chicken and meats, from Shelf Cooking

Side Dishes:

  • Starchy Sides (rice, potatoes, pasta): Plan for about 2-3 ounces of starchy side dishes per guest. If it's a primary source of carbohydrates, you might increase this to 4-5 ounces.
  • Vegetables (roasted vegetables, steamed greens): 2-3 ounces of vegetables per guest is a good estimate, especially if you have multiple vegetable options.
  • Salads: For a side salad, plan on 1-2 cups of salad per guest. If it's a larger, more filling salad with protein (e.g., a pasta salad with chicken), you can reduce this amount to 1 cup.
bowl of cilantro lime rice, from Shelf Cooking

This should help you have a good idea for a general quantity of food to plan ahead for when hosting guests!

Here are some other blog posts you might be interested in: