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Most people overcook when they are planning for a crowd. While you don’t want to run out of food, too much also causes problems of storage, waste, and spoilage.
Sometimes I estimate by extrapolating from the amounts that my family eats. Or I compare quantities from similar recipes found in reliable cookbooks. My neighbor the caterer helped, as caterers tend to know how much people eat and drink.
You can have a problem if you don’t know your guests. Some crowds like meat, while others prefer salads and vegetables.
Here is how I estimated the food and drinks:
Challah: We usually go through a kilogram of flour’s worth of challah bread on a regular Shabbat. I used six kilograms of flour for 37 people, but I used some of it the week before. I had more than enough.
Gefilte fish balls: 500 grams (1 lb.) for ten people, as an appetizer. Many of the kids didn’t eat it. As I wrote, I had some left but had to throw it out as it spoiled quickly.
Chicken: I didn’t estimate this by weight, but I should. My guests raved about it, and only one piece was left. This website estimates chicken amounts.
Meat/ground turkey. My mother said to buy 1/3 lb., or 150 grams of raw meat, per person. I fnd that works well. Of course your amounts may be skewed if you have teenage boys or young children, or vegetarians.
Side dishes: I usually consult a reliable cookbook for a similar recipe and extrapolate from that. Remember that if you have a lot of side dishes, you should adjust accordingly. I asked my sisters-in-law to bring some of the food, and left those quantities to them. They brought more than enough.
Drinks: My neighbor told us to buy one half a liter bottle for every person at the kiddush (the mini-meal served after synagogue services), and one for every two people at the meal. We didn’t buy as much as she said and still had 30 or more bottles leftover, some of which I donated to the synagogue. I don’t serve them to the family.
Cholent (meat stew): Since I served this at the same meal as the meatloaf I combined the weight of both meats for my calculation. My neighbor advised me to put in 5 onions, 15 potatoes, a kilogram (2.2 lbs) of soaked beans, and half a kilogram of barley. I used only 2/3 of the beans when I saw how many there were. The potatoes and meat all went, and I was left with beans and barley. I had planned to serve the spoiled bulgur at this meal so there was clearly enough cholent, although I would change the proportions next time.
Kiddush for 200: We had 400 pieces of kugel, 2.5 kg of salted fish, a watermelon and a half, and a couple of baskets of grapes. There were 4 kilograms (8.5 lbs) of rogelach (chocolate yeast cookies) and 12 cakes of about 10 slices each. About two cakes and 10 rogalech were left, and I served them for dessert at lunch.
A friend had given me four huge boxes cookies left over from a different party so I ordered less cake than I had been advised. In the end I served part of one box of cookies at other meals and donated the rest. The kugel, fish and fruit came out exactly right. We bought four large boxes of crackers (900 grams, or two pounds) and about half was left. I am not sure how many people actually came to the kiddush.
Keep in mind that quantities vary depending on how long it has been since the last meal, what you serve as an appetizer, and how food is presented. I read that people eat less snack foods when you put them into smaller bowls. And if you serve individual portions, you may end up with more waste than if you let people take the quantity they want. A filling soup will mean fewer people eat the main course. And some leftovers can be frozen while others, like salad, will need to be eaten right away. When planning your menu always think about leftovers.
Please share tips for estimating quantities in the comments.
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