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Feeding a Large Crowd Cheaply

Category Food
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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November 20, 2013

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.

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November 11, 20140 found this helpful

I loved your good ideas and I have one for you. If you have some room in your yard start some sweet potatoes next summer and have plenty for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. They will grow in just about anything. Their vines are beautiful and the leaves are also edible. Save some of the smaller ones to start next year and the cost will be next to nothing. You can't beat the taste of a sweet potato grown in your own backyard.

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March 28, 20170 found this helpful

A buffet line at a large gathering.

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Some recipes are easier to adapt tomcod for large groups than others. This is a guide about easy food ideas for 70 people.


August 30, 20040 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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April 13, 20160 found this helpful


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Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

0 found this helpful
April 30, 2016

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!

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November 17, 20160 found this helpful
Best Answer

I would go with 10 big bags of chips and dip stretched by adding extra sour cream or more diced tomatoes, bag of ice and homemade ice tea, coffee and bottled water... along with a very well decorated cake if you or others have time for anything more by all means tell them thank you :P

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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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September 21, 2016

I need a recipe for a crock pot or baked dish for breakfast. It needs to be not too hard and enough for 40 people. Thank you.

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October 10, 20160 found this helpful

Pulled pork. Large joint of pork shoulder, slow cooked in a marinade of your choice (plenty of ideas around) pull the meat and return it to the crock pot a few hours before you are ready to serve and let everyone help themselves, serve with bread rolls, pitta breads or wraps with lots of salad. Cheap and it's a crowd pleaser.

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December 13, 20160 found this helpful

Try oven baked cinnamon french toast, put together night before, and bake in the morning. Bacon on the side. Big hit with the grandkids. Also made breakfast pies, with a hashbrown crust. Most of that can be prepared the nite before also.

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1 found this helpful
September 1, 2013

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.  lad-recipe0.html

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August 22, 20131 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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April 27, 20170 found this helpful

1st recipe, sausage, peppers etc. Doesn't this need some oil or liquid?

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September 1, 2016

How many loaves of French bread do I need to feed 150 people?

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September 2, 20160 found this helpful

An average sized loaf of French bread has about 10 servings or slices. You can decide how many slices you would serve per person, such as 2, calculate the total loaves needed for 150 servings: 2 slices per person = 5 servings per loaf, 150 divided by 5 = 30 loaves.

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0 found this helpful
June 26, 2015

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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June 27, 20150 found this helpful

For party decoration ideas-try dollar stores, Walmart type stores, thrift stores (often have large amounts of party stuff!), etc.

You can also try a great online store that has TONS of party and decor stuff. This site also supplies elementary teachers with projects, youth groups, etc. Prices are very cheap and no hassle to drive around and try various stores. Right now the site has free shipping for orders over $59.00:

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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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March 3, 2014

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

Potluck is what we're planning for my daughter's wedding. We asked a close friend to be in charge of the details so that's one less worry for us.

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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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April 26, 20040 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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May 16, 20130 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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June 9, 2012

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 9, 20120 found this helpful

Pasta is alway a good way to feed a group. It is cheap and filling.

Pre cook the pasta so all you have to do is dip it in hot water to re heat. Pasta sauce is cheap on sale. Or bake the pasta with a sauce. Some garlic bread and a salad

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June 11, 20120 found this helpful


Lots of ideas here.

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0 found this helpful
November 19, 2009

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

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November 19, 20090 found this helpful

When our group has gatherings, everyone brings a dish to share, as well as any "favorite" drinks they have. Once I brought a whole tray of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, some on white, some on potato bread, and some on wheat. It was a hit with the kids!

You can also offer Make Your Own pizza, taco, or salad. That way you just have to put out the fixings and they not only have fun creating, but it saves labor for you. You could have several crockpots of different soups, chili, or chowder, accompanied with crackers, bread, croutons. We make lots of fried rice, both vegetarian and with meat. Hope this helps!

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November 20, 20090 found this helpful

I suggest to ask everybody to bring a covered dish. If they live close enough, then make a big pot of chili, serve with toast, when that's gone make a big pan of chicken & dressing, good luck.

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August 19, 2013

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

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August 19, 20130 found this helpful

Theoretically you would need 188 gallons for everyone to have one 8 oz glass of lemonade.

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