Before kids, meeting out at bars and restaurants or hosting dinner parties were the ways that my husband and I most often socialized and we loved it. When kids came along, however, something changed: somehow meeting friends at a restaurant with toddlers in tow just wasn’t as relaxing and intricately planned three or four course meals that I cooked over a day or two just weren’t realistic. So we made a shift—we started hosting family gatherings at our house. These informal get-togethers were meant to give kids the space to run around and parents the time to actually catch up. But as the kids have gotten older this has also come to mean cooking for 15, 16, or even 20 people, which then begs the question: what do you cook if you have to feed a crowd but don’t want to order pizza?
Feeding a Crowd Without Ordering Pizza
For me, I like to usually make one big main dish and then accompany it with various sides or toppings so that everyone can make the meal their own, even the picky ones. For the main dish there are three categories of food that I turn to when I am planning on feeding an army: beans/legumes, casseroles, and soups or stews because they can easily be made in bulk and can be relatively inexpensive. Here are some of my favorites that fit into each category:
Beans or Legumes
Brazilian-Style Power Bowls: Prepare the components and let everyone build their own bowl.
Red Beans and Rice Burritos: Make the fillings for burritos and then let everyone fill and wrap their own.
Lentil Stew with Honey Ginger Yogurt: A big batch of this will fill hungry stomachs. Serve some yogurt plain, just in case there are any guests who might be overwhelmed by a flavored yogurt.
Fiesta Casserole with Cheddar Cornbread Crust: Serve this crowd-pleaser with a big salad on the side or extra veggies, grated cheese, and salsa to use as toppings.
Baked Pesto Penne with Italian Sausage: This dish always gets raves and is simple to make vegetarian by either using meatless sausage or mixing in some sautéed mushrooms for a meaty texture. Serve it with a green salad and you are done!
Soups or Stews
Classic Gazpacho with Diced Avocado (Cold Vegetable Soup): This summer classic can be made ahead of time and pull out of the fridge whenever people are ready to eat. Serve it with crusty bread and some cheese and everyone will be happy!
Soup-er Easy Black Bean and Corn Soup: As the name implies, this simple-to-make soup is a great one to prepare either ahead of time or at the last minute. Serve it with tortilla chips and guacamole and salsa, or even nachos.
Tuscan Farro, Vegetable, and White Bean Stew: Make this one ahead of time, but keep the farro separate until serving so that it doesn’t soak up all the liquid. Everyone will love the creamy texture paired with the chewy farro. Serve it with a big green salad and savory muffins or a crusty bread.
Like these recipes? Check out The Scramble’s family-friendly meal plans to see just how simple getting dinner on the table can be!
Do you have favorite dishes you use to feed a crowd? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.