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USU Extension: Feeding a Crowd

Yes, absolutely, says Family and Consumer Science Educator Teresa Hunsaker with USU Extension, but if you are in charge of feeding the crowd sometimes the challenge of how to prepare food for that many can be a challenge.

Here are some tips from USU Extension to make the job of “feeding the flock” a little easier. Let’s start by asking a few questions………

• What is the event?

• Why do you want to cook for this crowd?

• What resources do you have?

• How many will be eating?

• Where is the event?

• Will you need to be hostess as well as cook, service, and cleanup crew?

• Do you have a say in the menu?

The answers to these questions will help guide you as you consider the following points to quantity meal/food planning.

The Event or Activity

The type, style, and circumstance of the event or activity you are planning food for will have an impact on the type of food you serve and how you serve it. Is the event formal or informal, are you sponsoring it or are you just asked to bring the part of the food, who is the primary audience, are there any traditions behind the gathering, etc.?

Resources Available

When considering food for many it is important to take a serious look at the resources available to those who are preparing that food. Some of the resources to consider are: time, skill, money, helpers, facilities, equipment/supplies, and certainly energy level. All resources must be looked at carefully this time of year—if you are limited to some extent in a couple of those resources do you have others in abundance to make up for the limitations?


The location of the gathering for feeding the crowd will also need to have some review. The most important question to ask regarding the location is, “What are the limitations to prepping and serving the food here?”

Choosing the Menu

This is the hard part, because depending on the answer to all these other considerations the menu can pose a problem. Here are a few more questions to ask:

• Will it have to be transported?

• Are you following a theme?

• Will it be a meal or refreshments?

• Will it be a buffet or served?

• Does everything need to be “homemade”?

You also have to consider how the food will hold up if made ahead of time and how and where it will be stored until serving—frozen, refrigerator, etc. One other consideration—select foods you know well. A large event is no time to be trying out a new recipe you have never made before. For each recipe you choose you will need to consider the work involved in the making of that food multiplied by the number needed. Sometimes a recipe seems easy enough when made as a single batch, but if you have to triple it, it is no longer doable.

Also, give consideration to the combination of all foods for the color, flavor, temperature, etc. as a whole. Sometimes we pull foods and don’t consider how they work together—or don’t work together. For example, you don’t want all yellowish colored food—like chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, and a roll. Have spicy, crunchy and soft, color variety, and hot and cold.

Quantity Food Guides

Now the fun begins. This is where many of us start to get overwhelmed. Let’s break it down for some of the most common foods. Remember the type of service will affect the quantity to prepare—in other words, if it is a “help yourself” type buffet, or a sit down meal, it all makes a difference.

• Generally a meat serving is 3-4 oz. of cooked meat—without bone.

• Cooked veggies or veggie side dishes (such as rice or mashed potatoes) will be half a cup.

• For salad greens plan on at least 1 cup.

• For fruit salad or Jell-O salad, figure half a cup.

• For brownies or cake determine the size square you want to cut them in—2″ x 2″ or 3″ x 3″

• For pies—plan on cutting a 9 inch pie in sixths—unless there is a large variety of pie, and then plan on eighths. When there is more for the guest to choose from they will take smaller portions, but try more.

• 5 to 6 9-in. x 13-in. pans will serve approximately 100 people as a side dish—when pan is 1/2 to 2/3 full.

• 10 9-in. x 13-in. casseroles will serve approximately 100-120 people

• 8 gallons of a drink = 100 10 oz. servings

• Plan on 4-6 pieces person on whatever appetizers you are serving


• No. 1 can = 9-10 oz. = 1 and ¼ cups (condensed soup size)

• No. 303 can = 16 oz. = 1 and ¾ cups

• No. 2 can = 20 oz. = 2 and ½ cups

• No. 2 ½ can = 1 lb 13 oz. = 3 ½ cups

• No. 3 can = 2 lbs 12 oz. = 5 ¾ cup (size used for juice or whole chicken)

• No. 10 can = 6 lbs 10 oz. = 13 cups

• A 3 lb. chicken will yield about 1 lb of meat once boned

• 10-12 lbs of boneless ham will serve 50

• Rice—2 ½ cups dry measure = 1 lb, and 1 lb cooked serves approximately 12 people

• 1 lb of uncooked pasta serves approximately 15 people when cooked

• 2 cups whipping cream yields 4 cups whipped

• 2 ½ cups granulated sugar = 1 lb

For a more extensive list of equivalents and yields visit

Recipe Conversion

Modifying a recipe for large quantity cooking can be a bit problematic. You see, it is NOT just a matter of multiplication!! If you expand too much you may run into problems because not all recipes are indefinitely expandable. Be cautious when multiplying ingredients like salt, flour, cornstarch, eggs, seafood, meats, robust herbs, oils, onions, garlic, celery and peppers. Some ingredients will impart enough flavor, texture or body when only increased a fraction. Some of these ingredients can be added a little at a time as you continually check for taste.

If you want to serve 25 people with a “not-so-simple”, 4-6 serving recipe with numerous ingredients, the trick is to batch cook. You can cook 5-6 individual batches of that recipe or, you can expand the recipe (no more then 2-4 times) and cook in batches accordingly. For example, to serve 25 from a 4-serving recipe, double the recipe to 8 and cook three batches or, triple it and cook two batches. To serve 18 with a 6-serving recipe, cook it three times or cook one 6-serving batch and one batch that has been doubled to serve 12. Doubling or tripling more complex recipes could get too complicated. Batch cooking requires planning ahead and cooking in advance. It may also mean freezing prepared dishes. It is also a matter of “doing the math”.

Even doubling or tripling recipe ingredients for some cakes, cookies, pie dough, or breads can be a problem. It’s a chemistry thing. Instead, prepare a single batch repeatedly until you have enough food to feed your guests. Again, cooking in advance is the key.

Chances are you can successfully double or triple the ingredients of recipes for individual appetizers, such as stuffed mushrooms or crostini; and for snack mixes, dips, salsas, punches, one serving-size pieces of meat, poultry or fish, tossed salads, pasta salads and vegetables dishes.
(For a more extensive list of equivalents and yields visit )

Final Tips

• Make a list of all dishes you plan on serving, and consider the cost of the ingredients you will need as you choose your recipe(s).

• Make a shopping list from your recipe(s). Check it twice.

• Decide in advance which recipes to make first– plan cooking and preparation times accordingly.

• Some prep work can be done ahead of time, such as chopping vegetables, pre-cooking beans, veggies or meats for soups and stews, sandwiches, and dessert items.

• Plan ahead to have space in your refrigerator or on your stove for all you will be cooking. And don’t forget you will also need to store leftovers. Those large dishes need space!

• Be sure you have pots, pans and serving dishes large enough to prepare and serve your recipe(s).

• Know which foods freeze well, or how long foods will keep if done in advance.

• When transporting food, plan in advance how your food will be kept hot or cold.

• Practice food safety every step of the way from cleaning, chopping and prepping, to cooking and cooling—check out USDA’s website for help,

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