12 Tips on Cooking for a Crowd
Preparing a meal for a large group can be overwhelming. This holiday season, minimize stress and enjoy time spent with your family and friends by following these simple guidelines.
Make the Right Amount of Food
How much food should you make? It’s a tough question, especially when guests eat different serving sizes and help themselves to seconds. As a rule, plan on a total of about 1 pound (500 g) of food per person, not counting drinks or dessert. Use the suggested-quantity listings below to calculate more exact amounts. To make sure there is plenty for everybody, always round up your estimates.
Food quantities per guest:
Hors d’oeuvres: 4 to 6 bites per hour
Boneless poultry, meat, or fish: 1/2 pound
Pasta (dry weight) for main dish: 1/4 pound
Potato: 1/4 pound
Rice or other grains: 1/2 cup
Beans: 1/2 cup
Vegetable side dish: 1/2 cup
Green salad: 1 1/2 cups
Buy Enough Alcohol
For beverages assume that guests will have at least two drinks per hour. With that in mind, the chart is based on a two-hour event. Be sure to have enough ice on hand as well-about one quarter to one half-pound (125 to 250 g) of cubes per person. It’s a good idea to keep a stash of extra glasses in your cabinet, too, as guests will generally use one glass each hour. A 10- or 12-ounce (300- or 355-ml) glass is perfect for most beverages.
Wine: 3 cups, 3 bottles for every 4 guests
Spirits: 3 cups, 3 bottles for every 4 guests
Beer: 12 ounce can, 4 cans per guest
Make Enough Sweet Treats
The amounts below are based on serving one dessert at your gathering. However, if you have more than one dessert, you’ll need fewer servings from each. When serving two or more treats, reduce the quantities by about half.
Dessert quantities per guest:
Cake, tart, pastry: 1 slice
Pudding or mousse: 1 cup
Ice cream: 1 cup
Plan Your Menu
Choosing what to cook can be as perplexing as how much to cook. For a big gathering, rely on crowd-pleasing dishes that can be made in large quantities. Make sure you have a mix of hot and cold dishes and recipes that can be made ahead, leaving only one or two dishes that need to be made the day of the event.
Stock Your Liquor Cabinet Wisely
Instead of buying several kinds of alcohol, keep your bar well stocked with drinks that you and your guests regularly enjoy. Be sure you have basic bar accessories, including a corkscrew, bottle openers, and cocktail napkins.
Share the Load
Consider co-hosting the event or asking others to bring specific dishes, potluck-style. If your family members are handy in the kitchen, put them to work chopping vegetables or just washing up
Make Meals Ahead of Time
Whenever a window of time opens and you’re in the mood to cook, put together a large dish that freezes well, such as a casserole or pot of chili. Simple sauces like salsa, chutney, and pesto are also great to have on hand. Try freezing cooked vegetables, too. Main dishes have a freezer life of two to three months, while sauces keep for up to six months and vegetables for up to a year. Breads and desserts can last about a month in the freezer. Always be sure to cool food and wrap it well before freezing it, and don’t place too many unfrozen dishes in the freezer at once.
Use Pre-Cut Vegetables
Buying pre-washed and pre-cut veggies is a surefire timesaver. Look for packages of mixed greens, spinach, or lettuce to make large salads a snap.
Spice Up Prepared Foods
Pick up store-bought sauces, soups, rice mixes, and beans-whatever you need to fill out your menu-and give them a special kick with fresh herbs and spices from your pantry. This tip works well with entrées such as pizza, roast chicken, and quality takeout food, too.
Use straightforward recipes that can be easily doubled or tripled. Big roasts, pots of soup or stew, and casseroles all fit the bill. Whole cakes and pies work well for desserts. The bigger the dish, the less you have to fuss with many small items as you prepare the meal.
Accommodate the different tastes of your guests with a choose-your-own approach. Set out platters of sandwich or salad fixings, bowls of favourite taco fillings, or a buffet of prepared dishes and let everyone assemble their own plate.
Concentrate on the First and Last Courses
Guests are most likely to remember the bookends of a meal, so always plan a menu that puts your best-tasting dishes first and last. Make your favourite hors d’oeuvres and desserts extra special. Then keep the middle courses low-key, with dishes like as lasagna, chili, or roast beef, chicken, or pork.