Unless you have a family of four, there’s a good chance that most recipes aren’t quite the right size for your needs. Once in a blue moon, you might find a recipe that’s written for exactly the right number of servings. However, if you’re cooking for groups smaller than four or larger than six, you’re basically out of luck. Here are a few tips and tricks for turning any meal guide into a meal for two, ten or whatever number you need!
Back to Math Class
The first step in modifying any recipe’s serving size is doing some math. If you’re anything like me, this is precisely why you hate trying to modify recipes. However, this part can be as painless as possible if you follow this guide:
Step 1: Divide the number of servings you need by the number the recipe makes. So, if you need two servings and the recipe makes four:
2 / 4 = .5
If you need eight servings and the recipe makes six:
8 / 6 = 1.3
Your answer (.5 in the first scenario, 1.3 in the second) is your conversion factor. Hold on to this number.
Step 2: Multiply each ingredient in your recipe by the conversion factor.
Let’s say you’re making this oatmeal recipe, but you only need three servings:
- 2 cups oats.
- 3 1/4 cups water.
- 2 tablespoons cinnamon.
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar.
So you’d find your conversion factor, (3/4, or .75) and you’d multiply each ingredient amount by that number:
- 2 cups x .75 = 1.5 cups.
- 3 1/4 (or 3.25) cups x .75 = 2.34 cups (We’ll come back to this, don’t worry).
- 2 tablespoons x .75 = 1.5 tablespoons.
Step 3: Figure out odd amounts
Most of these came out as very easy conversions, but sometimes your answer will be a little…weird. Take 2.34 cups, for example. In this situation, you’ll need to use your best judgment to figure out how to round it to the best measurement. 2.34 is very close to 2.3, which is 2 1/3 cups. Since a little bit of oatmeal goes a long way, it’s probably best to round down. Some ingredients, like spices, may do better rounded up, depending on the amounts and the flavor you want at the end.
Tips for Simplifying
The easiest way to modify a recipe is to double it or halve it. Keep your eye out for recipes that serve either twice or half as many people as you have. So, if you’re cooking for eight, use recipes for four. If you’re making dinner for three, use recipes for six.
This works exponentially, as well. If you’re cooking for sixteen, you can start with four and double it twice. Cooking for two is probably the simplest, since any recipe with an even serving number is easily divisible. You may still run into awkward amounts, but you’re a lot less likely to when you’re doubling or halving a recipe.
“When it doubt, round down.”
Unless you’re baking, when in doubt, round down. Most of the time, you can add a little bit more of one ingredient or another down the line if it seems like too little – you can’t take too much away. Baking, however, is a different story, as the amount usually has to be exact for the dish to come out right. In this case, try to get the adjusted measurement as close as possible. See the section below titled “Exact Measurements” for more tips on how to do this.
Some types of measurements are nebulous to begin with – recipes that ask you to add a “pinch” or a “dash” of something can pose a challenge. If you’re trying to make a recipe bigger, it’s not to hard – use a more generous amount than you usually would, and you’ll probably be fine. If you’re making a recipe smaller, follow your gut. Usually these ingredients are spices, so base how you adjust it on what you know about the ingredient. If you really like it, feel free to use your normal amount. If it’s strong or overpowering, try to add as little as possible.
Some recipes are going to need exact ratios, making rounding odd conversions up or down a bad idea. For example, baking or making candy call for specific amounts – these cooking methods rely on chemical reactions that can go awry if one measurement is off by even a little bit. In these situations, you can bypass odd volume measurements by using weight instead.
For example: Your original recipe called for 6 1/3 cups of sugar. Your conversion factor is .75, which leaves you needing to measure out 4.725 cups of sugar. This is no good. Instead, put a large bowl on your kitchen scale, zero it, and pour in 6 1/3 cups of sugar. Use the weight as your new measurement. So, if it weighs 1200 grams, multiply that number by your conversion factor. 1200 x .75 = 900, so measure out 900 grams of sugar, and you’re all set.
This method can be used for any ingredient and any recipe, but since it’s a bit time intensive, it’s best saved for those recipes that need to be carefully dialed in.
Adjust Cook Time
For most recipes, changes in volume won’t have that big an impact on cook time. However, if you’re cooking any kind of meat, you need to make sure it’s still being fully cooked. This is a time to bring in your meat thermometer. Follow food safety guidelines, and always check that a piece of meat has reached the right temperature (don’t go by look) before you serve it.