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Jan 17, 2012 07:58 AM

Portion control at a dinner party

We have friends who truly do engage in portion control at dinner parties - ie one piece of meat per person. A friend also reports that they are often invited to a dinner party and his wife says, Stan don't forget to take just one piece of chicken (otherwise the guys at the end of the table will be starving.

Went to visit a relative of Mme Zoe's years ago together with her bro and SIL. Mme Zoe's family are Danish and also very big eaters. Lunch was set for six and hostess had made Danish meat loaf about the size of a soup can accompanied by potato salad in a tiny glass dessert cup plus some homemade bread Danish style. Bro in law's eyes fell out of his head - we had a miniscule lunch, sat around "admiring" hosts really dreadful art and then took off to the nearest coffee shop. Still talking about this twenty years later.

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  1. Completely bizarre. If you are so poor you can't afford to offer adequate servings to your guests, then at least make it a pot luck or something. I have never seen this happen anywhere I've been a guest.

    13 Replies
    1. re: rasputina

      My husband and I were once invited to dinner by another couple who served one chicken wing per person. (That was not an appetizer, it was the entree.)

      1. re: Querencia

        sounds like my ex-MIL. She would buy cornish hens and have the butcher cut them in 8ths, serving one 8th per guest.
        When forced to attend a meal at her house, I always ate beforehand. She was a very good cook, but rationed the food and everyone always left the table hungry.

        1. re: bagelman01

          1/8 of a cornish game hen?? wow... that is some severe portion control!

          1. re: kubasd

            depression era baby and WWII Nazi victim survivor syndrome................
            Never enough money and food was always rationed and unavailable, lived on starvation diet for years in Germany, than 2oz of protein per week in Palestione before 1948. Came to USA in 1953 and never adjusted to this land of plenty when it came to food. Always served tiny portions and made just one portion per invited guest, no provisions for seconds or leftovers, ever. 8 people for supper, then 8 hot dogs, 8 rolls, one can beans, one can kraut, one bottle soda, one pie.

            1. re: bagelman01

              bagelman, I knew nothing of this. It makes perfect sense, emotionally and historically speaking. How sad. I am SO sorry this is part of your story, but in the here and now, you are a survivor and it's clear from your posts that you are capable of great joy and great food. Shalom Shalom, and much respect.

              1. re: mamachef

                not me, I was posting about my ex-MIL, I was born in the USA almost 60 years ago

              2. re: bagelman01

                This reminds me of one particular patient I nursed back when I was a student. This was an elderly woman who was in the beginnings of dementia and had quite awful arthritis in her hands. Every morning shift I would come in and set up her breakfast tray for her - open packets of cereal, butter toast, open milk, make tea etc. At first I couldn't understand why she would get so distressed - she would frantically be shovelling half the cereal back in its box, demand that I send her other piece of toast back to the kitchen for someone else later on, ask for her milk to be sent back to the kitchen for another day. I tried to explain that in a hospital we couldn't do these things and it was really ok for her just to eat what she wanted and not worry, but her anxiety would just go through the roof. I eventually clicked a couple of days later and made the connection. I learned to vet the breakfast tray before it got to my patient and make sure there was only one very small serving of food there for her.

                1. re: TheHuntress

                  not really my job, but have taken hundreds of geriatric patients to the bathroom...trying to get them to take more than two sheets of paper can be brutal

                2. re: bagelman01

                  My father's story is very similar (same age, same location, same experience) to bagelman's but he swung the opposite way. He pushed, pushed, pushed food on everyone.

                  1. re: bagelman01

                    That's funny because my grandparents who survived harsh time during the Korean war do the complete opposite. because they were so deprived of food when they were growing up, the first thing my grandma says when i walk in is, did you eat? want to eat something and she would serve mountain and mountains of food even though i keep telling her I am not hungry.

              3. re: Querencia

                Wow, I hate wings. When I was a child, we would get one wing, and each seemed to have been picked over by an adult - no meat at all - just that little thing with pimples in the skin, but the skin was often gone by the time that we got it.

                At least it was better than a cup of gruel.


                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  Have you had wings at all since that childhood of yours?
                  [Oh, wait, I guess wings are not the sort of thing you are served at the posh places you seem to go to pretty exclusively in your adult life or the high-rolling circles you seem to circulate in ;-) ]

            2. I find that completely strange. If I open my home to guests, the food will be plentiful and seconds and even thirds available. I "get" the Family Holdback and have done that when I held a fund-raising event at my house, per the kids who were hovering like vultures over the sweets table. "Don't touch it. Don't even think about touching it. If there are things left, you can have them after." But if people are coming for dinner, I have a built-in fear of not having enough, which spurs me to make more, more more.
              I really don't understand why that hostess didn't provide more! Was she unused to cooking for a group?
              Oh: I should mention that I do plate food in the kitchen when company is here, so I am in charge of the control part at the outset - but I plate generously, and always offer more. I do like buffets and potlucks too, but that's just what I do here.

              12 Replies
              1. re: mamachef

                Ahh, the differences of cultures. Having been caught, snagged, trapped, and bamboozled so many times myself, I am very sensitive to it.

                Given 20 years ago, my observations may still be pertinent. Was invited into people's homes in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Portions were far smaller than the U.S. norm. So were the plates. Given the taxes on alcohol, a bottle of beer was shared, and about 4 ozs of wine.

                Lunch was invariably flat bread disguised as cardboard with a smear and 4 to 6 small shrimp or some pate' or fish. Dinner was soup, about 4 ozs of meat, potato, and a veggie. I stress that I was always a guest and not "part of the family" as I was back home in Germany. Traveling in September made it much easier to meet locals, as opposed to fellow tourists.

                These differences and lessons are a major reason why I love to travel. Was not aware of many overweight, let alone obese, Scandinavians.

                1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                  That is very very interesting, IRF. I do know that in Europe and other countries, they eat much much less than we do, so I can see why that happens. I guess it's a me thing, since us Americans are conditioned to eat so much - I feel like I need to provide for it.

                  1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                    Indianriverfl, Wow that is interesting. My dad is from Norway and I have spent a lot of time visiting family there over many years. I agree with your observation that there aren't many overweight Scandinavians and I saw my family members eat in the kind of portions you described.

                    It was my experience (over and over and over and over again!) that when serving guests anything from breakfast to kaffe to middag meals, etc., there was plenty of food and it was pushed two, three, and four times again after the initial serving.

                  2. re: mamachef

                    mamachef, I am always nervous to plate in the kitchen because people are so picky.....I don't want to put things on their plates that they will feel odd about leaving behind.....Am I worrying too much?

                    1. re: sandylc

                      Most of the people I have to my house are just happy to be served a good meal, but if they are picky, can't they just push the offending food aside? Yes, I think you are worrying too much, we are talking adults right?

                      1. re: sandylc

                        It depends on the level of formality, sandylc. If it's just folks, dinner is indeed served family-style and people take what they want. But at home if I'm "having a dinner party" that seems too casual, and so I design my plating beforehand and plate in-kitchen because I have a pretty set idea about how I want those plates to look. As hostess, it's my prerogative and I really don't worry too much about what gets left behind. You can do your homework, and should know if you have a vegetarian to feed, or somebody who's allergic to fish, and plate accordingly, but beyond that, just relax and enjoy your evening. You have enough to worry about. remember though, this is just opinion.

                        1. re: sandylc

                          sandylc, I do things a bit differently, I suppose. I have a closed off formal dining room, so I cook in the kitchen, and let everyone serve themselves. I make sure there is a good selection and quietly point out the special options for those with special diets. That way, no one feels "singled out" if that makes sense, as in "Here, everyone, is your steak! And for you my vegan friend, here is zucchini ratatouille...". At my annual curry bash, I usually have a couple of vegetarians plus one person with an onion allergy which wreaks HAVOC on my dishes as onions are pretty integral. I make all dishes without onions, put some aside, then add the onions. Then, everyone serves themselves. I've had the feedback from those with special diets that they feel really comfortable because to them, they choose what they want without having a big deal made about it. And the best part is that there is really little food wastage, as what isn't taken is kept as leftovers instead of serving people what I think they should have, and then pitching out food that isn't touched. I've had guests ask to cut chicken breasts in half as they won't eat the whole thing and they don't want to waste food which is great IMHO as compared to throwing half of it out uneaten. Even though this method of serving is casual, we dine with full china, silver and crystal so it isn't really a totally casual meal. It just lets people pick and choose what and how much of everything they would like.
                          I always plate the desserts, though. They look so much prettier that way!

                        2. re: mamachef

                          im purely incapable of plating food...if i have 20 people over, i make enough for stepmother is like that too...she came up with the idea of getting deli containers, and the college students and struggling artists are exstatic

                          1. re: katy1

                            I'm the same way. Can't plate, must serve buffet, and ALWAYS have more than necessary. Better to have leftover than restrict portion size. Last winter holiday I had 12 guests (besides my son and me) and made 2 briskets and over a dozen pieces of chicken thighs (along with starch, a huge roasted veggie platter and salad). I had enough brisket left over to portion out several containers to freeze and send home with my son, and this was after I made sure everyone had the opportunity to get a second (or third!) helping.

                            I think this trait is genetic, my mother was the same way. Always serve too much, and have left overs. She and my dad were on a very tight budget, and entertained their friends very well for years til Mom was too old to do so (and friends moved away).

                            1. re: alwayshungrygal

                              My stepmother got sick of her tupperware disappearing for good, around the time all the grandkids were going away to school, and the starving artists needed a few good meals. She instituted using deli style containers, and making sure the kids all had enough left over for at least one meal. The rest of us have followed her example. I certainly wouldn't make an extra couple racks of lamb, but i can make sure I have enough Teriyaki chicken skewers, rice, and grilled veggies to see a student through a day or two.

                              1. re: katy1

                                My cousin learned to show up w/his own tupperware containers if he wanted leftovers. The cook had to keep an eye out that he wasn't filling them before the meal was over or that he wasn't taking home too large of a share.

                                1. re: viperlush

                                  That's hysterical...but we have a few like that!

                        3. Years ago a friend was having a gathering and said he'd get "a bunch of Chinese food". Great!

                          We show up and there are 10-12 people (all invited by him) and our friend had gotten two entrees and 6 spring rolls.

                          10 Replies
                          1. re: Janet from Richmond

                            Similar experience: We were invited to have dinner with a family of 4. I was told by my friend she would make a roast. I offered to make soup for the first course. I brought the soup, and a baguette to accompany the soup. That was dinner. She "forgot" to make the roast.

                            1. re: CookieLee

                              "She "forgot" to make the roast."

                              Maybe I'm very selective when choosing friends and/or family that I associate with, but I can never see anyone I know pulling a trick like this and other things people have cited. I'd be curious to know if these people are people you normally associate with or just acquaintances that you were indebted to have dinner with for one reason or another. I'm serious and no disrespect meant at all. Thanks.

                              1. re: ttoommyy

                                Indeed, we were quite shocked. No disrespect felt. I thought we were good friends. It was the start of a laundry list of awkward situations. We're not friends anymore.

                              2. re: CookieLee

                                LOLOLOL can you imagine? OOPS where DID I put that roast? I forgot!!!!
                                Soup and baguette and takeout on the way home!

                                1. re: freia

                                  I know it's around here somewhere........bahahahahha!!!

                                    1. re: sandylc

                                      Ah, blame it on the "Bumpus' hounds!"

                                      Normally, they only steal the turkey.


                                  1. re: CookieLee

                                    my grandmother forgot to turn on the oven once when making a roast. my parents had just told her that she was going to be a grandmother and she was so excited that it was a while before normal brain function resumed (arguable that it ever did, or was there to begin with, but thats another subject.) I wonder if CookieLee had the audacity to check the fridge or freezer to see if there was even a roast in there to start with. maybe the friend forgot to shop too.

                                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                                      LOLOLOL "arguably that it ever did..."

                                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                                        hehe, I think she totally forgot that she was making the dinner! I didn't check, lol.

                                  2. Very interesting. In my circle of family and friends, having too much food on hand is the norm. (We are fortunate to live in an area where food is reasonable)

                                    I can only remember one time where a tiny amount of food was served and that was a rather strange NYE event where it was obvious the hostess had zero interest in providing food and even less interest in her guests. (Her husband invited a bunch of people against her wishes, it was a mess.)

                                    I don't remember going hungry at our German relatives homes. Portions where smaller but the was always multiple courses, plenty of breads, cheeses, sliced meats and such as starters.

                                    I do run off the teen children of our close friends, restricting their second until EVERYONE has a chance to have one piece of whatever. After the first round, they are free to eat the remainders. I learned this the hard way after they ate literally everything I prepared for dinner for 8 adults and 3 teens.

                                    10 Replies
                                    1. re: cleobeach

                                      We always serve too much food. My husband and I both fear not having enough.

                                      1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                        Mr. CB has a greater fear than I do. He wanted to make something like 15 pounds of mashed potatoes for 10 adults at Thanksgiving. We compromised at 1 pound per person and a huge amount was leftover, no surprise!

                                        I absolutely agree most Americans are conditioned to eat too much.

                                        For our family/circle, I caulk it up to living in an agricultural area.

                                        If a family didn't have a huge garden, their parents/siblings/neighbor did and I remember basements that looked like grocery stores - rows upon rows upon rows of canned goods. Every family had at least one chest freezer (we had 4 commerical sized ones) full of game and beef. So while there might not have been money in the budget for "fun" food, I honestly don't remember any family that didn't have plenty to eat.

                                        My father was an older child/young teen in Germany during WWII. They were on the verge of stravation most of the time. As a result, our cupboards were bursting and there was never a time when he didn't welcome friends and family to the table with an embarassment of food and drink.

                                        1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                          I always thought it was a jewish mama thing _ I guess it's an American thing. Whenever I have guests there is always too much. I am always afraid someone won't like something so I make alternatives.

                                          1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                            We always seem to prepare "too much" too. But I would be so embarrassed if we ran out of food with hungry bellies around. We usually make a list of people who are attending said dinner party and go from there. But some of our guests (who are usually good friends) sometimes (often) show up to dinner at our house with their tupperware containers in hand. We always send people home with food for the simple reason that we don't want to be eating the same thing for the next week! Our house is known for leftovers.

                                            I hosted a girl's dinner for 9 special ladies a couple months ago and made just enough food for everyone. The only thing we ran out of was wine... I guess 10 bottles wasn't enough! I ended up with one dish of gnocchi left over which my husband ate when he was allowed back in the house.

                                            Further to this, we once attended a dinner party at a friend's house where there wasn't enough food and it was a little awkward. There were 8 of us and the guy made a slow cooker pot of short ribs that he cooked in his garage because he didn't want his house smelling like short ribs. That was it. He asked me to bring a vegetable, so after I heard what the "menu" was, I bought a 10lb bag of potatoes and made my "famous" sour cream and onion mashed potatoes. There was no dessert. Needless to say, we ran into a fellow dinner party guest at McDonald's on the way home.

                                            1. re: ladooShoppe

                                              "But some of our guests (who are usually good friends) sometimes (often) show up to dinner at our house with their tupperware containers in hand."

                                              When I invite people over for a dinner party, I always send out this little blurb with the directions, time, etc.

                                              "No need to bring anything but your sparkling personality, a hearty appetite and some good conversation. We will supply the rest!"

                                              1. re: ttoommyy

                                                Ooh, that's some nice wording ttoommyy; I'm going to steal that!

                                                I should have clarified that the tupperware containers toted by our friends are always empty. People always fill their containers up afterwards. We usually send people home with food!

                                                1. re: ladooShoppe

                                                  Ah, I see that now that I read it again. Thanks. And feel free to use that line any time!

                                                  1. re: ladooShoppe

                                                    toommyy'ss comments could be interpreted as "leave your tupperware at home" so maybe he subconsciously knew what he was saying.

                                                    when a well known politician here realized that one ethnic group was noticeably absent in the voting booth said politician made a concerted effort to attract that vote. took a while for that group to realize that the buffet line was not a takeout restaurant. actually had to have the security guards screen supporters for tupperware before the entered the venues (aackk racial profiling.) and yes, the candidate did win another term in office.

                                                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                      Really? Some linky-links please! (or at least some clear leads)

                                                      1. re: huiray

                                                        a rather touchy subject, i sent you an e-mail. acculturation is an interesting process.

                                          2. My husband always makes a lot of everything and it takes dinner guests a couple of visits to our house before they stop eating the first course (often an antipasto platter with homemade foccacia) and leave room for the rest of the meal. We now announce the menu when we sit down so folks can pace themselves. On the opposite side, there were many wealthy old families in New England that would have cocktail parties with very meager hors d'oeuvres but the liquor would flow like water--and it was always the good stuff.

                                            7 Replies
                                            1. re: escondido123

                                              Your mention of the New England families made me think of a wedding my husband and I attended a few years ago. My friend comes from a well-to-do CT family and her wedding was at her parents' country club. We are used to the NY Jewish-style affairs where there is enough food to feed about a million people. We arrive, hungry of course, and we find, as you put it, "meager hors d'oeuvres"....some cheese cubes and crackers and some crudite. But the liquor? Plenty of liquor and then some. Unfortunately we are not big drinkers.

                                              1. re: escondido123

                                                Yep, that's the WASP way! Get 'em hammered but for heaven's sake don't feed them! I have no idea why this is, but it has been the case at every WASP wedding I've ever been to. However, I will say that what little food there was was very good, lobster, shrimp, beef tenderloin, etc. It just wasn't enough.

                                                1. re: Isolda

                                                  Hence, the joke (or observation):

                                                  How can you tell you're at a WASP wedding?
                                                  There's not enough to eat.

                                                  1. re: Isolda

                                                    I'm a New England WASP and my reflex is to refute your criticism, but after ruminating a bit I think you are on point - good booze, and not enough of the fancy groceries. Surprisingly, they do better on second marriages - higher income bracket, a little guilt for another round of wedding gifts.

                                                    1. re: Veggo

                                                      We once went to a WASP wedding where the hors d'oeuvres were few and far between. We followed one of the empty trays to the kitchen and offered to help. (There wasn't much left, but we helped fill the serving trays and then they gave us a tray of our own and there were hugs all around.)

                                                      1. re: escondido123

                                                        Guests went into the kitchen to help the professional staff/servers? Confused.

                                                        1. re: thegforceny

                                                          Yes, that's exactly what we did. But then we had already been served a couple of cocktails.