Try This Calculator for Waste-Free Holiday Dinners

Deciding what to prepare for a dinner party is difficult enough, but next comes an equally difficult dilemma — how to cook just the right amount so that everyone gets enough but nothing goes to waste. It’s a fine line to walk, but this interactive dinner party calculator from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Ad Council at makes it easier, removing some of that holiday stress.

To use “The Guest-imator,” plug in the number of guests you’re expecting, accounting for the small eaters (kids and others with tiny appetites), the average eaters, and the big eaters (here’s where those high school football players go). Next, enter how many leftovers you want to have after the big meal is finished. Then, choose a type of meal (but don’t worry too much about this part, because on the next screen, you’ll have the opportunity to customize everything).

Planning to serve turkey and tofu for your mains, accompanied by pasta, potatoes, and veggies, with a finishing note of cobbler and ice cream? For 10 average eaters, you’ll need 4 pounds of turkey, 20 ounces of tofu, 13.5 ounces of pasta, seven potatoes, 27 ounces of vegetables, one cobbler, and 20 ounces of ice cream. The Guest-imator will even give you tips to maximize your meals — for instance, pre-plate dessert to keep people from taking more than they’ll really eat, and use leftover mashed potatoes on sandwiches in place of mayo or cheese.

The website has tons of other tips, including how to waste less with kids; reviving food that’s stale, wilted, overcooked, salty, or burned; deciphering what dates on products really mean; and much more.

Image: Save the Food

The Right Recipe

What if, despite your best efforts, you still have more left over than you expected? All is not lost to the compost bin. Here are some recipes from that use ingredients that would typically be tossed:

Last but not least, make sure you know how to store all that perfectly usable food so it stays that way. Happy holiday entertaining!

Editor’s note: Originally published on November 29, 2017, this article was updated in December 2019.

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