Planning Party Platters for Pennies

by Reader Contributors

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When planning party platters, how much should you plan per person? These tips can help you feed your guests without busting your budget or ending up with too much leftover food.

Over the years we’ve gotten quite a few questions from readers about frugal party planning. Here are two of the questions and the many helpful responses other frugal readers provided that could help you throw your next party for less.

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
What’s a good way to determine how much food per person should be allowed when planning party platters? For example, How many ounces or pounds of meat per child or adult should be allowed when making a meat tray? We are thinking of making a meat and cheese tray, a fresh vegetable tray, and a fresh fruit tray but have no idea how much we should allow per person. Or does anyone have any ideas for other frugal party platters? Any tips would be helpful.
Thank you,

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
We’re planning on having a big New Year’s party. In the past when we’ve had big parties, we always seem to have too much food and drink or not enough. Are there any guidelines that we can follow that will help us get it right? We don’t want to disappoint our guests, but we can’t afford to waste money either.

A Site That Will Help with Party Food Planning

This website gives pretty good information about estimating food for a party. You’ll find it here. Hope it helps. I’ve used it and like it for party planning.

Tips to Keep Your Party Costs Low

My husband is a catering director and while there are factors like budget, time of day, etc. the guidelines are around 10 to 15 bites per person.

If you are trying to save money, have your party mid-day after lunch and before dinner. That way you can plan for fewer bites per person. If you have a party around dinnertime (approximately 7 p.m.), then plan on more bites.

Also, if you are doing actual bites, like little bite-sized brownies and such, plan on more for dessert. People have a tendency to keep nibbling on them. If you’re thinking budget-wise, have a cake or something where you aren’t just nibbling. People will think twice before going for a third piece of cake, but they don’t think about the 20 brownie bites they nibble on as they pass the food table.

Also, I’ve always seen better success with more food, as opposed to less, but more expensive food. Most people are happy with finger sandwiches and don’t care so much that you spent $500 on caviar.

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A Few Guidelines for Party Platter Planning

As a personal chef and caterer, I think I can help. Here are a few guidelines:

  • Beverages – 8 ounces per person or 3 pound can of coffee equals 300 servings
  • 4 portions of 4 ounces each from the 4 food groups equals 1 pound per 4 persons
  • 4 ounces meat (ham, turkey, roast beef, meatballs, chicken or fish). With a sit-down meal, figure 6-8 ounces per person of an entrée.
  • 4 ounces of potato salad or regular salad (potato salad, coleslaw, macaroni salad, scalloped or Au Gratin Potatoes)
  • 4 ounces of another vegetable (carrots or green beans)
  • 4 ounces of dessert
  • Therefore, 20 people will need 5 pounds from each food group. 40 people will need 10 pounds from each food group, etc.

This is based on the average eater.

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Planning Party Platters: Ideas From Experience

I’m busy right now planning my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary so this question is right down my line. Because I’m a pastor’s wife I’ve also had a lot of experience with planning for groups.

Somewhere along the years I picked up a party planner book and this is what they say on planning party platters:

  1. Plan on 2 to 3 ounces of meat per person. (25 servings of cold cuts would be 3 to 5 pounds)
  2. Plan 1 to 1 1/2 ounces of cheese slices per serving. (This would be 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 pounds for 25 servings)
  3. Plan 1/2 cup of chicken, tuna, and potato salad per person. (1 gallon for 25 people)
  4. Allow 4 to 6 pieces of vegetables on a relish tray per person. (2 pounds of broccoli or cauliflower makes about 32 florets, 1 pound of carrots makes about 65 (3 X 1/2 inch) sticks, 1 3/4 pounds of celery makes about 100 (4 X 1/2 inch) sticks, 1 pint of cherry tomatoes equals 25 servings, 1 1/2 pounds of cucumber equals 50 servings (1/4 inch slices)
  5. Allow 1/2 cup per serving with fruit. (18 1/2 pounds of watermelon equals 16 cups, 4 pounds of pineapple equals 5 cups, 3 pounds of cantaloupe makes 4 cups, 1 pint of strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries equals 2 cups, 1 pound of green grapes equals 2 cups, 1 pound of Tokay grapes makes 3 cups, and 3 ounces of kiwifruit is equal to 1/2 cup). See also: 14 Ways to Buy Produce for Less.
  6. When considering children, I’ve found that some people take more, some take less so it pretty well balances out. The exception seems to be the salads like chicken, tuna, potato salad, etc. Kids just seem to avoid that and you could figure only one serving for every 3 to 4 kids. I hope this helps. It sure has helped me over the years.


Plan on Leftovers You’ll Eat

We host several big parties a year because we have a larger home and a full-size volleyball court, both of which are a rarity in our mountain community! Anyway, we can have the same crowd over on two different occasions and people will consume totally different amounts. You just never know.

The key is to serve things that you like and that freeze well. I typically buy a boneless sliced ham and turkey from Costco along with cheese and rolls for people to make little sandwiches.

Learn from Her Potluck Success

I organized a potluck for 20 people several years ago. I told everyone to bring eight to nine servings of whatever they were bringing to the potluck. This seemed like an appropriate number. The amount worked out beautifully!

At the end of the night, there were a few leftovers, but the potluck came out about “even.” I’ve used this several times and it has guided me well.

Host a Potluck

Why not have a potluck? Each person brings a dish of their own, and that way, you’re not out a ton of money. You can spend it on plastic tableware, drinks, or some other items.

Everyone contributes a little bit and it should end up saving you a lot of money.
Joshua C.

Always Make More Than Enough

You never want to run out of food! I would plan ahead and make dishes that any leftovers could be put into meal-size containers to be frozen. I would then try to use a container or two as part of a meal at home.

Make sure it is not sitting out more than two hours. If that can’t be done, divide the dish into two parts and only put one out at a time, so nothing spoils. Be sure to watch when one dish is getting low. Then bring out the second one.
Dee Bee

Reviewed March 2023

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