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Feeding a Large Crowd Cheaply

Planning an inexpensive meal for a crowd can seem daunting, but it is doable. This is a guide about feeding a large crowd cheaply.

Feeding a Large Crowd Cheaply
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November 20, 2013 Flag

A friend of mine had heard we are having our family dinner for Thanksgiving at my house. She made the comment that she could never afford to feed so many people, although she has the space. I told her it was easy on the budget, if you plan ahead.

Budgeting to Feed a Crowd

As soon as you decide to host an event, start putting your plan into action. If money is a real big issue, then instead of volunteering for a holiday where you are to provide a turkey or ham, (such as Thanksgiving or Christmas), pick something else, such as July 4 (hotdogs).

Buy a little each week. Pay attention to your store sales and coupons and work it to your advantage. For example, a month ago, our local grocery store had green beans on sale for 19 cents a can. I had some coupons and got a few for free. The limit was 6 cans per purchase. I usually make a green bean casserole, so I bought 6 cans, husband got 6, and each of the kids got 6. Total, 36 cans; more than enough for green bean casserole. I did the same thing a week later when they had frozen rolls on sale. I got 6 packages for the freezer. I bake our bread from scratch each week, so the week of the dinner, I will also make a few extra loaves.

My husband gets a free ham each year from work, and I have been saving up my reward points from the grocery store to purchase a turkey. Tea is inexpensive, so I also got a new box of tea, knowing I would probably be out by Thanksgiving. So, I already have the meat, drink, bread and two side dishes covered.

I am also providing the potatoes, so this week I picked up 2 large cans of yams (the huge gallon cans) that were on sale for $3.99 a can and a bag of marshmallows for the candied topping. The week of Thanksgiving I will pick up a bag of potatoes for mashed potatoes. I still had pie filling on hand in the pantry, so my pies are already made and in the freezer.

I asked each family attending to bring a covered side dish or a desert. Most of the women in our family have one dish they are "famous" for making, and they love to share. The day before, I will make up some tea and freeze it. That will be used in my drink cooler instead of ice cubes, so as it melts it won't water down everyones drink. I only offer tea and water, so that will cut down on expense.

I also stocked up, with coupons and sales, on TP and Kleenex. Always want to have plenty on hand when you have a crowd. After adding it up, my total will come out to under $75, to feed around 60 people. Not bad at all.

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    April 30, 2016 Flag
    0 found this helpful

    We have a special occasion, my husband is turning 65. Since I am now disabled and no one in the family has volunteered to help (but are coming) and everyone wants it to be a surprise, of course, what do I feed these family members and still make the birthday special on a low-cost budget? My husband does not eat beans!

      Answer This QuestionWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes
      May 2, 20161 found this helpful

      Tell guests it's a potluck as that is the only way you can really surprise him. If they really care that shouldn't be a problem.

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      May 2, 20160 found this helpful

      Let the extended family know you will be taking your h/h out to *** restaurant and advise them if they would like to join in that it is up to them to make their own reservations and pay their share of the bill. On a side note, if everyone would pitch in an extra dollar or two then his birthday dinner would be taken care of. Everyone can always meet at home for coffee and dessert afterwards.

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      June 26, 2015 Flag
      0 found this helpful

      I am having a surprise birthday party for my dad at 2-4 in the afternoon about 2 hours from my home. So I need food that is cheap, easy to transport, and won't spoil in the summer. I also don't have a great deal of time to prepare. I know, that's a lot of caveats!

      I will get a cake from Costco, nuts, and mints.

      What are the easiest ideas for punch, other snack foods? I am thinking I'll use balloons to decorate, but they are hard to transport. Does anyone have other ideas for decorations in a church basement?

      Dress is casual.

      Thanks so much!

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        July 24, 20150 found this helpful

        Blow up balloons with just plain air, not helium. Tie with a curly ribbon like you would get if you bought helium balloons. Make a loop of tape or use 2-sided tape and tape these balloons onto the ceiling with ribbons hanging down.. Can do ahead and looks as if you had bought helium balloons!

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        June 6, 20160 found this helpful

        Hot dogs. Buns typically go on sale for $1.00. Get the hot dogs on sale too, by scanning store ads. Cheap, easy, fun and good.

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        September 1, 2013 Flag
        1 found this helpful

        Tables set up for a group meal.Every week we host about 20 people for a meal. I'm running out of wheat-free ideas. We have done baked potatoes, salad, beans, hot dogs, and burgers. I prepare the main dish and assign others to bring side dishes. Any really cheap ideas on what else to do? I'd like to not use the oven because it heats up the house and we are in the Houston area so it's still around 100 degrees pretty regularly here.

        By Barbara L.

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        January 8, 20150 found this helpful

        Rice Rice Rice!

        It's super cheap, and you don't need to worry about any specialty gluten-free items. It's been a staple of our diet ever since my husband had to go gluten free. Rice based meals we've served to company have included curry, stir fry, california roll style sushi, rice casserole, soups and any meat dish can be served with a side of rice.

        If you get bored of plain rice, a wild rice blend adds nice variety, though it's a bit pricier, and we're also fond of quinoa cooked in chicken broth (Trader Joe's has the best price for it in our area).

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        January 8, 20150 found this helpful

        Just noticed the bit about it being hot in Houston. This is my favorite light summer meal. I usually just throw in whatever veggies are on sale instead of what the recipe calls for. They all taste good.

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        March 3, 2014 Flag
        0 found this helpful

        I am having a wedding in the south for 100 people. I am on a budget and have no caterer. How do I feed 100 people for my wedding?

        By Jessica T.

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        March 4, 20140 found this helpful

        I agree, ask for help. Make it so that their offerings are their present to you. Plan the menu and have them delegate who is to bring what. Offer no sloppy dishes esp' with a red sauce but other than that, finger food is always welcome. I did the food (as well as everything else) at my sisters revow in 02' and brought the whole wedding in for 300.00. As for the cake and such, you might offer something for the diabetics in the guest list. A simple cheese and cracker platter, veggie or fruit tray. I wish you luck.

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        March 29, 20140 found this helpful

        We did this last fall for about 150 people. We served fried chicken, bought from a local grocery store deli (150 pieces of chicken was about $125). We also bought potato wedges from the same store for 25 cents each. We bought 2 per person ($75) and had LOTS left over. We also had ham slices - I don't remember what they are called but the are like small loaves about 6 inches long which gave us about 25 1/4 inch slices from each ham. They were on sale for $7.50 each and had the store slice them for us. We bought 6 hams for about $50, and warmed them in a large roaster with some brown sugar.

        We also bought the large cans of green beans at Walmart and cooked them in a large roaster with a pound of bacon. We made up some large veggie trays with ranch dressing and some cheese and crackers. We also bought some loaves of French bread at a local bakery and had them sliced.

        We spent a total of about $500. The best thing we did was have a co-worker who volunteered to watch the food during the wedding and had a couple of family members who stopped at the stores between the wedding and the reception to pick up the chicken and potatoes. It seems like a big job, but we found it was kind of fun and a lot cheaper than local caterers that wanted from $12 - $15 per person ($2,000 or so!)

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        May 16, 2013 Flag
        0 found this helpful

        I am planning a graduation party for approx. 100 guests. What is the easiest and most inexpensive way to prepare the pulled chicken?

        By Mindi

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        May 16, 20130 found this helpful

        Google for the information that you need.

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        April 26, 2004 Flag
        0 found this helpful

        I am planning a wedding for my sister. I need to feed 100 people on a limited budget. I think we have at least 10 vegetarians. It doesn't need to be incredibly formal. I need at least one meal for meat eaters, a meal for vegetarians, a couple kinds of salad and some snacky food. The cake is taken care of. I want the food to be as tasty as possible but not too expensive. It can really add up fast when you are feeding this many people. For example, if I budget 10 dollars per person I am looking at 1000, which is too much.

        Thank you!


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        July 5, 20080 found this helpful

        Pizza always works!

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        September 3, 20080 found this helpful

        Make a bbq, there are also really great vegetarian recipes and go along with it. I am planning my supper and the trick is to wing it see what your sisters favorite food is as well as her future husband and go from there.

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        August 30, 2004 Flag
        0 found this helpful

        I am on a mission here in Iraq. My job is to take care of service members in a very remote area. I can't give you my exact location, but what I am trying to do is bring this area into the 21st century and bring the Iraqi kitchen I deal with up to date on some basic American foods.

        We don't have the modern convenience of a corner grocery store in this area and some ingredients are not available unless we travel to Baghdad, which is a very dangerous area right now.

        I am trying to introduce a larger variety of American foods to the menu and find that if I can get scratch recipes to feed 150 people three times a day this would help boost the moral of my troops and add a touch of home.

        I am looking for recipes that can be made fresh and in bulk. I have cooked for groups of about 20 for special family occasions, but used my recipes and just cooked all day. We use gas stoves here and also deal in the metric system for measuring, any help you can give in the measuring department would be appreciated.

        What I am asking for is some simple breakfast, lunch, and dinner, along with some simple cake and dessert recipes and different sauces (canned tomato sauces are not available). We only have the one cook and he does what he can with what he has, but we get the same menu everyday and I have to find more variety that would be usable in this environment.

        Some of the basic things we can get and have on hand are, plain flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, eggs, curry, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, beef, lamb, and chicken. Anything your collective minds can come up with would be deeply appreciated. I guess I should also tell you that everything is served buffet style. I hope all this makes sense to you and look forward to your response.

        Thank You,

        Site Manager, Iraq

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        August 22, 2013 Flag
        1 found this helpful

        I'm having a large get together in a few months (and by large I mean it could be up to 200 or so people) and I need some help. I'm trying to save money by making the food myself and not hiring a cater. Any ideas? or would it be best if I just found a good cater?

        By Katlin Y

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        August 23, 20130 found this helpful

        We live in the Country and have about 3-4 rowdy parties a year, with anywhere from 10 to 80 + people. These are my fail-safe, go-to dishes that can feed an army - I always have leftovers! The good thing about them is you can tailor them to your budget (less meat, more veggies, etc..)

        Sausage, peppers, onions and potatoes:

        Deep disposable aluminum pans

        **For each pan you use

        1lb Italian sausage cut into 1 inch chunks**

        5-8 potatoes peeled and quartered** (depending on size)

        2-4 green peppers sliced** (depending on size)

        1-3 onions sliced** (depending on size)



        Salt & Pepper

        ~Fill up each pan with first 4 ingredients and mix it up. (You can use more or less of anything - I usually never have enough money for a lb of meat per pan but always clean out my local farmer's market on veggies so I tend to cut the sausage into even smaller pieces and use more vegetables).

        ~Sprinkle generously with next 4 ingredients.

        ~Cover tightly with aluminum foil.

        ~Bake in oven either on Low (250 for 4-5 hrs), or High (375 for about 1 1/2 - 2 hrs). Let cook for at least 2 hrs on low or 1 hr on high before uncovering and stirring, and then just keep warm as long as you need to until you're ready to serve. When done the fat from the sausage and the liquid from the veggies makes a nice tasty juice. I usually make 2 or 3 pans and it's plenty!

        Crockpot meatballs:

        Fill your crockpot with good quality frozen meatballs. Add either spaghetti sauce or brown gravy, stir, and cook accordingly (Hi or Lo, depending on your time frame) until nice and hot.

        Pork and sauerkraut:

        I do this in my dutch oven pot on the stove-

        2 pkgs of pork (country ribs, pork chops, etc.. and DON'T Trim the fat!! That's what makes the flavor. I buy the cheapest pork on sale that I can find in the grocery. It'll fall apart while cooking).

        1/2 lb bacon, diced small

        2 lg cans sauerkraut

        ~Mix everything in the pot, and cook med to med-low til pork is done, depending on your timeframe. I promise you everybody will ask you for your recipe after they've eaten it!

        Baked Beans:

        1-2 Deep disposable aluminum pans

        2 lg cans (or 1 #10 size) of cheap baked beans (Van De Kamps, Campbells or store brand) drained

        1-2 lg cans of any flavor Bush's baked beans (OR any baked beans of your choice) NOT drained, and

        Any other kind of canned bean you'd like to add, rinsed. I like to add some black beans and great northern beans.

        Brown sugar (I use maybe 1/4 c or so)

        1 sm can of dice tomatoes

        1/2 lb bacon diced small (per pan)

        *browned ground beef Optional

        ~Dump beans and bacon (and browned ground beef if so) in pan, sprinkle generously with some brown sugar, mix, cover, and bake until bubbling. Keep warm till ready to serve.

        ***You can also add any leftover meats you may have in your fridge...crumbled hamburger, ham,'s all good and just bulks it up even more!

        ***I DO NOT precook the bacon for either recipe, I just dice it up small and stir it right in - adds a tremendous amount of flavor that way!

        I also buy a family pack/party pack of hot dogs and either grill them or keep them in a crockpot in water.

        Any of these can be modified to suit your taste/budget/amt of people.

        I put the pans/pots out, paper bowls and plates, and toothpicks (for the meatballs), a couple of plates of sliced breads and/or rolls, and a bag or two of restaurant-style tortilla chips (goes awesomely with the beans.)...and there you go! Fairly cheap food to feed an army! I've never gone broke at my parties and people have left the buffet table full.

        If you have any questions about the recipes you can email me

        I hope this helps!


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        June 9, 2012 Flag
        0 found this helpful

        I am looking for recipes to feed 40-50 hungry football players before game night. It needs to be cheap and filling!

        By Marlene

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        June 11, 20120 found this helpful

        Lots of ideas here.

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        July 22, 20140 found this helpful

        I do this every Friday afternoon. Let me know if you still need information.

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        November 19, 2009 Flag
        0 found this helpful

        I have to feed a group of 15 for a weekend. Does anyone have any recipes for nutritious, inexpensive, easy to prepare meals?

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        August 19, 2013 Flag
        0 found this helpful

        I need to have enough lemonade for roughly 3000 people. How many gallons do I need? Is 120 gallons enough?

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