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Jun 2, 2012 09:32 PM

Meals for 20+ on limited budget

A few weeks ago I became the full time coordinator at a charity cafe of sorts. We do charge for food, but its minimal and we have a process for providing emergency meals if needed. Most of our fruit/veg is donated 3x/ week, and it often includes potatoes and whatever else is in season and starting to go off. I can buy ingredients, but I am limited in my budget. I have 2-3 kilos of either chicken breast, minced beef, or diced beef (thick sausages, shredded ham, meatballs, and some bacon are also available depending) .to be made into between 20-25 meals. I can stretch it with pasta or rice, and try to always get some vegetables in their diets. I am trying to be creative and sometimes add rolls or potatoes as a side to mix it up. Would love to try things like couscous, etc...but am on a limited budget with very limited time. I have to deal with the cooking, orders, deliveries, donations, problems in the cafe itself, and a myriad of other tasks.

A couple more limitations: due to various factors, anything hot/spicy is out. Also, foods can't be TOO hard/crunchy. They do love things sweet, and want to be able to SEE the meat. Soup has also been requested lately because of cooler, rainy weather. I am running out of ideas, though!
some things already out there...
Shepherds pie
Enchiladas/Mexican bake
Stiry fry (ginger, lemon, orange, and soy--all been done;)
Fried rice
Chicken with cheesy sauce/bechamel
Chicken pot pie
Chicken stew
Beef stew (multiple ways:)
Dublin coddle
Bolognaise and the like
Mac &cheese with chicken or mince
Bangers. And mash
Beef korma
Butter chicken
Tandoori chicken
Moroccan chicken/chickpeas or beef/potatoes
Teriyaki chicken
Portuguese chicken
Pizza (although this doesn't count as a "meal" either! :/ )
Minestrone, pumpkin, potato, and pea/ham soup (not mixed together ;)
Egg, tuna, ham/cheese/tomato sandwiches ( I only have ham, tuna, or bacon for sandwich meats)

Things that don't count are meals like sandwiches, soups.(although Ill take ideas for easy soups or cheap sandwiches to add to the menu!), frittatas, baked goods like meat pies or sausage rolls. I purchase some and others are brought in or made by volunteers. It also has to be able to be plated and reheated. We don't have the capability to make to order :/. We offer fruits salad, but right now vegetable salads are out due to the weather.

Any ideas? I'm Spending half my life trying to figure this out. Anyone can come in, and we want the food to attract a mixture of people as well to encourage a mingling of different groups of people. I sincerely want the food to be good for our regular visitors even if they are sometimes too high/drunk to know if it's good ;), but I'm getting stuck in what else I can do wth my limited stocks and time. Help??

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  1. Would very hearty, meal-in-a-bowl soups be okay? If so, then try :

    Senate Bean Soup or Split Pea Soup with chunks of meat & veg
    Italian Wedding Soup
    Ground Beef, Kidney Bean & Tomato Stew, served over rice (American-style Chile without the spice)

    Good luck! Sounds like you are giving a lot of yourself for a worthy cause.

    1. There are a few dishes I don't see on your list.

      Rice Pilaf with any combo of mushrooms, chicken, pork, beef, sausage, whatever veggie you have. Pilafs are very versatile.

      Cabbage rolls unfortunately meat intensive

      Chicken leg quarters (roasted) Cheap but meat intensive. Probably better to cut the meat off and use it in something.

      Chicken Cacciatore

      Ham Hocks and beans with corn bread

      Because you are a charity of sorts, have you tried establishing relationships with restaurants, grocery stores, butcher shops and farms to get their "less than optimum" products? The stuff they are in danger of having to throw out.

      My grocery store sells a lot of rotisserie chicken. They also use it, especially the chicken that doesn't sell, to make chicken salad. They have a lot of roasted chicken bones. They won't give them to me but maybe a charity? It would be a lovely source of stock.

      1. First of all, find out who the wholesale (restaurant supply) grocer is in your town and get the necessary credential to shop there so you can buy staple items in large quantity cans, jars etc at a much lower per-ounce price. I am constantly amazed when church feeding programs I work with shop at regular retail outlets, which is often a waste of scarce institutional money. Second, check expiration date on donations because people will clean out their cupboards and send you stuff that expired two years ago. Third, sanitation is a bigger deal than in the home kitchen. Don't forget to keep a supply of disposable rubber gloves for food handlers (much cheaper online in large quantities than in local drug store). Also, holding refrigerated food is a huge issue---you don't want to be giving food poisoning to clients of your program. If a local community college has a course in industrial food handling, I would advise taking it, or at least see what information is online. An item I find useful is 9 x 12 aluminum foil cake pans with rigid plastic dome lids because they can be stacked in a refrigerator (Dollar Tree sells them in stores or on website) to hold not just cake but other foods as well. Fourth, if you are short-handed apply to local churches for volunteer help---they respond very well.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Querencia

          Not to worry, we use wholesalers, get donations, and have large-quantity supplies. We are working to get a larger cold area so we can do this even more. Also,vie have plenty of gloves, use color-coded cutting boards, food- safe sanitizer, etc. It's not a new cafe, and it's part of a larger, well-established organization that is liked by the larger community. They are just bringing in new people right now to help meet the demands, and I'm one of the newbies...and the only one there full time :).
          Oh- yes! The expiry date thing is quite frustrating. I appreciate donations, but I can't use things that are old. If you wouldn't eat it...I probably can't serve it.
          Thanks for the concerns Querencia! :)

        2. Bean-based dishes are economical and can be quite delicious, especially when augmented with bits of bacon, ham, etc. Some things that immediately come to mind are quick cassoulet (Google the recipe, there's a lot of fast cassoulet options out there), Boston baked beans, and white bean & kale soup. All delicious.

          1 Reply
          1. re: mbCrispyBits

            Burritos or soft tacos
            Chicken Paprikash over chick peas
            Any type of stir fry
            Thanksgiving (turkey breast, instant stuffing and cranberries)
            Franks and beans
            Baked Ziti, Penne Vodka or an Alfredo sauce (can add chicken to all of these for protein)
            Baked Stuffed Bell Peppers (chicken and cheese)

          2. Wow I'm impressed with the range of dishes you make. I volunteer once a week at a soup kitchen and it's a really challenge to prepare foods that people will like with the ingredients we happen to have available. You've really covered a lot of different things - I don't know why you think you need to expand beyond this.

            But for the record, in our community, the favourites seem to be anything that has a visible amount of meat. The folks who come into the kitchen are either borderline homeless or just trying to defray their weekly food budget by getting one decent meal a day, and meat is always a big expense. Favourites: shepherds pie, thick hamburger-vegetable soup, burritos with lots of beans and cheese in the filling (usually supplemented with Spanish-ish rice), French toast with sausages. Also very appreciated whenever we have the ingredients is a nice green salad - served already dressed with something creamy. We've done chicken pot pie when we have the chicken, and recently made a baked chicken in barbecue sauce that went over well. It's a good thing you're doing - I personally love my one day a week. We do some of the prep at home or at another volunteer's church kitchen and some prep at the soup kitchen itself. I call it the Low-Rent Iron Chef.