HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Chowhound challenge: a light meal for 150 with very little prep

I would love advice or ideas about what to serve for a confusing event.

We will be hosting a 6 pm ceremony. There must be food served afterwards. Here are some facts about it:

-We will not know the date of the ceremony until the day before (e.g. we'll find out on Monday if it can be on Tuesday)
- All food served must be vegetarian/dairy (fish such as salmon or tuna is okay, shellfish is not)
-Nothing needs to be fancy or even a full meal, but we're planning on more than chips and salsa or hummus and veggies.
- We don't know exactly how many people will be there, range is from 100-200, but 150 is my current working estimate
-We have a reasonably large commercial style kitchen, and most necessary equipment available for our use.
-We plan to shop at Costco, and also have easy access to bakeries, and to a fabulous produce store
-We can't spend a fortune on this, but understand that feeding people costs money
-We'll probably have about 3 hours of prep time, with 3 people working (this does not include shopping time)

The fact that we won't know far in advance when this will take place just overwhelms me, as does the time of day. If it were in the morning or even lunchtime, we'd serve bagels/lox/cream cheese/veggies/fruit/cookies.

So, who has menu and/or execution ideas for me?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. What about vegetarian lasagna? Make a couple now in large foil pans and freeze them until you get the call. Pop in the oven and add toss salad and garlic bread.

    1. How about:
      -cups of white and red gazpacho
      -caprese skewers
      -a nice array of cheese, crackers and fruit- people can serve themselves

      This is a start- perhaps you're thinking more variety is needed. Is food going to be served or is is all self-serve? How long is the event going to last?

      1. Costco's ready-to-bake pizzas are very large and have generous toppings. Those plus a big tossed salad with a choice of dressings. Cookie assortment for dessert.

        Costco's platters of roller sandwiches if they have a tuna version, or tuna salad, vegetables, hummus, flavored cream cheeses, and sliced cheese for people to make their own sandwiches, along with potato salad and coleslaw. Grapes and other finger fruit for dessert.

        1. The idea that 3 people can pull together something for 150 people in 3 hrs TOTAL is crazy to me. BUT, actually... can probably be done.

          Any simple pasta dish, like alfredo, tomato sauce would be easy peasy.

          Chili: I'm sure you can get together an assortment of prepared or frozen vegetables and put this together with minimal prep.

          Eggplant parmigiana: skip the frying

          Baked potato bar!

          And finally, I'm thinking something with frozen puff pastry.

          Sharpen your knives. I hate when my knife slows me down.

          1. - if you can get good salmon at Costco, poach with some white wine, shallots & dill.
            - strata and gratins are also pretty easy to throw together and will feed a lot of people. you can assemble the night before, and all you have to do is pop them in the oven the day of the event.
            - for desserts, think large-batch preparations: big pans of brownies, large sheet cakes, or a couple of different types of cookies or mini cupcakes. and i always serve some sort of fruit (in this case simple platters would be best) for those who can't or don't eat the baked goods.

            1. Thanks, good ideas.
              I can't actually make any lasagnas or anything like that. All the prep has to be that day. And we can't get half-baked pizzas or pre-made sandwiches due to kosher reasons.
              Everything will be self-serve.
              I want to avoid anything that needs to be made individually, such as canapes. this is all about bulk.
              The ceremony will be 30ish minutes.

              8 Replies
              1. re: milklady

                yikes. does the prep have to be that day because you won't have access to the kitchen before then? is it a synagogue kitchen that you can't use on the Sabbath?

                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                  It is indeed a synagogue kitchen that we can't use on the Sabbath, but that doesn't affect us much here, because hopefully this won't take place on a Sat or Sun.
                  The reason the prep couldn't happen before is simply because I can't do it myself, and I only have funds to hire someone day of. Also, it's awkward because we won't have a definite date until the day before.
                  But, someone just volunteered to buy the supplies for and make as many lasagnes as I want this Sunday, and freeze them so that we can bake them whatever day we end up having the ceremony. That was nice, huh? So, I think we'll go with lasagne as the main dish, with no prep on that day of (except sticking it in the oven). She'll probably make a dozen or more spinach lasagnes, and probably 2 that are vegan and gluten free.

                  So, what else do we serve?
                  I'm currently thinking
                  salad -- something simple, pre-washed greens, good tomatoes, cukes, etc.
                  veggie platter (great for kids)
                  fresh fruit platter
                  purchased cookies

                  I think I'm still looking for one more side. Preferably vegan, complements lasagne, not wheat-based. Maybe some kind of bean salad? Any ideas?

                  1. re: milklady

                    that's terrific news about the lasagna - what a generous offer!

                    - definitely do the salad, particularly because you'll already have cooked veggies in the lasagnas. you might consider doing a couple of different dressings and serving them on the side to let people dress their own. pre-dressed salad at large events always turns into a soggy/wilted mess, particularly once the first round of people gets through mauling the contents of the serving dish.
                    - for the remaining side, either an Italian-style white bean or quinoa salad to complement the lasagna. they're both great sources of vegan protein, plus they're gluten-free.
                    - if you have any desire to bake the cookies yourself, you can make the dough ahead and freeze it, and just stick them in the oven that day. might be a nicer touch than store-bought...just a thought.

                    hope that helps!

                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                      Nice idea about the dressings on the side; dressings are so easy to make. Let us know if you're looking for any recipes.

                    2. re: milklady

                      That is great (about the lasagnes), especially if they are good. I would make a simple, no-egg Caesar dressing, have big bowls of romaine and a few bags of croutons ready to go. The Caesar dressing can even be made a couple of days in advance and just stored in a container in the fridge. Toss at the last minute.

                      Here's a recipe I really like. The recipe is for the dressing and the salad, but I always just use the dressing on chopped romaine.


                      The veggie and fruit trays sound great; will you have someone keeping the space neat and clean, as I always find those platters get picked over, dips are dropped here and there, and they soon look unappetizing. Would be good if you had someone to help with this.

                      For the vegan option, what about this bean salad?


                      As far as purchased cookies, I would stay away from packaged ones; they're too common to be special. If you could find a bakery making something divine, that would be a fabulous finish. Some great biscotti, chewy chocolate chip. Another dessert (cake, mousse?), something people can really sink their teeth in to, would probably be good, too.

                      1. re: milklady

                        Costco has gallon jars of a 4 bean salad (vinigarette) that is kosher and very good as a side dish.
                        Also, in our area they stock loads of kosger mini rugelach and sprinkle cookies.

                        Don't know the date, sounds like a bris...............

                        1. re: bagelman01

                          thanks! I'll look and see if our costco has 4 bean salad with a heksher. that would be awesome!

                          Yes, it's a bris for my son who is born but has not yet been approved for his bris due to jauundice (religious restrictions not medical...). Fun fun.

                  2. As someone who prepares food often for large crowds in my civic organization often under similar restrictions such as time that you have, I've found a salad bar works the best.

                    A breakfast bar can include salad, toppings & dressings along with bagels, cream cheese, muffins, jellies and jams, croissants, strawberries with whipped cream, a variety of melons, grapes, sliced oranges, etc.

                    A lunch or dinner bar begins the same, salad, toppings & dressing with a variety of other prepared salads, some type of bread, tuna salad, potato salad, slaw, cucumbers & onion, 3 bean salad, include some fruits for the kiddos, etc.

                    Finally include a couple of sweets such as cookies, coffee cake, pie etc appropriate for the time of day.

                    Since you're getting the word the prior day, all the shopping and prep work can be done that day and all that is required the day of the event is to set it up, easily done in 3 hours. Make a shopping list for both a breakfast and lunch/dinner salad bar set up, when you get the word, go get what you need, (many salads can be obtained pre-made)call on a friend or two to help with the prep work, store it in the fridge until the next day and you're ready to go.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: zmyst1958

                      OP already posted upthread that a volunteer will be making enough lasagna for the whole crowd.

                      1. re: greygarious

                        So there just going to eat lasagna and nothing else? When I eat lasagna I enjoy eating it with a fresh salad.

                        1. re: worldwarz

                          Your question has already been answered in OP's post yesterday, which you apparently have not read.