Frugal and Healthy Summer Meals for a Crowd

A lot of you related to my dilemma of what healthy meals to serve to a crowd when on a budget . It CAN be hard, especially when on a budget. So today I thought I would share some of my ideas and tips, and I would love for you to share yours as well!

When feeding a crowd, I find it better to serve dishes that have wide appeal. Dislikes and likes are as varied as people are, but still, there are certain dishes that have a wider appeal and popularity. Secondly, of course is budget concerns. Many people may like a nice grilled steak, but it can be pretty darn expensive to serve to a crowd. And last, I don’t like to throw my nourishing ideas out the window when having guests. Certainly some of them could care less how healthy the food is, but not only does my family have to eat the food, but I wouldn’t feel right stuffing my guests full of food I thought was bad for them!

That doesn’t mean that I don’t make some compromises. It can be fun to serve a fresh baguette from a local bakery with your meal, for example. I am fine with that (and you thought I was some extremist, didn’t you?). Compromises I will make include serving some white flour bread or using some in a tart or pie crust. When coupled with a nourishing meal, I feel like it’s a small compromise.

Anyhow, let’s get to the meal ideas. There are many great meals for the winter and fall (such as soups), but since it’s summertime, I thought I would share ideas more appropriate to summer.

Main Dish Salads

Nothing is more refreshing on a hot day than large main dish salads topped with plenty of protein and a homemade dressing. And I’ve found that most people enjoy a nice salad. It also stretches out more expensive ingredients, like organic chicken. Grill some chicken breast or thighs, and thinly slice, or thinly slice a grilled sirloin steak or two. To add more protein, add flavor and to stretch the meat, add toasted nuts, chopped boiled eggs, or cooked and cooled beans (my current favorite is black beans). Add vegetables such as cucumber, shredded carrots, and diced tomatoes. Toss with a homemade dressing (perhaps my everyday salad dressing, sweetened a bit to tame the tang). Serve with generously buttered bread.

Two popular recipes on this site include the Bacon, Egg, and Avocado Salad, and the Spicy Thai Salad.

Waffles and Pancakes

Okay, so this is a meal that doesn’t work just in the summertime, but it still great in the summer. Everyone (or at least almost everyone) loves pancakes and waffles. I’ve also found that my soaked pancake version is very light and fluffy, so that people don’t mind that it’s whole wheat-even people who generally only like white flour pancakes. I’ve also used that recipe to make waffles with excellent results. Or you could try the  sourdough version.

The expensive problem with this meal is not the pancakes as they are very frugal, but the topping. During the winter you can make an apple topping, but in the summer it’s the perfect time to top with a berry sauce. In the height of the berry season, it shouldn’t be expensive. You can keep them fresh and serve with whipped cream, or make a sweet sauce with the berries (simply cook down with a bit of water and sweetener of choice-thicken if desired with arrowroot powder). I’ve found this much less expensive than maple syrup on it’s own. Plus berries are full of so many antioxidants and summer cheer. To beef the meal up, you can serve with fried or scrambled eggs, and/or bacon and eggs.

Added bonus? You don’t need to serve dessert!

Taco Salad

Burritos and tacos are always appreciated and a favorite. Taco salad is an absolute favorite in the summertime around here. Take washed and thinly sliced romaine lettuce, and top with all of your favorite toppings for tacos: taco meat, cheese, olives, black beans, avocados, etc. Then dress with a Mexican themed dressing (my husband grew up with a simple dressing of sour cream mixed with salsa in equal parts-it’s delicious). You can allow everyone to make his or her own salad or you can make up a large quantity and serve. Just make sure you top with crumbled corn chips (organic, to avoid GMO’s, and homemade is even better!).

More Grill Uses

Around here when corn is really at the height, it can be very cheap to buy large bags of corn  at the farmer’s market. When grilled, it’s fantastic. Throw it on the grill with some all natural beef hotdogs for a fun meal. Or, you can make a grilled vegetable salad. I think one summer we made this at least once a week. It’s that good.

Fabulous Summery Sides

I love making cold salads beyond green salads. Everyday Rice salad is a favorite, as is Basil Potato Salad, and both are quite frugal to make. While quinoa is new to many people, Mexican quinoa salad is a tasty way to introduce them to it. Two more favorite salads are Simple Lentil Salad and Cucumber and Red Onion Salad.  I love deviled eggs and they are a frugal protein source too! These are all great sides that are frugal too. Perhaps you could serve them with the following rib recipe? Or with my Lemon Garlic Drumsticks (a very frugal meat option).

Sweet and Sour Ribs

Ribs are a lovely summer meal. I have never done ribs on the grill before, but that would be nice to prevent heating up the stove. My family’s sweet and sour ribs have wide appeal and are delicious (even if I do heat up the oven to serve.) Unfortunately, ribs can be expensive to buy grassfed, though I’ve snagged some great deals ($.99 a pound). So, if you can find them at that price, they actually are quite the frugal, but special meal.


Once again, this dish is completely appropriate for other seasons. But even in the Summer, it’s popular easy, and frugal.  I serve my Slow Cooker Spaghetti recipe with brown rice noodles.

Frugal Desserts

My best weapon is definitely the Brownie Pudding Cake. It’s sweet, it’s chocolate, it’s special, and it’s sooooo cheap to make. But in the summertime, it’s also nice to take advantage of all of the fruit. Berries with a drizzle of cream, sliced watermelon, peaches topped with whipped cream. You get the idea. Try to find fruit when it is at it’s peak and cheapest. I find it helpful to make a tart out of some of the more expensive fruits(using unbleached white flour or sprouted flour). You only use a small amount of fruit, and it’s elegant and pretty too.

When I serve homemade ice cream, I serve it in small ice cream bowls that I found at goodwill. It keeps the portions small, and looks nice too. Sometimes the best way to save money on dessert is to serve small portions!

So those are some of the ideas I had. But I am sure I am missing many great ones. Please share yours!

The following two tabs change content below.
I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

Latest posts by KimiHarris (see all)


  1. Heather says

    I’d be interested to know how you make your taco meat, if you make it from scratch. It has been a very long while since I have used a taco seasoning packet, but I don’t yet have a tried and true consistent homemade method that I love. It’s always a gamble/experiment! 🙂

    • Angela says

      Here’s the recipe I use for Taco Seasoning
      Makes enough to season 1 pound of meat

      1/2 teaspoon cumin
      1/4 teaspoon oregano
      1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
      2 teaspoons minced onion
      1 teaspoon sea salt
      1 teaspoon chili powder
      1/2 teaspoon tapioca starch
      1/2 teaspoon crushed red peppers

      Mix all ingredients together and stir into meat.

  2. says

    While it does require the oven, I make pizza a lot in the summer. I use the tomatoes, herbs, zucchini and squashes that are in season, which makes it a frugal meal. I found I can get away with a smaller amount of cheese with flavorful herbs and vegetables.

    • Michelle says

      Grilled pizza is amazing! A great summer dish, and no turning on the oven!

      Last summer we did that almost weekly.

    • Michelle says

      Grilled pizza is amazing! A great summer dish, and no turning on the oven!

      Last summer we did that almost weekly. Just heat the grill, roll out the dough and brush one side with olive oil. Remove from grill, brush uncooked side with oil, and place toppings on grilled side. Return to grill for toppings to melt and other side of dough to grill. Yummy!

  3. says

    I often get stuck wondering what to bring to pot-luck at church, and we love to have people over so much. Waffle breakfasts are one of my stand-by hospitality tricks. I would make it an open house, whip up lots of batter the night before, and invites 40-50 people. Half that many usually come, and never all at once, and if you have leftover batter you just have plenty for the freezer. I would do bacon in the oven and cookie sheets. It always worked well for me when I was single and on a tight budget.

  4. cirelo says

    Along the lines of pancakes we like to have crepe parties where we set out lots of toppings for people to design their own. You can make crepes ahead of time if serving a large crowd. I’ve also found that using kamut flour for the crepes makes them as light and delicious as white flour but more flavourful I think.

  5. says

    We eat tacos constantly so when guests come that’s a very easy option for us. When we have more than two people over I don’t use meat but instead roast more vegetables. Even my in-laws, who are not adventurous eaters, loved my tacos with beans, cheese, yogurt, and roasted broccoli and garlic. Add in some homemade salsa which people always think is special and a grated carrot/cabbage slaw with cilantro and lime juice and people are stuffed by the end of the meal on vegetables and inexpensive proteins.

  6. says

    This was a great post! I bookmarked several recipes in my recipe file and can’t wait to add some of them to my next grocery list!

  7. says

    Thank you so much for sharing this! We had a family birthday/graduation party yesterday, and honestly I was a bit frustrated with my husband’s choice of beef stroganoff for a hot day. Now I have some suggestions for next year’s party, plus some ideas for the back to school party that I’d like to host in August.

  8. Kimberly says

    Ok, we have a big argument at our house over Taco Salad. My question is…. Do you serve the meat HOT or COLD in the salad?!?!?! Hmmmm……. can’t win on this one here!

    • KimiHarris says

      We like it warm. How’s that for a compromise? 😉 If it’s hot, it makes all of the other ingredients too hot. If it’s hold, the texture isn’t quite as good. So we let it cool a bit, and then serve.

    • Karen L says

      I’m with Kimberly on that one. Taco salad is my favorite summer salad. I used the meat hot once and it was just too harsh on the other ingredients. Cooled off is optimal, IMO. But often, I make the meat the night before and refrigerate it, so it’s quite cold. I take a fork and break up the pieces before adding it to the salad.

    • Karen L says

      wait…”homemade corn chips”? Looking thru your recipe file (looking for the recipe for homemade corn chips!), I came across your chili and cornbread recipe. I used that perhaps for Superbowl Sunday. It was delish! I made a double batch, thinking there would be lots of people eating it. Ended up putting most in the freezer which made it difficult for me, since I’m not to eat any grains!!

      Since I’m going to be making taco salad for Sunday, I believe I have enough time to make my own chips. I’ve got the lime water made. I have whole organic corn… What next?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *