Looking for some easy, crowd-pleasing recipes? Read on for some tips, tricks and recipes to help you feed a large group on a budget.
You want to open your home to friends and family, but the idea of feeding a whole mess of people is a little intimidating. What if they don’t like it? What if you don’t make enough food? and How in the world will you pay for it all?
Growing up the eldest of five children, I learned early on how to cook for a crowd. My parents were both from big families (6 and 8 kids there) so family get-togethers, were, well HUGE. Today I regularly cook for a small army.
Not all families are as big as ours. Cooking for many can be a challenge when it’s not your norm.
Don’t let this put a damper on your bigger gatherings. Here are my strategies for feeding a crowd:
1. Choose something economical.
If you decide to serve lobster or steak at your next big gathering, it may be hard to keep costs down. You might be tempted to cut corners and end up with too few steaks.
Instead choose a budget-friendly main dish that you can afford to “over buy” in order to accommodate your crowd.
This might focus on beans and legumes, rice dishes, pasta, sale cuts of meat (often ground beef, chicken, and pork) and even pizza. It’s no secret that going meatless can dramatically cut the cost of your meal. And the dinner will still be fabulous.
Try these menus on for size:
- Poblano Enchiladas, Mexican Rice, Caesar Salad
- Best Ever Slow Cooker Pulled Pork or Popeye Burgers with homemade BBQ sauce and homemade buns, Sunshine Cole Slaw, Easy Veggie Tray
- Quinoa Chile with Three Chiles, Milk and Honey Cornbread
2. Plan a meal that you can easily stretch.
If your meal entails an individual-sized main dish, like personal chicken pot pies or chicken in parchment, you may be in a quandary if your guest list expands at the last minute. Instead choose a recipe that you can easily stretch.
Add a can of beans to the chili. Throw extra vegetables into the soup. Supplement that lasagne with a bowl of easy Alfredo noodles or an extra large Italian salad.
Plan for an emergency even if you don’t need to carry out the plan.
Some meals that fit the bill include:
- Fresh Basil and Garlic Chive Lasagne, Chichi’s Italian Salad, Creamy Noodles (omit the meat in the recipe)
- Jalapeno Chili, Buttermilk Cornbread
- Tortellini Soup with Sausage and Vegetables, Garlic Bread Sticks
3. Consider food allergies and special diets.
When you’re meal planning, allergens might not cross your mind and you end up selecting three dishes that all contain cheese or other dairy. But the guest with the food allergy will notice right away, especially when their dinner options are greatly reduced. Keep in mind how you can make your meal friendly to everyone, at least for a few courses.
Some things may surprise you! Nowadays when it seems that we’re much more aware of food allergies than we were twenty years ago, there are still some things that might throw you for a loop.
We once knew guys with very unique food preferences and allergies. Neither ate vegetables. One due to health issues, the other due to preferences. If I had served only a giant salad bar, they might have found themselves with slim pickings.
Try to vary what you serve and include some allergy-free items if you can. Consider these options that are gluten-, dairy-, and soy-free:
4. Belly up to the bar.
Serving a DIY bar of some kind helps you take a load off and is an easy way to serve a lot of people. Diners can serve themselves in just the right amounts. Some of our favorite “dinner bars” include
Feasting with a crowd doesn’t have to be difficult, expensive, or boring. There are plenty of options when it comes to serving a large group of people, many of them tasty and easy to pull together.
5. Don’t forget dessert.
Dessert always makes the simplest meal feel a little special. Keep some easy ingredients on hand so you can whip something up quickly. Jello 123 Layered Jello Cups and Robert Redford Dessert in Jar Recipe are both good options.
I like to do “build your own” burrito bowls. Cook rice, beans, some kind of meat, and then all the normal taco toppings.
This is good for those who are gluten free, and those with other allergies like dairy can just leave off the cheese and sour cream! You can also stretch the meat farther when rice and beans go in first.
Anything that people can customize to their own preference is great for feeding a crowd!
So yummy! Yes to the burrito bowl!
Thank you for your allergy discussion. May I add to your allergy related comments. Always be honest about what your food contains. Allergies and ‘tolerance’ problems such as dairy can be very real with severe consequences.
My biggest and particular problem is with artificial sweeteners. They make me very sick with stomach pain, cramps among other problems. I once got sick after a potluck lunch at work, the fruit dip was a diet recipe and I didn’t know it. I suspect my co-worker thought my ‘tolerance’ problem was only taste and I wouldn’t know the difference. It was between 2 and 3 in the morning before the stomach cramps let up and I could sleep. But, I am lucky, a friend actually has breathing problems if she eats anything with one of the sweeteners and requires a rescue inhaler. She could even wind up in the hospital emergency room. This is a ‘allergy’ by medical definition and is compounded by the fact that we can’t really taste the difference so if a restaurant or someone isn’t honest about what is in the food, we are in trouble.
I also now, due to recent surgery, have to be very careful and eat a very low fat diet.
Like nut allergies, some people with gluten problems have to be very careful about cross contamination. That is why some ingredients such as oats contain the statement that they were produced in a facility that also processes wheat. This means even if a dish doesn’t contain gluten it or its components can be contaminated by the surroundings when it was made. If someone has used the mayonnaise to make a sandwich, they can no longer use from the jar. So, if they offer to bring a dish, let them, you might even consider some type of potluck if several friends have different allergies or special diets.
Great point, Alice. Thanks!
We just fed our extended family which included vegetarians, meat lovers, and picky eaters with a Baked Potato bar. Russet and sweet potatoes, plenty of veggies and salsa plus bacon , cheeses and whatever else I needed to clear out of the fridge as toppings. Everyone created a dinner to suit themselves! Thanks to my Instant Pot for the potatoes and prepping toppings in the morning, cooking was quick and easy to throw on the table as we got back from a full day of activities.
Love this! Great strategy that has now made me hungry!
Tacos! Similar to nacho bar. You can have your taco stuff on salad greens instead of a tortilla, you can avoid the dairy if you want, you can avoid tomatoes if you think they’re too squishy.
But my best “feed a crowd” tip is to feed everybody outside. Our last party, we put all the food in the kitchen, but we all hung out outside with a fire pit. Much easier clean up. And smores for dessert!
Great tip about eating outside. Thanks for chiming in!
We like to do big pans of baked ziti and salad. Ingredients are flexible. A couple of soups with rolls is good in cool weather. Something meaty and then something veggie..easy to work around allergies that way too.. Walking tacos are popular, so are enchiladas. Easy to stretch the meal with rice and/or beans.
Pulled pork or chicken can be turned into so many different things. They are easy to package and freeze if you have any leftovers too.
Ha! Yes, it was Psych in the email.
Thanks for mentioning walking tacos. One of my faves!
Goodness! It all looks so good. I want to cook ’em all ! (especially the cornbread) Thanks for the post
We have chosen for 2 graduation parties pulled barbecue pork sandwiches( some w/out for anyone that may need that). I cook the meat first w/ salt & pepper then put barbecue sauce on it. chips veggies & dip you can always add bake beans to it if need too. Then since its grad parties cake & icecream. Simple & delish. One time used hamburger buns, one time slider buns both worked great.
When we have to feed a crowd, I make spaghetti Bolognese served with Italian bread and a simple raw vegetable tray. Served over pasta you can very stretch a small amount of meat a long way and bread and vegetable are low cost.
Chicken thighs (at least in my area) are about the cheapest protein ever, so it’s easy to buy a huge pack or two and grill them off for a crowd.
My 6-year-old is allergic to dairy products. Thank you for the allergy shout-out. It’s amazing how many places it’s hidden, and people don’t always think about it. I try to be proactive without being pushy, but sometimes that line is hard.
I feel the same way! My son has a dairy and a peanut allergy. I’m always thankful when people take it into consideration. My extended family has multiple food allergies so we usually do some sort of bar/buffet so everyone can customize their meal to suit their dietary needs.
Barb @ A Life in Balance
Since we have several people in our extended family who eat gluten-free for health & medical reasons, I’m always looking for new ways to serve them well, while serving a crowd.
I love a baked potato bar. People don’t seem to miss having meat or you use less meat when it is a topping. So many uses for the leftovers!
Thanks for including the bit about allergy free foods. I’ve been gluten free for 6 years or so now and it’s always an added bonus when someone makes an effort to make sure I can eat (though I never expect it).