HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Dinner for twenty, $100 budget


I'm cooking dinner for a board meeting. Expecting fifteen to eighteen people.

We are a non-profit, and I'd like to impress them with cheap but delicious food. And show that home cooked meals are a more efficient alternative to catering these meetings.

We have our own kitchen. (Our office is a studio apartment.) We also have a wealth of volunteers only too happy to help with prep. All they need is direction.

As our kitchen is sparsely furnished, I was thinking a friend and I would do as much prep at my house the night before as we could. And possibly test the recipe then.

Cooking for one dairy-free, one-gluten-free, and several vegetarians. No beef. No shellfish.


I was thinking enchiladas/moussaka (w/o lamb?)/something casserole-ish and salad. Keep it pretty simple. Was leaning toward enchiladas because we could easily do one veg and one chicken. And use corn tortillas. But would need something for the dairy-free. That would not be too difficult.

Greek, Viet, Indian, Italian are other possibilities...

I'm open to any cuisine. Would prefer dishes that can be prepared ahead of time.

And would love input on salads, sides.


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. My gut instinct was to tell you to make your own pasta, but that will be a major gluten issue. Is the gluten-free person also one of the vegetarians? because if not you could do something like having pasta with the sauce in one bowl and then chicken done in a complementary way on another platter so that the people who can eat both could combine them for a meal and the people who don't eat meat/can't eat gluten could have just the pasta/chicken but it would still be a complete-enough meal for them if you served it along with a salad/vegetable side that would work for everyone.

    You could also do a taco bar, which would also allow people to put their own toppings on according to their dietary needs. Have corn tortillas, a chopped chicken filling, a veggie filling (TVP? Mushrooms? Tofu? Beans?), chopped lettuce, tomato, avocado or homemade guacamole, cheese for those who eat it, and maybe a few homemade delicious relishes that could show off your talents - I LOVE thinly sliced red onions cured overnight in lime juice and tossed with some chopped up cilantro - cheap, easy, and surprisingly tasty (and I HATE raw onions, but the lime juice takes out that disgusting oniony bite). This could easily fit in your budget.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Cebca

      I like the pasta idea. My friend who is helping me out just made fresh egg pasta last week. So he's got that down. He can teach me. I was originally thinking beet raviolis would be great to make because we have a lovely family recipe. But probably WAY too much effort required.

      DIY tacos sounds great too.

      I was already considering Viet salad rolls (not much different from Thai, I assume). And maybe a noodle dish would work well. Pad thai is not my favorite--- I'd want to do something different. A yellow curry sauce or something. Or my Cambodian girlfriend just made a fantastic Cambodian noodle dish the other night. With sea bass though.

      1. re: sophie.

        I definitely think you could do something great at that price. The one thing I would encourage, if you want everybody to get on board with not catering, is trying to keep prep and clean up to a minimum. Otherwise, it's so much work!!!

        I have made this burrito recipe many times:


        It is delicious, and I've added in other vegetables, peppers, etc. and made double batches... I served it when some health-conscious acquaintances came by a while ago, with tortillas on the side. You could serve it with flour and corn tortillas, and rice, with some cheese, sour cream, sliced avocado, and jarred/homemade salsa on the side. A nice green salad on the side, plus a potato salad like this one:


        And, for something sweet, you could serve some fresh fruit with whipped cream/sorbet on the side.

    2. Moussaka has lots of dairy (cheese and bechamel). I'd go with a vegan pad thai -- lots of veggies, rice noodles -- everyone could eat it. Maybe start with thai lettuce wraps. Serve rice on the side to bulk it up for the big eaters.

      1 Reply
      1. re: pikawicca

        taco bar & the Vietnamese spread with pad thai & lettuce wraps are both great ideas.

        random thoughts:
        - quinoa salad would be a better alternative to pasta.
        - you could make a couple of different fritattas with various veggies and slice them into wedges for easy serving - eggs are cheap, it's a hearty, filling,high-protein dish, and it can be served at room temperature.
        - you could even do chocolate-dipped fruit for dessert - just use dark (and maybe even some white) chocolate so the dairy-free person can enjoy it as well.
        - sorbet or granita would also work for dessert.

        these recent threads didn't have the same dietary restrictions, but they still might be very helpful:

      2. What about red beans/rice and a creole soaked salad? You could use turkey smoked sausage in place of andouille served on the side for those that wanted it?

        1. Like Cebca, I'd probably do a taco bar: From left to right I'd set out plates; corn tortillas; shredded chicken with sliced black olives, cumin, salt, and pepper; meatless refried beans (this will be the major dish to cook ahead of time); diced tomato, diced red onion; shredded cheese; and two home-made hot sauces - one HOT and the other mild. Watermelon or cantelope for dessert.

          Were it not for the vegetarians and the no beef rule, I'd make laab.

          1. How come every non profit has an abundance of dairy-free, one-gluten-free, and several vegetarians? The glutten free person has no choice in the matter, I get that. but the vegi and dairy free folks give me a break, and dinner for 20 at $5 per head, you have your work cut out for you. You could do a make your own taco or enchelada bar. You could serve soyriso as their option, fir the others you could purchase pollo asada from costco their pollo is all natural with no additives. You could put out all of the sides for folks ie avocado, lettuce tomato, salsa and cheese.

            You could also do a large bowl of mixed greens and people could make their own salads. bowls of beans, grilled chicken, cheese, various vegis, tomatos etc.

            good luck!

            3 Replies
            1. re: normalheightsfoodie

              Psst! You're not supposed to ask, "Howcome every non profit [h]as an abundance of dairy-free, one-gluten-free, and several vegetarians?"

              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                Thanks from us 'hounds toiling in the non profit sector, Sam!

              2. re: normalheightsfoodie

                Because the type of person who would work non-profit is the same who be more to more ethical food choices?

              3. I'd do a big batch of zucchini sauteed in olive oil with onions and tomatoes and garlic, oregano and basil, white beans, more tomato sauce added at the end, with toasted pine nuts to sprinkle on top. Easy to do ahead and re-heat or hold in the oven (or even microwave!). Serve over rice and with a nice grated parmesan to add on top for anyone who wants that. Throw in a good mixed baby greens salad with some olives in it and a vinagrette (on the side), and grill/broil some Italian flavored turkey sausages to cut into chunks and also serve on the side. Get a loaf or two of crusty bread. That way, everyone eats the same thing, it's just adjusted to personal needs/preferences and a lot simpler to serve/clean up, as well as being pretty cheap to make. For dessert, sliced strawberries with amaretto-flavored cream poured over.

                2 Replies
                1. re: weezycom

                  Totally my kind of meal. Except NO to turkey sausages (I like the piggy kind).

                  1. re: Boccone Dolce

                    I like the piggy sausages, too, but with the crowd she described, I imagine there are few (if any) pig/beef eaters, so a better use of funds for a meat that more will eat.

                2. It might be too hot for this where you are but what about a Moroccan chickpea terrine, served over rice? You can add whatever fresh (inexpensive) vegetables you'd like. I think it tastes better the next day when flavors have had a chance to meld.


                  1 Reply
                  1. re: chowser

                    Greek/middle eastern and you can easily do this. I've managed a similar challenge with spinach pie without feta, a big Greek salad with lots of feta cheese on the side, olives, grape leaves (homemade or you can sometimes get a huge can of them), dips such as hummus and tzatziki, good bread (maybe ask the gluten free person if he or she might like to bring g.f. bread, since some are tasty and others not so much) baklava and fresh fruit.

                    My favorite Greek salad dressing:

                    3 tbsp oregano; 11/4 c. olive oil; 1/2 cup red wine vinegar; 3 cloves garlic finely chopped; salt and pepper to taste

                  2. Once upon a time when we were all broke we had a lot of parties with two types of pasta: one sausage/tomato and one pesto. Green salads on the side. We all loved it and both pastas felt special enough, especially for the non-vegs who could have both. Alas, though, it doesn't help much with the dairy/gluten free folks.

                    1. I would go for a chickpea curry with basmati rice for the vegetarian crowd(very inexpensive) and with your original idea of chicken enchilladas with cheese only on one half of the dish for the meat eaters. I would do a simple tossed salad with vinaigrette so that you don't have to mess around with cheese or other things that may infringe on dietary restrictions.

                      1. You might also have some non-adventurous eaters in a pack of 20. Maybe within whatever cuisine you decide on it couldn't hurt to go delicious but mainstream on one of the dishes, and all out on the other one?

                        Pasta still sounds interesting. I vote for butternut squash ravioli with a browned butter sage sauce.

                        Although Pad Thai sounded interesting too... and in the assembly that's easy enough to keep basic vs. add-what-you like. Almost like a pho. Could you fit some delicious soup in there - maybe hot and sour?

                        1. Don't know if you want to make a separate meal for gluten-free, but my mother makes "noodles" for Passover using beaten eggs, water & potato starch. They start out as crepes and she cuts them in strips. I believe potato starch would be OK.

                          If you leave these as crepes, you can use them as manicotti, fill them, pour sauce over & bake. This could be done well in advance and even frozen.

                          1. With that low of budget, I would do a pasta dish. Maybe two, one for meat and one for vegetarians. You could make use of local fresh produce which would be fairly inexpensive. A little cheese and a light bechemel would make a great baked dish. You could add some grilled chicken or sausage.

                            Grilled sausages are also great cut in nice slices and served with grilled fresh peppers, onions served on crispy grilled baguettes. All done ahead.

                            A small ham is a great find. It makes a great pasta with peas, some onion, red pepper and a cream sauce. Dairy for some I know but a great pasta dish.

                            Couscous salad with olives, onions, peppers and feta. Again all ahead, a light vinaigrette.

                            Stuffed bread. Lightly toast baguette that you cut in half and then stuff with tomato cheese and your favorites, wrap and just put in the oven. Feeds a lot for the cost.

                            Lettuce, Yes, plain is better. Mix of lettuce, Maybe just cucumber and tomato if that and a simple vinaigrette.

                            BBQ Turkey roasted a day ahead, thin sliced and served with a great spicy mayo on a variety of breads and rolls, inexpensive and very economical. You can also have fun with inexpensive toppings, be creative with some different cheese, sliced avacado, lettuce, tomato salsas, onions maybe grilled, even mango. Just have fun. This can be served open face too which is nice. Not just a sandwich.

                            And finally soup.
                            You can make a very hearty potato soup just in broth no cream, or a great potato and vegetable soup, chicken soup, sausage soup, endless combos. I prefer a great potato soup which is easy, heats well, hearty and healthy and inexpensive.

                            1. Korean is an option too. I've made a vegetarian version of a chop chae (aka japchae, aka...) which is a simple noodle/veg dish made with glass noodles. It's delicious and you don't even need to serve it hot. This opens the door to a host of Korean side dishes, many of which are simple marinated veg (kim chee, bean sprouts, spinach, tofu, etc). A veg version of the seafood/scallion pancake is also tasty. For meat eaters, this can be rounded out with some bulgogi (wait, no beef? ok, chicken in same preparation). Or, alternately, a d-i-y bibimbap bar would work well for all parties (big bowl of rice, add your own chopped veg that you can prepare/marinate ahead, +/- some protein, +/- egg, hot bean sauce). Tons of recipes for all of these if you google. Good luck!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: chilibaby

                                I've recently gotten adicted to bibimbap, that Korean rice dish with vegetables on top. It's got loads of flavor and seems like it would suit all the restrictions. It takes a bit of prep work to cut up all the vegetables but it sounds like you've got labor. I'd recommend having all the little "extras" measured out and set aside before you get started (sesame oil, sesame seeds, soy sauce, etc.) We have a vegetarian daughter, but we all love this. I've been using this recipe from a recent New York Times:

                              2. Roasted veggies are inexpensive, very flavorful and can be used on their own or with pasta.

                                Plum tomatoes can be bought at Sams or costco for $5 a big container. Slice them in half, place them on a baking sheet, top them with chopped herbs and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic. (I also use bread crumbs and parm, but you can skip for the gluten and veggies) Roast in the oven, serve warm or store in the fridge.

                                The tomatoes can be tossed with chopped basil, a drizzle of good olive oil and pasta for an amazingly flavorful and inexpensive dish or used with other roasted veggies.

                                Indian food offers very flavorful options; I love Channa masala, which is indian spiced chickpeas simmered in spices and served with rice, but can be served without.

                                Both options can be prepared ahead of time and are low cost, high flavor.

                                  1. I just did a dinner for a softball team plus reserve players, and I was told to work with a limited budget. I made Chinese Style roast pork tenderloin, a large fried rice, chicken and pineaapple terriyaki skewers, a mixed salad with spring greens, red onion and mango with a pineapple vinegrette dressing, and orange and chocolate cakes (cake mix types). I spent something like $75, and that did not include beverages. You can make iced tea or get a case of sodas for $8.

                                    Hints: Bought my meats at a warehouse club. Used well known bottled terriyaki sauce to brush on the chicken and roasted the pork in the oven before adding two coats of honey glaze at the end.

                                    If pork won't fly, lamb is a good substitute. My fried rice was vegetarian, but it had egg in it.

                                    My theme was more Hawaiian-Asian, but I like your idea of Mexican because you can set them up at home and just pop them in the oven at your event kitchen.