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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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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.

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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.
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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,

Renee
Site Manager, Iraq

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March 28, 20170 found this helpful

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

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September 12, 20130 found this helpful

Preparing large quantities of food for a group event presents many challenges. The first is to know how much food to prepare, to avoid waste and hungry guests.

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This page asks about how much to buy when making chicken on a stick for a large crowd.

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Questions

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.

April 26, 20041 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.

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Thank you!

Tammy

Answers

April 27, 20040 found this helpful

Here is a lunch meal plan from "Big Wedding on a Small Budget" by Diane Warner.

Dolly Roll Sandwitches = .97 per guest (see recipe below)
Fruit Salad = .39 per guest
Potato Salad = .32 per guest
Mixed Bean Salad = .35 per guest
Pickled Beat Salad = .35 per guest
Olives = .12 per guest
Pickles = .15 per guest
Nuts = .30 per guest
Mints = .20 per guest
Coffee, tea and Champagne Punch = 1.25 per guest
Paper Products = .73 per guest

The total comes to 5.13 per person or just over 500.00 for 100 people.

Dolly Roll Recipe

This recipe will server 100 people.

Ingredients:

1 twenty pound turkey
1 gallon jar of mayonnaise
5 pounds Chopped Celery
Salt and pepper to taste
Dolly Rolls (baseball sized rolls)

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Directions:

Bake turkey unstuffed until done. Strip both light and dark meat off the bird and put it through a meat grinder. Mayo and celery can be added a day or two before the ceremony and stored in tight containers. You can serve these on the day of the wedding. Just cut rolls and use a small ice cream scoop to fill the little sandwitches. Its best to assemble to order and keep the turkey mix cold until they are ready to be eaten.

Notes: Most ingredients can be purchased in quantity at a warehouse store. Check your local baker for Dolly Rolls. They may be available at a warehouse store as well.

You can also find a breakfast and lunch plan in Diane's book.

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By Linda (Guest Post)
April 27, 20040 found this helpful

If a hot meal is required, I'd do pasta-primavera with only vegies for those so inclined, and add chicken or turkey for the carnivores. A simple salad with prewashed, bagged mixed greens, and a few season vegies, rolls or bread. beverages, cake, whatelse is needed? Pre-dinner muchies could be nuts, wrapped candies-kisses strewn on tables are fun, pretzels, breadsticks and cheese chunks...

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By jim (Guest Post)
April 27, 20040 found this helpful

We did my daughters wedding of 250 people with the feature dish being chicken marsala. It is elegant, inexpensve, and surprisingly easy to prepare...it was a big hit! Other friends and church group members brought pre-planned pot dishes so there were plenty of veggies to go around. Friends enjoy helping and consider their small investment as part of their wedding gift to the newlyweds!

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By Doggy (Guest Post)
April 27, 20040 found this helpful

I did my sons wedding for under $400.00 total food cost. (75 guests) I did two large turkeys sliced and plated, gravy, stuffing (baked seperately) cranberry compote, tossed green salad, cut veggies and dip, chips and salsa, green bean casserole, Sliced hero bread and cold cuts, crackers, sliced cheeses, pickles, olives, potato salad, cole slaw, punch, Sangria (with fruit slices) and a champaigne toast.
the only things that had to be served warm were the gravy and stuffing (Chaffing dishes)
my vegan guests had plenty to choose from. There are some wonderful sites that can help you with how much you need.
Your grocery deli counter can be very helpful. they will assist you in knowing how much total coldcuts and cheeses will be appropriate. Just tell them your buget, and your headcount. Best of luck.
If I can be of help, please Email: Doggypaddler@aol.com

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By Sandy (Guest Post)
April 27, 20040 found this helpful

I often use recipes from allrecipes.com. You can choose what types of food you want to cook with (chicken, veggie, ect) and this site allows you to scale the recipes to suit how many people you need to serve. This may be helpful if trying to cook for 100 or more!
Good Luck

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By KC (Guest Post)
April 30, 20040 found this helpful

HI. I recently got married myself (Feb. 04). While I did not have a large reception, we did have to deal with variety (meat and non-meat eaters).
I suggest, if the reception is going to be at least an hour and a half before lunch, or an hour and a half after, serve a chicken salad ball with wheat crackers, a few veggies trays and a few fruit trays. Ranch dip is great with the veggies, and you can make a wonderful dip for the fruit by mixing cream cheese and powdered sugar to taste. It is a whole lot cheaper to fix these yourself rather than buying premade trays. You can get very nice glass "crystal-look" trays at the dollar store. (IDEA: if you get these $1 glass platters, you can use them as gifts for your reception workers.)
If you need any ideas, feel free to email me at clarkracing72@yahoo.com I would gladdy email you pictures or anything you need. My mother is a caterer and I have helped her on way too many occassions, so I will be glad to give you ideas, and I promise, if I can do it, anybody can.
KC

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By Cynthia Williams (Guest Post)
October 21, 20040 found this helpful

I would like to give a luncheon for 35-40 people. I want to plan a build your own salad, baked potatoe, and soup bar. How do I figure out how much to lettuce, for example, to purchase per person?

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April 21, 20050 found this helpful

I catered a wedding for an acquaintence and set my price at $250.00. Here's what I served: 200 Ham Biscuits, 96 mini croissants with Tuna salad and chicken salad,2 LARGE fruit trays with extra refill 2 LARGE Vegetable trays with refill ranch dip,dill dip ,fruit dip and pineapple fruit dip,chocolte fondue and a few added things like mexican dip and tortillas, 2 crockpots of bbq meatballs and lg batch of sausage balls. Enough to fill an 8 foot table twice. Had to comparison shop for best prices and do all my cooking, cutting and make from scratch rather than buy ready made but I stayed within my budget. She was so pleased she paid me an extra $250. MY POINT: Receptions don't HAVE to cost a fortune if you watch your Ps and Qs.

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By Janelle (Guest Post)
September 29, 20070 found this helpful

What should I do. I hate being in the spotlight my wedding and reception is going to be 100-200 and I am worried what everyone will think. I know I shouldn't but it's EASIER SAID THAN DONE, you know. I feel like I'm having some sort of nervous breakdown. HELP am I alone? Not to mention all the stress of financial and other worries that go along with planning a wedding.

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By Shannon (Guest Post)
December 13, 20070 found this helpful

Ok, my situation is a little odd. My fiance and I are marrying young and we are having a smaller wedding. I really need some help because we are inviting 100 people, and our food budget is only $200.... Please, does anyone have any tips on how to make this possible?

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By Mona (Guest Post)
April 2, 20080 found this helpful

How many pounds of chicken halves, potatoes for potato salad, and pinto beans?

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By craftymom (Guest Post)
April 2, 20080 found this helpful

Hi. First of all, congratulations! I have two suggestions: Lasagna - it will go a long way and you can make it with meat or a vegetarian lasagna. The second suggestion is Chicken/Ziti/broccoli. You can find a milliion easy recipes on the internet and it also will go a long way. You can have some friends and family pitch and making the entrees and you'll save a bunch of money!
Good luck!

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By Lee Ann (Guest Post)
May 5, 20080 found this helpful

Can anyone give me a inexpensive idea that will feed at least 75 teens?

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By ritz (Guest Post)
July 5, 20080 found this helpful

Pizza always works!

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By Andrea (Guest Post)
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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By 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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By 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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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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By 0 found this helpful
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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By 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

Answers

November 19, 20090 found this helpful

Buy several cheap pizzas and add your own garnishments to it. I do this all the time and they're always tasty. Buy mozarella cheese and shred it yourself. Add any of these items: pineapple, mushrooms, olives, pimentos, sweet or hot peppers, lunch meat, pepperoni, onions, and chop, slice, or shred to top and bake. The pizzas are nutritional and filling. Serve chips and drinks and you're sure to please. It costs a lot less to buy these canned/jarred items than if ordering from a restaurant. You could also do the all meat pizzas using lunch meat, pepperoni, cooked ground beef or sausage.

Grilled cheese is also good or how about a crock of chili with peanut butter sandwiches. Sloppy Joes, A ham and cheese melt sandwich or sausage and biscuits or spaghetti with ground beef added to the sauce with crackers.

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Anonymous
November 19, 20090 found this helpful

Wow! This is a tough one! There's almost no way to feed that many people for an entire weekend cheaply that's nutritious and easy too :-o

I would suggest (depending on the meal) fairly plain veggie or pasta salads, soup, have build your own sandwich ingredients on hand, fruit, casseroles, scrambled eggs or simple omelets. It also wouldn't be a bad idea to ask for them to pitch in with bringing dishes to pass that would stay fresh in or out of the fridge for the weekend.

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By 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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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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By 0 found this helpful
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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By 0 found this helpful
June 27, 2017

How many lbs. of cubed meat would I need to feed 70 people?

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By 0 found this helpful
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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By 0 found this helpful
June 11, 2015

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?

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By 0 found this helpful
September 1, 2016

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

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February 10, 20140 found this helpful

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.

By Liana

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By 0 found this helpful
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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By 0 found this helpful
November 21, 2007

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

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By Ann (Guest Post)
November 21, 20070 found this helpful

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.

http://www.ange  m/bc/incredible/

Good luck.

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October 1, 20130 found this helpful

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

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June 4, 20130 found this helpful

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

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May 28, 20130 found this helpful

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.

By Dana

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