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Planning and Shopping a Traditional Holiday Menu

Beginning with the hospitality and continuing through the menu, try to make every part of the meal special. My simple goal when planning a public meal is always that courses recall the happiest times and that every item is better than that found in a typical cafeteria holiday meal.

These quantities will work for 30 or 300. They are calculated for mixed adults for buffet service with a server for the meat, or family style with the platters at the table. They do allow for "holiday-size" portions, which are generally larger than regular dinner portions. Teens or men only generally want about 20% more, ladies only or seniors only or families with several children eat about 20% less.

Usually, the menu for the holiday meal is traditional:

  • turkey or turkey and ham, see below
    • for quantities, see below
  • dressing or stuffing
    • 1/2 to 3/4 cup per person (6 ounces)
  • mashed potatoes
    • You want a pound raw of potato for each 3 persons for mashed potatoes. Roasted or grilled potatoes are also an option.
  • vegetable casseroles and/or sweet potatoes and/or winter squash
  • green vegetables: green beans: about 3-4 choices
    • 1/2 cup or 4 ounces by weight is the usual serving for each vegetable, I consider sweet potatoes as a vegetable for this meal. A #10 can holds 24-25 servings. This is an inexpensive place to bulk up the meal, maybe corn AND sweet potatoes AND peas with onions or green bean casserole AND one or two others.
  • gravy
    • 1/3 cup is best, 1/4 cup minimum
  • cranberry relish
    • 1 pound per 5-6 persons, provide both jelly and a whole berry choice. Homemade cranberry relish is easy and delicious and can cut costs.
  • desserts, especially pumpkin pie
    • see the table for dessert quantities in the planning section of big pots.
    • Brownies, plain cakes, cobblers and cookies can all be made ahead and frozen and are cheaper than store-bought pies. Basicslly you figure one standard serving per person; note that many caterers use smaller items so people can take more than one.
  • rolls
    • 4 for each 3 persons minimum, up to 1 1/2 per person
    • butter
      • 3 pounds for each 100 people
    • coffee, tea, milk and juice; perhaps eggnog or punch
      • see the beverages table in the planning section of big pots

    Specific other foods might be included as budget and cooks permit:

  • relish trays
    • 4 ounces per person, including pickles and olives. One gallon of olives per 100 persons
  • salads, jello salads, fruit salads
    • 1/2 cup serving of a fruit salad or frozen creamy fruit salad
  • rice dish or rice dressing or macaroni and cheese
    • same as stuffing. If serving both, use half of each
  • luxury vegetables such as cauliflower, creamed onions or creamed peas, roasted asparagus, brussel spouts with chestnuts or other green vegetables
    • 4 ounces per person
  • roasted nuts or mints for the tables
    • 6 pounds per 100 people

    How to check your estimates

    The ball park figure is 5-8 ounces total of sliced cooked meat per person, which is 37-50 pounds per hundred persons PLUS 10 gallons of side dishes per hundred persons. 10 gallons is 10 large crockpots, if you are dividing it up that way. This assumes you add bread and butter, condiments and relishes or salads, beverages and pickles and dessert.

    If you are unsure of the quantity of turkey to purchase?

    Whole turkey and turkey parts- turkey only
  • Allow for 1 pound of uncooked turkey per person when purchasing a whole turkey up to 12-14 pounds or turkey pieces (legs, thighs, etc); allow at least to 3/4 pound per person when purchasing a whole turkey weighing over 14 pounds.
  • Reduce the total amount by 20 percent if you will have a server for the meat (not self serve) and want no leftovers.
  • Increase the total amount by 50% if you want lots of leftovers or expect lots of heavy eaters
    Prestuffed frozen turkey (do NOT prestuff and freeze your own, it is unsafe)
  • Allow 1 to 1 pounds per person when purchasing a prestuffed turkey.
    Turkey breast or boneless roast
  • Allow 2/3 pound per person when purchasing a bone-in turkey breast, which usually weighs between 4 and 8 pounds (4 pounds for each 6 people)
  • Allow 1/2 pound per person when purchasing a boneless turkey breast or roast, which usually weighs between 4 and 8 pounds (4 pounds for each 8 people).
    Turkey plus ham
  • If you have both, most people will eat both. Use the low end of the turkey estimate, 3/4 pound whole raw per person. Add 1 pound boneless ready to eat ham for each 4-5 people.

    Gravy makings

    If you are cooking ahead and taking the meat off the carcasses to store, put the carcasses right into the stock pot with some celery, carrots, and onions- free stock. You want about 1 head of celery and 1 pound each of carrots and onions for each 3 whole turkeys. To make the turkey gravy stock if you are not cooking ahead, purchase and roast an additional 10 pounds of turkey drumsticks, wingtips, or necks to make 1 1/2 to 2 gallons of gravy stock for each 100 people. Or purchase 2 gallons unsalted chicken stock.