How to control portions when feeding a large crowd at a barbecue

One of the biggest challenges in serving food to a crowd of people at a buffet or barbecue is trying to calculate just how much food to buy. While we can ballpark a figure based on the size of an average portion and how many people will be attending the event, it's hard to estimate the number of people who will heap their plates with triple servings of everything.

Over the years, I've discovered several strategies for controlling portions when feeding crowds. Here they are.

Use smaller size paper plates. If your buffet or barbecue consists of finger foods, an easy strategy for controlling portions is to set out small 6" desert plates and/or 6" desert napkins for holding the food. These small plates can hold no more than 10-12 small items before the food starts to roll off.

For sit down meals, a 9" luncheon plate is a better alternative than using 11" inch plates, since these will also limit the amount of food that can be taken. Another sneaker trick; instead of using high quality Chinette brand plates, use lightweight foam plates which can't hold too much food before the plate buckles under the weight.

Use smaller size beverage cups. 12 or 16 ounce plastic beverage cups may look festive, but they means you can only serve 8-10 people per gallon of punch. Smaller cups, such as the 6 and 8 ounce clear wine cups found at party stores are a better way to limit the portions here.

Pre pack and pre cut. Another great way to limit portions is by setting out food that's been repackaged or preassembled when possible. While this won't prevent anyone from grabbing more than his or her share, it does seem to prevent people from taking super sized portions. Some examples:

-- buying 5 ounce packaged potato chips instead of setting out bowlfuls

-- slicing cake into 2 inch squares to set out on plates

-- serving vegetable sticks, fruit cups, and potato salads in 3 ounce Dixie cups

-- offering packaged ice cream cups instead of scooping up cones

-- packaging crackers, nuts, small cookies, and other munchies in snack size bags

-- using single serve packets of sugar, cream, condiments

-- using smaller size buns, tortillas, or other bread product

When the goal is to feed a large crowd of 100 or more people, managing portion size makes it easy to determine how much food will be needed at your event. While smaller sized cups and plates, you won't run out of food through the fault of guests who supersized their portions.

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