Food brings people together, and, as a military family, food is at the center of a lot of our relationships. Cooking for a crowd can be intimidating, for several reasons. Often our service member will remind us of an event that requires a dish…the night before. Or, they’ll call on their way home from work and say they invited extra people for dinner. So, how do you handle cooking for crowds?
How Much Do You Really Need?
One of the hardest things about cooking for a large or small crowd is figuring out how much to make. You want to have enough, but you don’t want to overdo it. Yes, we know that you may not always know how many people are coming, but these are some general guidelines:
- Main Dish — 1 1/2 servings per person
- Side Dish — 1 1/2 cups per person
- Fruit or Veggie Tray — One per 25 people
- Cookies — Three per person
- Lemonade, Tea, or Punch — Four gallons per 25 people
Always Be Prepared
Keeping a few things on hand in the pantry or freezer for last-minute meals is an excellent idea for everyday life. It’s also a useful technique for those last-minute occasions when you have to cook for a crowd. Promise, this will eliminate headaches and the dreaded extra trips to the commissary or Wal-Mart (if it’s Sunday night or Monday). You could also grab these things when they are on sale and save some money. Something like:
- Ground beef, taco shells, and salsa
- Spaghetti and meat sauce with frozen garlic bread
- Bacon, eggs, and hashbrowns
Don’t Over Complicate
Sometimes, cooking for a crowd means participating in a potluck and sending something into work. Here’s where things can really get out of hand. Remember, what’s important here is food, not how it looks or how it is presented. You can absolutely send a fruit or veggie tray!
A great thing to do is send something in a crockpot that can be easily reheated and served. Just label anything you want to see again, and be very clear that your service member is not to cross the threshold of your home without said crockpot in hand. Crockpot favorites include:
- Buffalo chicken dip
- Meatballs with grape jelly and barbecue sauce
Stick to Your Budget
Feeding more than you’re used to doesn’t have to be a drain on your budget. Cooking for a crowd can be done without spending a ton. Look for meals or ideas that cost just a few dollars per person. It’s OK to be the person who sends in chips and salsa when you don’t have the money (or time) to cook something elaborate. A few other inexpensive ideas include:
- Bagged salad
If you’re one of those families who continually cooks for a crowd, or who is very likely to invite people over at the last minute, it might be worth it to plan ahead. You can double or triple almost any recipe and freeze it. It takes a little time initially, but it eliminates the stress of cooking for a crowd at the last minute. Some ideas to freeze:
- Lasagna or baked ziti
- Taco soup (or really soup of any kind)
- Hamburgers preformed and ready for the grill
Are you ready to entertain a crowd of hungry service members and their families? Here’s one more bonus tip: Accept offers of help. Seriously, if one of your guests wants to bring something, take them up on that offer! It takes a village to feed a village.
Want more recipe ideas to try when cooking for a crowd? Try Okinawan Taco Rice.