Planning an inexpensive meal for a crowd can seem daunting, but it is doable. This is a guide about feeding a large crowd cheaply.
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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.
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.
By April 
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.
Site Manager, Iraq
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Here are questions related to Feeding a Large Crowd Cheaply.
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.
By Cassie G.01/08/2015
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.
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
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!
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!
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, chicken...it'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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope this helps!
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.
By Andrea (Guest Post)09/03/2008
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.
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.
By George M.03/29/2014
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!)
I have to feed a group of 15 for a weekend. Does anyone have any recipes for nutritious, inexpensive, easy to prepare meals?
By Susan from WY
By Carly St.Clair 11/22/2009
I hope I'm not too late. Here are my ideas:
Pasta is cheap, so I would have a pasta night with mac & cheese (3 for a dollar boxes) for the kids maybe and spaghetti for the adults with lots of homemade bread or thrifty bread from a bakery outlet. You could also put out hot dogs with the mac and cheese.
You could get the cheapest lettuce you can find and chop it up for salad and make some homemade dressing or put out oil and vinegar and seasonings.
Next I would have a chicken or turkey and potato night because that would be cheap cheap cheap.
For lunches I would serve homemade soup/stew and lots of homemade bread or marked down bread from the bakery outlet. A pot of plain old beans and bread is sometimes refreshing and a simple surprise to people who are used to eating different things.
For breakfasts I would make lots of pancakes with a large jug of syrup and biscuits with sausage gravy ( you could stretch 2 one pound rolls of breakfast sausage) to a lot of gravy for 15 people. Just saute the sausage with some onions and add flour for rue and then add a gallon of warm milk to make gravy. Add some more flour mixed with cold water if the gravy isn't thick enough. Season to taste.
Pancakes from scratch for 15 people:
5 pounds flour
1/2 cup baking powder
1 TBSP salt
1/2 cup sugar (optional)
1 cup of oil
enough milk to make a good pancake batter consistency.
Biscuits for 15 people:
5 lbs flour
1/2 cup baking powder
2 sticks margarine
1 TBSP salt
enough milk to make the proper biscuit dough consistency. Bake at 425 15-20 minutes
For Desserts and Goodies:
Sugar cookies made from scratch are cheap.
A lot of cakes made from scratch are cheap.
Apples are usually on sale this time of year, so apple crisp or cobbler would be cheap.
Homemade iced tea (100 bags are $1-2)
Homemade hot black tea
Homemade lemonade (bottles of lemon juice are cheap)
Mix 50/50 dry milk reconstituted with fresh milk and serve ice cold.
I hope this helps in time.
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!
By Linda L. 07/24/2015
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!
I am looking for recipes to feed 40-50 hungry football players before game night. It needs to be cheap and filling!
By Cheryl Brumage N.07/22/2014
I do this every Friday afternoon. Let me know if you still need information.
I need to have enough lemonade for roughly 3000 people. How many gallons do I need? Is 120 gallons enough?
By Jack P.08/19/2013
Theoretically you would need 188 gallons for everyone to have one 8 oz glass of lemonade.
I am planning a graduation party for approx. 100 guests. What is the easiest and most inexpensive way to prepare the pulled chicken?
By redhatterb 05/16/2013
Google for the information that you need.
Inexpensive recipe ideas for feeding a large crowd (150 or more people) at a dinner party/ how to know how much is needed.
Bonzai from Orem, UT
By Ann (Guest Post)11/21/2007
Here is an incredible recipe site from Kelowna, British Columbia. She had catering tips and large amount recipes.
This is where I go when I need recipes for a crowd.
I am cooking for 100 people and the menu is meatloaf, chicken, hot dogs, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, mac salad, Hawaiian rolls, and cole slaw. How should I divide the meat for this many people? Once I divide the meat, how many ounces per person should I calculate for each type meat?
Weekly we feed 40 to 120 people. We pay for the food ourselves and need some cheep suggestions. We need some new ideas as beans and spaghetti are getting old. We have great salad options, but could use some help with main dishes.
Help! I have been put in charge of menu planning for an upcoming retreat we will be having at the beach in Oregon in January. The retreat is 3 days long and we will have access to 2 kitchens. I have no idea how to begin planning the food, the equipment, and any other needs that may arise so people can have good healthy food with gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan options. This is our first retreat that we will be hosting and we are going to have 40-60 people there. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!
By Wendy from Olympia, WA
There are some good ideas here, I especially like the chicken and rice. My husband's birthday party is this weekend and while I love grilling burgers and dogs it seems I always end up with buns left over. Any other suggestions?
By Janet S
I've been thrown into managing shopping, menus, and volunteers for a non profit group of 150 starving kids that we feed 4 times a day. I need help with recipes for lunch and dinners. These kids burn up to 3000 calories a day, as they work on their show 10 hrs a day.
I do have some menu items, however the person that came up with these recipes just took recipes for 8-12 people and doubled, tripled, etc. This has caused too much food, less than is needed and food waste at times.
Any help would be great. We start an 8 week national tour in 3 weeks.
Thrifty Fun has been around so long that many of our pages have been reset several times. Archives are older versions of the page and the feedback that was provided then.
I'm throwing a surprsie 30th birthday barbeque for my brother and I need recipe ideas to feed a large crowd cheaply. We're expecting around 40 people. I have no idea how to estimate food amounts for this many people! We don't have the money to cater the event and we can't do a potluck, so does anyone have any ideas or recipes for food we can serve that's cheap and easy to make in large quantites. Thanks so much!
By Karen in NH
By Amie Savage