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Cooking for Homeless Shelter

I have been providing food for a homeless shelter housing about 12 adults. This month, like last, I have been "assigned" the main dish. The food is to be dropped off in the morning, refrigerated and served that evening after being heated in on oven. Last month I made a chicken sausage, onion, bell pepper melange which was very popular. I'm trying to come up with a different dish this month - not too costly, not too exotic, that can be prepared the day before, and held until reheating before serving. One other caveat: I deliver it in a disposable alum. foil pan, so I'm looking for something that I can either prepare in one, or transfer to one for reheating. I was thinking of a paella of sorts or arroz con pollo. Any other ideas?

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  1. Ellen, I have volunteered at a soup kitchen for 12 years and almost any comfort/diner meals get rave reviews. Mots of the people there have limited palates and they seek known food that is filling and not overly spicy. We usually feed 75-80 people 3 courses on a budget of $35-40, plus donations.

    I'm not sure where you live, but pot pies/shepherds pies are well received. Beef stronganoff and stews go over well. Chicken and dumplings goes over very well.
    Any sort of lasagna/filled pasta always ends up with no leftovers.
    Scratch pizza is fantastic if you have the time. I make 1 with cheese and pepperoni, and 1 with sausage/pepperoni and mushrooms.
    Meatloaf and scalloped potatoes gets rave reviews.
    I did pulled pork BBQ with sides of beans and slaw and they loved it.

    The menus that don't do well are vegetarian or ethnic cuisines that aren't native or popular in the area. Fresh veggies are abundant now and they are well received and stretch the available food dollar.

    I want to thank you for helping others, and hope that many of those on Chowhound with the time and resources would consider doing the same.

    1. Good for you! Items I've prepared in the last volunteer kitchen (Which was almost 100% based on donations):

      Layered Mexican casserole: Spanish rice (tomato, bay, peppers, cumin), refried beans, spinach, sauteed peppers, meat of some sort (optional), olives, cheese (just make sure not to pack down the layers too much so that it takes a reasonable time to reheat through)

      Pepper steak

      Along the same lines as chicken and dumplings- Chicken pot pie (kept pastry topping unheated until just before service)

      Pasta primavera (I put some white beans in this dish, which surprised a lot of people- fortunately in a good way :)

      Pumpkin and spinach lasagna made with white sauce instead of red

      Chili macaroni and cheese- stewed tomatoes, macaroni, ground meat or beans, chili powder, garlic, topped with cheese (this we actually did with a large donation of ground venison that no one wanted to use! It went over well.)

      That's all I can think of off the top of my head- good luck!

      1. Laurie Colwin writes in her Home Cooking book that colcannon went over like a lead balloon with the homeless women she was cooking for :) The only thing I've seen fail here is rye bread--universally hated.

        1. I have been doing this monthly for 3 years for a women's place and we love getting to cook for a group. Much more variety than cooking for two of us and of course we get to eat what we make. The rules for my group are absolutely no cooking with alchohol and meat must be cooked thoroughly. I buy the aluminum foil pans at Costco and they are very inexpensive when bought in bulk.
          I try to be seasonal. Last night we made a cold salad with pasta and grilled chicken in a
          spicy ranch dressing- the forecast was for 90 today. Meatball subs are good in the warm weather. I buy a local rice pilaf mix on sale and doctor it with veggies and serve with oven baked chicken legs (I make my own shake and bake) - they are really popular. I try to avoid tomato sauce and pasta as they get a lot of that. I often fall back on a giant meatloaf and mashed or oven baked potato. (Salad and veg is provided by another person). Macaroni and cheese is my vegetarian entree. Over the years we have resurrected tuna casserole, Rotel chicken spaghetti,
          cowboy baked beans, spanish rice, and other comfort foods from our past. I look for loss leaders like the 99 cents a pound hotel turkey breast and freeze it and I also but Italian sausage in bulk for a sausage bake. I'm quite fond of the All Recipes site for ideas and proportions as I can pump in my available ingredients and get some good suggestions.

          1. Have you seen the tuna noodle casserole on the Chow site? It looks really good. It's a comfort food for me:


            1 Reply
            1. re: chowser

              I encourage everyone to try the Chow tuna noodle recipe! It's really great...we loved it; I'm sure that the Old Bay Seasoning and dijon mustard are what gives it such a great flavor.

            2. Our Church group serves to a very large soup kitchen once a month. We always make baked chicken. We always hear from the organizer that it is one of the favorite meals provided. We usually serve it with a side of bread, veggie, and salad if available.

              1. N.O. style red beans & rice. Easy to cook, easy to like. You can stretch a pound of smoked sausage to feed 12 by halving it lengthwise, then slicing into rounds. Saute the sausage pieces in a fair amount of butter, throw in a diced onion and four or five diced cloves of garlic, add the beans & water to cover. Toss in a couple of bay leaves, some thyme, and pepper to taste. Simmer for 2 hrs, or until the beans are tender. Take out about a cup of beans and mash lightly. Stir the mashed beans back into the pot to thicken. Holds well for several days, easily reheated.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Hungry Celeste

                  I feed my kids' soccer team after games and one of their favorites are baked ziti with chicken, sausage, mozarella and and tomato sauce. Their other favorite is I chicken, brocolli and pasta with alfredo sauce. For both dishes I prepare the ingrediants and toss it all into large aluminum pans and refridge until I am ready to heat in the oven. They are very easy to prepare, can be done inexpensively and are huge crowd pleasers. PS I love what you are doing.

                  1. re: greenstate

                    Chicken Pot Pie
                    Chicken Stew with biscuits
                    Spaghetti and meatballs
                    Chicken, Rice and broccoli casserole

                    If you have a computer, go to www.foodtv.com

                    The searches are endless.

                    And how wonderful you are for bringing such happiness to people who have so little in their lives right now.

                2. My family and I have been feeding the homeless in the downtown area in memphis for about 5 years . I was told to check and see if I needed a permit to do this . I spoke to the health department and was told yes I need a permit and a building with a kitcen to do this . I don't have a building and other people have joined in with us to feed . The problem know is we don't have a building . I am searching to see if someone would be willing to share their facility with us

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: marypipkin

                    My church works with a coalition of other churches and services to feed the homeless in our city. Our church only does one meal a month (we just started doing it this year. We are able to use the city's community center to serve and cook the meals (actually, mostly they are cooked at home and then reheated if necessary at the community center)(. The oven and microwave at the community center was obtained through fund raising by the coalition ministry who provides the framework for all churches and ministries that help with this program. See if Memphis has a service coalition that you can work with and they may be able to help with a facility to use.

                  2. First, thank you for your noble service!

                    Here's a base of recipes the US Military uses. Plenty of ideas here but you might have to scale down the recipes somewhat. Protein is going to be your biggest expense but chicken and pork tend to be cheaper than beef. I would plan my shopping around what your local supermarkets have on sale. .99 cent chicken leg quarters, pork butts or loins are frequently good values. Use beans, pasta & veggies to extend the dish and bring down food costs. Network yourself with supermarket owners & food distributors in your area. They all love good publicity so have a local reporter write an article about your shelter and the companies that donate.They always have still wholesome items that they toss because they are near the end of their shelf life. Good luck!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: zackly

                      zackly, the information in that link obviously does not take into consideration food allergies or even some of the most basic dietary issues many people have.

                      But like you said, "Good luck!"

                    2. I've been involved in cooking for homeless shelters for quite a while, the two main dishes I make that go over the best are 1) brisket (cook in oven then refrigerate overnight. Remove fat, slice, and reheat with BBQ sauce) and 2) (good old) meatloaf.

                      1. So many good suggestions. I will just add this one: Dollar Tree has a website that offers a lot of things that aren't always in the stores. If you order from the website, you can pick up at the store with no shipping charge. Relevance to this thread is that they have a variety of foil pans, some of which have rigid plastic lids so you can stack the pans in an agency or church refrigerator (which, in my experience, is essential). You have to buy a case (12 pans).

                        1. Frankfurters and sauerkraut. Lasagna. Any casserole of pasta, tomato sauce, and whatever you have to put in it. Arroz con pollo baked right in the pan---raw rice, chicken pieces, onion and green pepper if you have it---fill with water or stock, depending on budget, cover with foil, bake.
                          The homeless feeding I have helped with always serves greens (collards, long-cooked with neck bones and a little spice) which are wildly popular. We have also noticed that our guests get very little fresh food and go crazy over salad when they can get some.