How much food do I need?

Jan 15, 2012 at 4:12 a.m. ET

Planning a party is fun and exciting, but sometimes it is difficult to know just how much food you need to serve. Not only is the number of guests attending a factor in figuring quantities of food, but the time of day, the age of the guests and the length of time the party will last are important items to consider. Here are a few tips on how to plan the right amount of food for your party.

Friends having dinner at home

Consider the time of the party

A party that precedes a sit-down dinner will need less food than one that is the main event. Likewise, an after-dinner party will also require less food because people aren't as hungry. If your party is before or after dinner, the rule of thumb is to plan on five to six types of appetizers. Guests will most likely eat one to two of each appetizer. If your party is the main event and occurs over dinner time, then serve eight to 10 types of appetizers. Guests generally eat two to three of each appetizer. Remember, you can never have too much food, so always round up in your calculations to ensure you aren't caught short on food.

Plan for the length of the party

Events that take place for only one to two hours need less food than those that last all evening, so plan accordingly. If your party will last into the wee hours of the night, and people are enjoying cocktails throughout, you will want to keep the appetizer table filled. For longer parties, plan on people eating four to six appetizers per person, per hour. Offer a selection of six to eight different types of appetizers, including raw vegetables and fillers like pretzels and nuts.

Consider the ages of the people attending your party

In general, younger men will eat more than women, seniors and children, so plan accordingly. If the majority of people attending are women, expect to serve less than you would for a party with a mixture of males and females. If you are hosting a family party that includes all ages, even children, take into account how many of each age group are attending.

Offer a variety of appetizers

It's important to offer your guests a variety of appetizers so people on restricted diets or who are watching their weight have something to eat too. Offer fresh fruit and raw vegetables and dips, as well as a variety of meat, cheeses and other appetizers. Add breads or rolls as fillers. When deciding how much food you will need, keep in mind that high-fiber foods like vegetables will fill people up longer, so you may not need as many appetizers per person as you might otherwise need.

Making more may be easier

The larger the variety of appetizers you serve, the fewer of each you will need to make. If 10 to 15 different types of appetizers are served, you won't need to load up on each type, and there is sure to be something for everyone.

Watch: How to throw a wine-tasting party

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