Feeding a Crowd Nourishing Food for Less

( Don’t forget that there are only two days left of the early bird special for A Peasant’s Feast: Nourishing Food on a        budget!. The early bird coupon to get twenty dollars off is “ngcoupon”)

Ever felt a little tight-fisted with your expensive, organic food? I know I have. When I have struggled to keep my food budget where it should be and everything is just barely fitting in, hospitality can seem like a drain instead of a pleasant experience. Yet food should be all about sharing. That’s what makes the dining experience so meaningful. Yes, food should nourish the body. But meal times should also nourish our relationships with family and friends. There’s nothing quite like gathering around a table of delicious food with those you love.

That’s one big reason I have tried to develop ways to save money on meals, meals that are still nourishing and made with good ingredients while being frugal. I want to be able to have the flexibility to feed others around me that I love without feeling like it was breaking my budget. I have been helping out here and there with bringing meals to “the gang” over at my mother-in-laws right now. In total, we generally have 15 people at dinner every night. For those mothers out there with large families, this is not huge, but cooking for 15 is just a little different than cooking for 4.

Yet, it’s also remarkably the same. The same technique for buying food and cooking and the recipes I use to stretch out meat, chicken, and seafood work just as well for a crowd. In some ways even better! One of our favorite meals is chicken curry using a recipe that I have developed over time. (It’s one of the many recipes in my course, A Peasant’s Feast: Nourishing Food on a Budget! ). I made this for everyone last night and it was a simple, delicious and frugal meal and it worked just as well to make for a crowd as for our little family. Instead of stretching out a chicken to feed us for several meals, I made a small chicken stretch out to feed a crowd (with plenty of leftovers!).  I am so thankful that I have been able to develop recipes appropriate for hospitality that are frugal too because it was a real struggle for our budget earlier in my nourishing career.

Here are a few thoughts and tips for feeding a crowd nourishing food for less

*Giant pots of soup or stew with bread and salad makes a great comfort meal that is also very frugal.

* I love to serve pasta, bread sticks and salad to a crowd as it’s always a crowd pleaser. That’s what I served at my husbands last’s birthday celebration and it was a success. Read about it here with a great recipe for crockpot spaghetti sauce.

* For a light summer meal, serve a giant main dish salad. It’s surprisingly frugal.

* In high school a friend and I did a birthday bash for my husband, and we served Mexican Salad. All of the guests brought a small addition to the party (a tub of sour cream, some cheese, a jar of salsa, an avocado or two) and we had the main ingredients ready. It was a fun and very frugal way to feed a large crowd.

* We love to have barbecues during the summer, but keep in mind that buying that much quality meat per person for a crowd will add up quickly. One local store in my area will sometimes have great sales on pastured ground beef, so I watch for it to freeze for when we want it for a barbecue. Otherwise, why not think outside the box and use your grill not only for meat, but also for more frugal options, like grilled pizza (101 cookbooks has a fun recipe here), or skewers that spread that expensive meat out a little more. We also love this grilled vegetable salad. Yum!

*Budget for hospitality, if you really want to make it happen without going over your budget. No matter how you cut it, it’s going to be more expensive to feed more people. So plan for it! Put a little money aside every month for hospitality and you will have a bit extra to spend on others.

*We generally serve simple meals to guests as that’s how we eat and that’s what we can afford. Hospitality shouldn’t be about wowing the guests, but rather about sharing the best of what you have. (Of course, simple homemade food made with good ingredients is kind of rare in many circles, so sometimes you end up wowing others without even meaning too! That’s always fun).

* In the end, remember it’s all about the people. Being who I am, I love serving healthy and delicious food to guests, but I also keep in mind that the reason I enjoy that is because I care about the people. Just do your best and serve what you can afford and enjoy the relationships.

What meals do you like to serve to a crowd? I think that the crowd over at my mother-in-law’s would love to hear some of your simple, but healthy ideas of how to feed a small crowd (with many hungry males).

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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!


  1. Erin says

    We don’t have guest over much, so I guess that is kind of good while we embark on this new eating lifestyle. For now anyways I would rather concentrate on the four of us.

    Mexican food is good and cheap. My husband is from Mexico and we make it a lot, but in reality not as much as some people assume we do, maybe once or twice a week. The best taste in beans is bacon. To get that fabulous restaurant taste, they use bacon grease. So I boil bacon when I boil my beans. And I don’t refry them in lard or oil, just blend some, and leave some whole to add back with the blended ones that way it isnt pure mush (that is how prefer it anyways) or use a potato masher to mash them into unfried refried beans.

    I am starting to blog as I am way new at eating this way with homemade and fresh ingredients. I can assure you once I get going, there will be a lot of healthy takes on traditional mexican food. I don’t have a fancy page like this, but maybe someday. Here is today’s post.

  2. says

    I just fed a crowd of 10 at my mom’s on 3 (maybe 4, I had six frozen in a big block and we just cut chunks off, so it’s an approximate) chicken breasts with a chicken stirfry. I used up a couple carrots, a bunch of pac choi from my garden and a few more staple veggies. Mixed with some brown rice, it was plenty to feed everyone!

  3. says

    We are currently a family of 2, but we love to cook for friends and often cook for our church small group of 10. In the summer big salads with crumbled bacon and sliced hard boiled eggs go over really well. Heavier dressing, like homemade ranch, also help the meal not feel so light. In the winter soups, with lots of veggies, are good with homemade buttered toast. Serving coffee or tea also adds another flavor after the meal. Stirfry is good all the time.

  4. says

    I don’t really have any other ideas. I would say soups and stews, pasta, or Mexican type dishes are what I usually make to feed a crowd. I also make a pulled pork or beef that served as sandwiches seems to really stretch.
    Rice and bean dishes are great because you can go in so many different directions with them, depending on what you are doing, and beans are super cheap. You can do cajun themed red beans and rice or black eyed peas and rice, or a mexican spin, or a cuban spin. With these you can either omit meat all together or use very little.

  5. says

    Great ideas. I’m a mom of 8 so I feed a mini crowd most nights. We like to make chicken tacos, chicken and rice casserole, and chef salad for money saving healthy meals.

  6. Kris Mays says

    I like to make foccacia pizza to serve to others with a large tossed or a caesar salad (could add shrimp or chicken to this if you wanted meat in there somewhere). The foccacia bread pizza is very filling and I make a garlic/olive oil/spinach pesto to go on top. I sprinkle some salt and then just use cheese sparingly, a little goat cheese and freeze mozzarella are good.

    Another thing I like to do is a big pot of beans, half of them pureed and have folks build their own burritos. Mexican IS one of the most versatile and frugal foods to serve to large crowds.

    I also like to do interesting things for dessert, like grilling peach halves and serving them with raspberry sorbet. Something fun and unexpected is always a big hit!

  7. says

    I feed a crowd every night, and I’ll use beans or rice to stretch the meat. The other night we had sloppy joes made with bison – and I stretched it by adding leftover wild rice/brown rice from the night before!

    And Mexican is always easy, tasty, and can miraculously multiply to feed any number of people!

  8. says

    Mexican seems to be popular among the comments! I was going to add tostadas to the list. You could buy tostada shells, but I usually just use a good bag of corn chips. I make a big pot of (un)refried beans in the slow cooker, and then guests can layer their plates- chips, beans, shredded cabbage, salsa or chopped tomatoes, chopped avocado, and sour cream. You can of course add some shredded chicken if your budget allows.

    We’ve been praying for your mother-in-law, Kimi. We are neighbors of Peter & Julie E. and they have always had such wonderful things to say about your MIL. (Incidentally, I read your blog before I ever made the connection between them and Lindsay and you.) I know how dearly loved she is among the homeschool community around here as well. God bless you as you faithfully serve your family, Kimi!

  9. Jessie says

    One idea would be to do breakfast for dinner. One thing I recall from an Ina Garten cookbook I have is that when you have people over, it can give some extra oomph to a meal to do something suprising. Breakfast can often be a frugal meal (or certainly more frugal than a lot of dinners).

    Or – you could do breakfast for breakfast! (or brunch!) It can be a nice time to have people over – it doesn’t have to be the evening.

  10. Susan says

    I usually either roast a whole chicken or slow cook it in the crock pot with as many diced veggies as possible without them overflowing the sides of the roasting pan or crockpot. I chop up 3-4 different varieties of veggies to roast (basically whatever I have on hand), so that all I have to add to complete the meal is some rice.

    Stir-fry is another way for me to stretch food and feed a crowd. Often I’ll just use leftover chicken or beef and add lots of different diced veggies (again I’ll use whatever I have on hand). Then just add a big pot of rice to go with it.

    Spaghetti with a big salad is a third way that I use a little meat to feed a crowd.

  11. Amber says

    I loved the last point you made about it needing to be about the people. I used to (and still do!) get overwhelmed and stressed when my husband would invite people over and I’d have to quickly try to plan a meal for them!

    As far as feeding crowds though, we tend to have overnight guests a lot, and usually there is some type of function going on, so I don’t have to worry about dinner. I’m a huge breakfast person, so we tend to go the casserole way (eggs, french toast, baked oatmeal). When I do serve dinners, we end up having a lot of roasts and vegis, salads, chili, jambalayas (my husband isn’t a sausage fan, so we tend to just put chicken in it, with lots of seasonings and rice), and burgers.

  12. says

    Wow – 15 people every night for Dinner! Thats a lot but I am sure you enjoy it 😉

    I love the salad as a main dish idea. This is one of the easiest yet healthiest things you can eat for a meal. I eat one giant salad everyday for my biggest meal. Throw everything into a big bowl and magic happens!

  13. says

    I wanted to subscribe, but my bank doesn’t support address verification, so the payment failed. Can I also pay you using PayPal and if so, what is the email address I can use?

    • KimiHarris says

      Hi Iris,

      I forwarded your information to my husband (he’s the one helping me with all of the payment stuff). We will try to help you work it out today so that you can use the coupon!

  14. says

    I like to make bison chili or pulled pork shoulder when I need to feed a crowd inexpensively. Both use less expensive cuts of meat that can be made in advance without a lot of hands-on prep, and can be reheated later. They are great as leftovers, too. Pulled pork is especially versatile, as it can be seasoned in a number of ways to make a variety of ethnic dishes.

    Then I usually make some sort of coleslaw and/or bacon broccoli salad, as well as cut-up raw veggies and homemade Ranch-style dressing.

    We don’t eat wheat, and very few grains/starches in general (sometimes some quinoa), so I usually rely on veggie side dishes for volume. I often use cauliflower for “faux” rice and potato side dishes.

    I limit use of out of season produce, which is usually expensive and not very high quality anyway. Exceptions might be the CSA fruit I froze when I had too much in season – I might use that to make ice cream, a sauce, smoothies, or a homemade gelatin dessert.

    Another budget-wise dish I like to serve for guests is vegetable frittata. It’s a great dish for any meal and can be served warm or at room temp.

  15. Ronnie says

    In the summer, substantial grain & bean salads are a wonderful yet frugal main course option. You can make them ahead, so there is no last minute fuss. I like soaked barley & soaked bean salad with lots of veggies in a variety of colors and minced fresh herbs with a fresh lemon juice and good oil dressing. Dress the rice & beans while warm, let cool and add the veggies. Marinate in the fridge overnight for better flavor. Taste and add salt & pepper the next morning, if needed.

    If you want to be fancy, add canned Alaskan salmon (all Alaskan salmon is wild caught) and hard boiled eggs and use dill in the herbs. With salmon, a deep red bean is beautiful!

    Serve with a cold veggie soup and/or green salad and soaked rolls to make a meal. For drinks, make watermelon/mint agua fresca. Nourishing, delicious — and cheap!

    • Jenny says

      Um…are you sure about the Alaska Salmon fact? I live in Alaska, but I’m pretty sure there are salmon farms here. I’d love to think that there weren’t though! Anyone know more about that?

  16. Shell says

    I use my middle eastern background as inspiration and make several filling dips. Hommous, baba ganoush, beetroot dip, lentil paté, roasted red pepper dip, etc are all very nourishing and can be made cheaply and in large quantities. I serve them on a huge platter with home-made bread, lettuce leaves, chopped up vegies, hard boiled eggs plus olives and pickled veges if I have them. If you want to complete the meal, add a big pot of lentil or bean and veg soup or curry. Easy and super frugal. If you use interesting spices it seems so much more gourmet than it is.

    • jani says

      Shell, that sounds so good. We used to go to a restaurant in Abidjan where they’d bring out this platter as an appetizer… and I definitely could make a meal of it.

  17. says

    Almost every year (we skipped last year, I think) we host a donut fry for our church. I stand outside over our outdoor stove and fry yeasted potato donuts and kids help dip them in the glaze. We also serve apples, apple cider, and coffee. People (about 150-200) gorge. It’s a simple way (though a butt-load of hard work!) to host a huge crowd…but only once a year, please.

  18. Anie says

    Homemade pizza can be a fun crowd pleaser too … if you plan ahead and if the crowd isn’t too large. Just prepare and freeze some soaked flour pizza crusts (personal size.. you can get creative in what it looks like.. circle, square, long rectangle) and then the day of, bring out the crusts along with some dishes of possible toppings (cheese, tomato sauce, tomato, green onion, mushroom, chicken, pineapple, etc). Let everybody prepare their own and bake a few at a time in the oven. It is not only is fun to eat, but it is fun to make and everybody is happy because they choose what to put on their pizza.

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