Let the Guest-Imator Help Create the Perfect (And Less Wasteful) Thanksgiving Meal

A new digital tool can help make sure you choose a turkey that's the right size for your needs. (Photo: Bochkarev Photography/Shutterstock)

Buying the right amount of food for Thanksgiving sometimes takes guesswork. You want to have enough, but don't want to be overwhelmed with leftovers.

Save the Food wants to remove some of that guesswork while helping to eliminate food waste with its Guest-Imator dinner party calculator. Easy-to-use and free, the digital calculator helps determine how much food to buy and serve for holiday meals and other dinner parties. It also helps to prepare for leftovers if you want them. (And who doesn't want to make sure they have enough extra turkey and trimmings for a few Thanksgiving sandwiches?)

According to Save the Food, 6 million turkeys ended up in the trash in 2016. About 100 billion gallons of water went into creating those wasted turkeys, and all that uneaten meat creates emissions equivalent to driving a car across the country 800,000 times. And that's just the turkey. Without careful planning for the meal and leftovers, uneaten side dishes end up in the trash, too, wasting even more water and creating more unnecessary emissions.

The Guest-Imator asks some simple questions about the type of meal you're serving and the people who will be sitting around your table — namely their appetites — before calculating the amount of food to serve. This quick video gives you an idea of how it works.


I did a little poking around the Guest-Imator. It firsts asks you how many people you're planning for, and allows you to indicate whether they are small, average or big eaters. It then asks how many leftovers you want, and finally asks if you're having a classic Thanksgiving dinner, a "veggie paradise" or a smorgasbord with a little bit of everything. Once you've answered those questions, it gives you a graphic menu with portion sizes like the one below.

guest-imator dinner calculator
Screenshot of a sample menu created by the Guest-Imator digital calculator that's designed to help curb food waste at big dinner parties. (Photo: Save the Food)

For eight average eaters, plus enough for two leftover meals, the calculator estimates you need a 7.5-pound turkey, as well as specific amounts of vegetables, stuffing, potatoes, casseroles and desserts. Remember, this is just an estimate. If you know your guests attack the mashed potatoes and you never have any left, common sense would tell you to use more than four potatoes.

As far as how they come up with the size of the turkey, they have a formula for that.

"The calculator starts with a recommended portion of three-quarter pounds per person. Then, if another main dish is selected, ham for example, the algorithm halves the recommended per person portions of each," said senior scientist Dana Gunders at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which launched the Save the Food campaign.

Once it gives you an initial estimation, the Guest-Imator also allows you to customize your meal by adding more dishes or subtracting ones that you won't be serving. So, if you're not serving ice cream for Thanksgiving, you can eliminate that. If you want to add brownies to your dessert choices, you can do that. You can even eliminate the pie if you want to, but I wouldn't advise that. (Your guests may revolt. It's Thanksgiving. There must be pie.)

One thing worth pointing out about the digital calculator is that depending on the number of guests, the Guest-Imator sometimes recommends a very small turkey size. It's difficult to find turkeys under 10 pounds unless you special order them. If you can't find the size recommended, buy the smallest size you can find, and then plan on getting creative with the leftover turkey. Or, don't buy an entire turkey. Purchase a smaller-sized turkey breast that you can still roast in the oven.

This holiday season, try more careful planning for your big meals. You'll save money and eliminate waste. And, if you do find yourself with a little extra, keep this Turkey Pot Pie recipe on hand. It uses up leftover turkey and vegetables, and you can serve leftover cranberry sauce on the side.