When it comes to feeding a crowd, nothing tops the last time you had to singlehandedly feed 30 hangry little leaguers—unless, of course, you’re new to the PTO and you’ve just been tasked with feeding 300 families...on a budget. Next week.
Of course, this would all be unicorns and butterflies (and, let’s be honest, catered, too) if you didn’t need to worry about a budget. In reality, most of us have an actual (smallish) budget to work with, along with a limited number of crowdsourced slow cookers and volunteer sous chefs. No matter which way you slice it, serving up food for a crowd can seem like a daunting task. But with a little organization, some smart mega-meal planning, and—if you’re lucky—access to a warehouse store membership, it doesn’t have to be. To get you started, here are 22 meal ideas along with recipes for large groups—we've even included interactive calculators so you'll know how much food to buy!
1. Make a big batch of breakfast sandwiches by baking eggs in muffin tins.
2. Set up a waffle bar and let families pick their own toppings, like syrup, yogurt, ice cream, whipped cream, and fruit.
3. Feed 75 for less than $50 with a yogurt parfait bar.
Mallory Yates LaFon
4. Feed an army with a fresh fruit bar you can prep the night before.
This fruit salad recipe serves 75.
Lunches and Dinners
5. At $1 to $2 a person, dinner’s in the bag with a walking taco bar.
Here’s a great walking tacos recipe to try.
Walking Tacos Calculator
Enter the number of people you expect to serve at your event (in the box below) and we’ll tell you how much ground beef you need for walking tacos:
0 pounds ground beef
6. Kick it old school with sloppy joes.
We found a sloppy joe recipe that feeds 50 people.
7. Make toasted cheese for a crowd in the oven using sheet pans.
8. Turn loaves of Italian bread into supersize subs. Just slice and serve!
Sarah Osborne Smith
9. Cook hot dogs in a slow cooker, then ask volunteers to “bun the dogs”! Kick things up a notch with a full-on hot dog bar and offer fun and funky toppings like salsa, pickle slices, and cheese.
10. Buy buns in bulk to make Hawaiian ham roll sliders or copycat White Castle cheeseburger sliders.
11. Crowdsource your slow cookers and host a self-serve soup bar.
12. Mac and cheese brings all the boys and girls to the yard! (Really, pasta of any sort is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.)
Pasta Dinner Calculator
Enter the number of people you expect to serve at your event (in the box below) and we’ll tell you how much uncooked (dry) pasta you need:
0 pounds dry pasta
13. Load up potatoes with all the fixings at a spud bar.
14. Make a chili cook-off a new school tradition! Invite families to bring their own recipes and have everyone cast a vote for their favorite. Winner gets a prize (prime parking spot, anyone?).
15. Make everything you need for a nacho bar (ground beef, shredded chicken, and queso) in a slow cooker.
16. Pizza always works in a pinch. Serious kudos to the folks who invented the original pizza calculator.
Enter the number of people you expect to serve at your event (in the box below) and we’ll tell you how many large pizzas you need:
0 large pizza pies
17. Bring in the food trucks! Many donate a percentage back to the school—and you don’t even need to lift a finger (except to eat your taco).
Sides, Snacks, and Desserts
18. One-up that walking taco with walking banana pudding or walking s’mores (perfect for those camping-theme reading or movie nights)!
19. Boil corn on the cob in a cooler.
20. Say “thanks for popping by” with a flavored popcorn bar. Just scoop, sprinkle, and shake.
Popcorn Bar Calculator
Enter the number of people you expect to serve at your event (in the box below) and we’ll tell you how much popped or unpopped popcorn you need:
0 gallons ready-to-eat popcorn
0 oz unpopped corn kernels
Jennifer Willett Saphara
21. Heat up chocolate milk in a slow cooker for an easy hot cocoa station.
Hot Cocoa Bar Calculator
Enter the number of people you expect to serve at your event (in the box below) and we’ll tell you how much hot cocoa you need:
0 gallons hot cocoa
22. Feel like a kid again with milk and cookies; keep costs down by making it a cookie potluck or asking local businesses to donate.
Get more ideas for a milk and cookies event at school.
Originally posted in 2017 and updated regularly