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How to feed many people cheaply

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Hi fellow chowhounders,
I'm usually on the Manhattan board, which is a telling sign that I don't cook much. However, I've been tasked to plan a menu for a retreat for 15 people, for 4 meals (2 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 1 dinner) and a princely budget of $200.
I am a little overwhelmed naturally about menu options.
Help!

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  1. Who is doing the cooking? If it someone who doesn't cook much you may need to make simpler choices than what I am listing below:

    Breakfast Options: French Toast, Pancakes, Scrambled Eggs, Muffins, Fruit, Granola
    Lunch: Stew made from cubed beef, canned tomatoes, stock, with chopped potatoes and veggies, or sandwiches with vegetable and celery sticks, chocolate chip cookies...

    Dinner: A pasta meal such as lasagna, or stuffed shells, spaghetti and meatballs with salad... or take some chickens and cut them into pieces and roast them with oven roasted potatoes and veggies....

    1. 1. Breakfast 1: Eggs, hashbrowns, toast:, mixed seasonal fruit, coffee. About $50

      2. Lunch: Tacos. Get lots of corn tortillas, red onions, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, cumin, cilantro, and ground meat. make up a hot sauce. About $60

      3. Dinner: black beans, rice, green salad. About $40

      4. Breakfast 2. Pancakes, bacon or sausage, mixed fruit, coffee. About $45

      1. Do any of the attendees have special dietary needs? Will they have other food options in the area? Meals are social time at retreats, so it would be good if anyone with special dietary needs can be included. I'm gluten-free and vegan so, for example, from the suggestions from Trish Untrapped I would only be able to fruit, veggie and celery sticks, salad and the veggies if no butter. From Sam: hashbowns (if no butter) , mixed fruit, corn tortillas, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, cumin, cilantro, hot sauce (if they were presented separately from the other ingredients) Dinner looks good! Mixed fruit.

        Not trying to put down the suggestions, and realizing that my needs are "extreme" just mentioning that checking for special diets and either accommodating them or letting them know that they'll need to provide for themselves.

        Most individuals who are on special diets will generally ask about accommodation or plan to bring their own but something to consider.

        1 Reply
        1. re: lgss

          lgss, good that you posted! Indeed, xigua, do check on any special dietary needs! I'm highly allergic to several types of seafood.

        2. 15 peeps?
          no problem.
          brekkie: french toast and seasonal fruit. luckily, seasonal fruit means apples and cheap. saute with some brown sugar butter and cinnoman. deelish. 2nd day........western sandwiches. fry some chopped ham slices with onion and pepper....pour in the eggs (i egg per person mixed with a little milk) and let set. serve on buttered toast.

          lunch: the sandwich is your best friend. intersting breads a couple different kinds of meats, some spreads nad condiments, roasted veggies and fresh greens and you are set. have a coleslaw or pasta salad as your side.

          dinner: spaghetti bolognese: lots of pasta a green salad some good bread and a garlicy meat sauce. add zuchinni and mushrooms to bulk it up.

          1. i'm surprised no one suggested oatmeal as an option for breakfast...it doesn't get much cheaper than that. you can jazz it up inexpensively by offering a few different kinds of chopped dried fruits & nuts as add-ins. plus, if you prepare it with water instead of milk, it's an option for vegans & those with dairy allergies. unfortunately oats are still a crapshoot for celiacs - some can eat them, some can't...and GF oats are much pricier than the traditional ones.

            beans are always a great way to stretch a dollar, and are fine for vegetarians, vegans, diabetics, celiacs...as long as you avoid soybeans it's a safe bet that pretty much anyone will be able to eat them. maybe a mild bean chili with optional hot sauce or peppers on the side for those who want to add more heat?

            roasted root vegetables will add bulk without breaking the bank.

            you could also do acorn squash stuffed with a wild rice, quinoa, or buckwheat & veggie pilaf.

            3 Replies
            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

              Along those lines, for breakfast, do a choice of oatmeal or cold cereal, with lots of fruits, dried fruits and nuts. You can get some great bread for those who'd like toast. Get a jar of peanut butter and one of jam.

              Alternatively, one day you could make oven baked French toast and oven baked frittata, again with fruit and toast.

              For lunch, salad bar! But be creative.

              Dinner: pasta one night, stir fry the next. You can stretch stir fry a long, long way.

              1. re: brendastarlet

                Ooh.. baked french toast! That sounds really good... Do you have a recipe to share?
                Thanks everyone btw for the suggestions and the reminder to ask for dietary restrictions.
                I went online to look at serving sizes and costs and so far have a draft menu:
                1. Oatmeal for Bkfast #1
                2. Pancakes/ french toast for bkfast #2
                3. some sort of bread and spread for the fussies
                4. Sandwich bar or frittatas/quiches seem easy and fuss free for lunch. Need to check prices
                5. A stew/Pasta of some sort.
                Please keep the ideas coming!

                1. re: xigua

                  This is a great French toast recipe and you can assemble it the night before:

                  http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...