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Meal for 100+ for $300

I said I would cook for a church dinner, likely to be for 100-125 people, then found out the budget was $300. The dinner doesn't have to be elaborate, and the desserts will be donated, but I'd like to make something substantial, delicious and fun. There will be children and adults present. I was thinking of meatballs, some turkey meatballs stretched with grain, and some veggie balls of some sort involving beans, as the protein, and maybe some sort of potato dish instead of pasta to soak up a good tomato sauce. A chopped salad of whatever is reasonable in the way of produce, maybe one other veggie dish, and foccacia. That's what I was thinking, but I thought I'd toss the idea out here and see what ideas you have. Thanks!

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  1. A lot of people forget that roasts are often the most economical way to feed a crowd. You can often get those giant beef roast on sale for about $30 tha will feed 30-40. Or smoked picnic shoulder. You could cook up the roasts and thinly slice them into those big aluminum pans. Serve with gravy and mashed potatoes, or do the picnic shoulder with biscuits and scalloped potatoes. Any frozen veggies will do for either. Not having to do dessert saves you a lot.

    1 Reply
    1. re: dianne0712

      I will check out prices -- thanks for the tip. It honestly hadn't occurred to me that this might be possible...I don't buy a lot of meat!

    2. I did this for a lot less a few weeks ago- I spent under 200. We had 3 kinds of chili- beef, chicken and veggie- served over rice. There were bowls of taco chips, guacamole, sour cream, shredded cheese and salsa on each table. This was lunch but if it had been dinner I would have had a salad too and still come in under $200. I mainly shopped at Costco but also at Whole Foods- the desserts were a pot luck.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Berheenia

        Hmmm...I don't know as I would serve chili, but that's the idea I was kind of starting with -- something flavorful served over something starchy....

      2. 10lb sack of chicken quarters are $6.50 here. Chicken stew served over rice or noodles. Green beans with a bacon vinegar dressing. 2 types of coleslaw for the salad. Vinagrette and mayo. Buy fresh hams and use for chili with plenty of beans for filler. Or veggie chili. Hot dogs and blue box mac and cheese for the kids. Grilled cheese and peanut butter and jelly also.

        1 Reply
        1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

          Reading your posts about what is possible, it seems like I might have made some bad assumptions about how far my money would go! So I wonder if I might think a little more upscale...The dinner is a thank you before asking for more money :-), so it should be nicer than average, or so say I.

        2. The most important thing is your choice of protein. I would stick with chicken (under 1$/lb), or pork shoulder (1.29/lb here). I'd do a pernil type roast with the pork, or a chicken stew/chili, and serve it with some rice & beans. Maybe some kale or cabbage on the side. You should be able to do it for 3$ a serving.

          1 Reply
          1. re: joonjoon

            I'm with joonjoon. You can do an awufl lot with a pork shoulder for very little money. Not just barbecue/pulled pork style.

            Because it is a braise, you can do just about any style you want; French, Italian, Thai, Indian, Spanish (pretty much anything except Kosher). And because it's a braise and pork shoulder, it will keep well, reheat well, and not dry out.

          2. I concur with the chicken idea...how about a chicken pot pie? With a nice spinach salad with red onion and oranges or mandarins. Brunswick stew is another option -- delicious stew with okra, lima beans and tomatoes -- I had it for the first time during a high school trip to Williamsburg, it's just delicious and would be a little more unusual/unique. Coq au vin another option that's deeply flavored and can stretch with noodles or redskins. Let us know how you do!

            1. Since so many people love Chipotle, this chalupa dinner bowl is a lot like their pork, with beans to cut the cost. Use pork shoulder/boston butt instead of the pork loin (which doesn't work in it anyway). You can add some liquid and do it on the stove or in the oven, if you don't have a crockpot but it works great in a potluck to keep it warm. One batch serves at least 12, with the right sides.


              Instead of serving in a tortilla bowl, serve over rice w/ a side salad or other veggie. Or, you can have tortillas and let people make their own w/ sides of cheese, veggies, guacamole, sour cream, etc.

              1 Reply
              1. re: chowser

                Thanks for all the suggestions-- you've definitely broadened my horizons. I love the stew-ish ideas, and I'll let you know what I end up doing!

              2. On the subject of chicken quarters, I might do them or bone-in, skin-on breasts, which I think would be affordable if you bought them frozen in bulk. I'd stuff them with something inexpensive like rice with middle eastern spices and a smidgen of lamb and fruit, or garlic cloves and lemon. The great thing about cooking bone-in, skin-on chicken is that you can finish it at 250, and if it cooks an hour or two extra, the connective tissue and fat start to break down a little, and the chicken is really tender and nice. So, you don't have to panic about having them ready at an exact time- they'll be ready and waiting when it's time to serve them.

                1. Remember, if people are going to be eating "in their laps" you might want to consider having food that doesn't need to be cut up with a knife and fork, and eliminate bones that people then have to deal with.

                  1. An easy way to do chicken quarters in huge quantity is "teriiyaki" style--- sprinkle them generously on both sides with soy sauce and garlic powder and bake them for about 45-50 minutes. If you want you can strew crushed canned pineapple over them along with the soy sauce and garlic and baste them once or twice with the goo. Serve with rice and all you need is something green to go with. BTW you can buy soy sauce in large-quantity jugs in Chinese grocery stores---comes out 'way cheaper than a lot of little bottles at a supermarket.

                    1. I would think you could learn a lot from buffets and cafeterias about feeding a lot of people. A ham goes a long way. Fried chicken is at every buffet I ever saw. Ditto for Macaroni and cheese and, of course, mashed potatoes. Red Beans and rice, a Cajun favorite is cheap and flavorful.

                      For veggies a salad bar, green beans and corn. Hot dinner rolls would be nice.

                      1. Part of what I'm wrestling with as far as this dinner goes is that I really want to make people feel special and cared for, so I wanted food that was somewhat familiar, but had a homemade twist. That's why I thought of meatballs, which are delicious, but can be stretched and made more delicious with grains and veggies. Also, it's my first time cooking for this group, and my husband's talked me up until the expectations are way beyond what any normal human non-chef could live up to. So the pressure is on, and I do want something that tastes like my food, which is usually not heavy on the meat. I'm still kind of attached to something Italian-ish, which is familiar but many people are not familiar with how good ordinary ingredients can be. That's what I'm shooting for...something that is familiar enough that kids and grownups alike will find it approachable, but delicious enough that they'll know they've had something special, not something they would find at your average buffet. It's a serve-yourself sit-down dinner, so cutting up things is not a problem, but I still lean towards fork tender...Do I sound like a crazy person? I kind of feel like one, which is weird, since I've been doing things like this for years...but not in this new place.

                        11 Replies
                        1. re: alaughingdog

                          I totally understand the inexplicable desire to make something in particular. Go for it! Meatballs and veggieballs sound good (although we've really gotta come up with a better name for veggieballs)

                          1. re: alaughingdog

                            If you stick with your Italianish idea then you can stay focused on that rather than having something that looks like Old Towne Buffet. What can you do to make it special? Make something you love to make and other people will love it too. Let your personality shine through in everything. I've never had anyone turn down my husband's foccacia and that's not expensive--just time on that one. Your meatballs sound great--do them the way you love them. Maybe make life easy and just do pasta in tomato sauce--but add herbs to make it special. Chopped salad sounds great...make it interesting. If you want to do a veg, roast it until golden and everyone will love it. Don't second guess yourself so much, go with your gut and it will be great.

                            1. re: alaughingdog

                              2 from superchef Daniel Boulud:

                              Can't bet more sophisticate/special than that, and you can do it within budget.

                              1. re: sbp

                                Thanks for these links -- they do sound delicious!

                                1. re: alaughingdog

                                  Also, for side dish - barley. You cook it up like rice, in chicken stock. Keeps hot in a chafing dish, hard to overcook (just gets creamier, like a risotto). Sops up pork gravy. Cheap as hell. Again, you can put together a "fancy" dinner instead of a big pan of baked ziti.

                              2. re: alaughingdog

                                What kind of kitchen are you working in? Is there a commercial range and large professional pots and sheet pans? Is there a really big fridge? I've done this often and a big pitfall is lack of refrigerator space and oven or cook top space. If you have the equipment and room you can probably just multiply your favorite recipes and wow them.
                                Baked pasta is always easier than boiling enough water to make al dente pasta that won't get mushy or cold.

                                1. re: Berheenia

                                  Hahaha -- The church has two home ovens, at least one of which is reliable, and one of those glass cooktops that has to be scrubbed gently with that special cleaner. So nothing good here. I'm up north, so the car refrigerator is pretty good this time of year for some things, but only one frig at the church. Just to get things heated up, I'm going to have to farm them out to people in town and have them bring them in hot that evening. It will be okay, but it's not a good setup...

                                  1. re: alaughingdog

                                    I think a baked pasta like lasagna would be great and along your thoughts. Since it can be dry if baked in advance, have two pots of spaghetti sauce, one w/ meatballs, one vegetarian w/mushrooms. Have garlic bread, another easy thing to do in advance, then salad.

                                2. re: alaughingdog

                                  Is this your 1st time cooking for 100 people or is it just the first time you're cooking for this group? Are you going to have help?

                                  It isn't just 100 people. It is 100 different palettes. I would think you are going to have to serve at least 2 -3 entrees so that everyone gets something they will enjoy. I have seen large dinners that specialize in one thing like spaghetti or chili but they have to be told early so the ones that aren't interested can just not be there.

                                  I would also think that it would be difficult to serve pasta over an extended period of time. I would think it would become gummy and sticky.

                                  Braises are very nice because you can set up several crock pots to keep everything warm. Borrowing a large rice cooker with a "keep warm" feature might be a good idea too.

                                  1. re: Hank Hanover

                                    This is just my first time cooking for this group. And my first time with a very inadequate kitchen, so I'm still working out how to do everything. If I do a pasta, I'd do something creamy and cheesy so that it would hold for the time it takes for the meal. There's a caterer in the congregation who has offered some chafing dishes, so I'm hoping I can pass those out to be heated in people's homes, and then just keep them warm. The crockpots are a great idea for sauce, and I'm sure there are people who would loan them. The kitchen has nothing, pretty much, except for one giant aluminum pot. So I'm getting some half sheet pans for baking meatballs or whatever and foccacia...and begging for the rest :-). Should be interesting.

                                    1. re: alaughingdog

                                      I have nothing to do with the product, but I have to say I have found Barilla pasta to be great for keeping some firmness when held or reheated. I've tried others that were great if eaten right away, but nothing has beaten it for longevity and it's virtually all I ever use.

                                3. Well, you could just swing by taco bell and pick up a "$2 dollar meal deal" for everybody... haha!
                                  Just kidding...

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: emmekin

                                    :-) Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

                                  2. Get a theme going. If you are doing italian meatballs, then your theme could be either italian or medeterranean. perhaps you could serve them with a choice of three different sauces, and two or three types of pasta if you are doing it buffet style. Someone else mentioned fried chicken, meatballs w/ pasta and fried chicken are a great combination, and having two proteins makes things seem very generous, even though you aren't really providing any more meat, just smaller portions of each. And yes, they eat fried chicken in italy. Add in some vegetables and maybe a simple chopped lettuce salad with a choice of dressings, you've got yourself a great meal at a pretty low cost per person.

                                    You can save money by having people behind the buffet line doing the actual serving, portion control and less food waste. Let them come back for seconds.

                                    8 Replies
                                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                                      I like the idea of having people serving the buffet -- it would help spread the food out evenly. I know people love fried chicken -- I'll have to think about that. Maybe drumsticks, which are small and cheap?

                                      1. re: alaughingdog

                                        I have made this oven "fried" chicken recipe to glowing reviews: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                                        Don't know if your oven will be otherwise occupied but my eaters love this hot and/or room temp. And, obviously baking pans of chicken legs (which is all I've ever used with this recipe) is much more crowd-friendly than frying. (btw, the soak is definitely an important part of the process--make sure you have enough fridge room for soaking if you decide to go this way.


                                        Good luck to you!

                                        1. re: miss louella

                                          The oven will be occupied and more so, but chicken legs could be baked ahead, held and served at room temperature, no? I assume I'm not the only one who loves leftover fried chicken, oven or otherwise.

                                          1. re: alaughingdog

                                            They're great room temp. And would be super easy to parcel out to your pals who are helping. The dipping, coating, putting on the rack step can get kind of messy but it is otherwise a very easy and delicious way to bake chicken.

                                      2. re: KaimukiMan

                                        With a family style Italian theme going, what about an Italian Sunday Gravy? The aforementioned meatballs, with some Italian sausage and chunks of pork shoulder that's all been cooked in a marinara. The super easy thing is that the pasta gets tossed in the marinara ahead of time and people choose the meat they want. For the vegetarians you could use the same marina (sans meat) and add sauteed eggplant, roasted peppers, and zuchinni. Fixin's include a simple salad and garlic bread. You can even do some simple appetizers with sundried tomato dip, caramelized onion dip, and gorgonzola dip with a variety of crudites and sliced baguettes.

                                        1. re: Dcfoodblog

                                          I'm craving potatoes to slop that gravy on, so was thinking of potato gatto (something like this:http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/paci...), pared down to be not so rich. I think this would hold and reheat well. I have one giant pot, so probably will just do marinara for everything.

                                          1. re: alaughingdog

                                            Wow, that sounds delicious. That recipe's a keeper for me.

                                            But put a space between "this:" and the url. It will make it easier for people to reach the site.

                                      3. My wife and I have been doing this once a month for the past few months. Target has been to feed 100. So far we've leaned heavily on bbq. 1st month was pulled pork sandwiches, slaw, fries, and salad. Then beef brisket over TX toast, ranch beans, fries, salad. Most recently made jambalaya. Grilled chicken breasts and sausage, made tomato sauce, sauteed veg then assembled in trays of rice. Served with Green beans and the inevitable salad. I haven't tracked the money closely, but we're averaging well under $300 each month and putting out pretty respectable quality food. Thinking about smoking turkey breasts w/ stuffing/sweet potatoes/veg for next month.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: laststandchili

                                          Wow -- I want to live in your town! And you have a grill...le sigh.

                                        2. Does anyone know why opening this topic downloads a file called "meld.js" to my computer?

                                          1. I respectfully submit Joan Nathan's Friday night brisket. $175.50 for 100+ servings (made the day ahead, refrigerated overnight, sliced when cold, and reheated the next day)


                                            Broccoli Ramen Slaw

                                            vegetable of choice ( there are carrots in the brisket


                                            bread and/or rolls and butter

                                            Q: Do you need to provide beverage(s)?

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: laliz

                                              I'm bailing on the beverage other than coffee or tea (I really like water, anyway), so will let someone else tackle that if they want.

                                            2. A Dal fry, fruit chutney, and flatbreads

                                              1. I'd stick with pulled pork which can be pretty cheap and sides like slaw and pasta salad or beans. Black beans and rice is very inexpensive and can go well with the pork butt. High volume foods that are easy to hold for service and easy to eat

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: scubadoo97

                                                  You know, I love pulled pork but have never made it (don't cook with pork generally), so I would have to experiment a bit first for that one...

                                                2. Maybe shepherd's pie with salad as the main (you can make it a bit "upscale" by adding truffle oil to the mashed potatoes, for example, or doing a salad that incorporates fresh herbs), and then an appetizer of an assortment of dips with pita (tzaziki is very cheap to make, for example), and a dessert like poached pears with creme anglais, which is easy to prep for a large crowd. Alternatively, an apple crumble would be an easy and cheap dessert. Nothing earth shattering, but good, hearty, classic fare.