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Help! Feeding 22-24 people on a budget

My hubs and I are cooking for a largish group of people (22-24) and its for a place like Ronald McDonald house but not for children, its associated with a large hospital in our area. Until recently we were going to be going along to serve and I just found out we are in charge.

I have been cooking for years and have made meals for 35-40 people in the past, but I never had A. a tight budget and B. Any grip on how to calculate how much to make. My coping mechanism has been to make too much food and send people home with leftovers. The event budget and my current budget will not allow my usual overshop/overbuy technique.

So here is my question:

I am planning on making lasagna and ziti, a large salad and cookies for dessert. How do I figure how how much to make when serving 22-24 people?

Thank you in advance for your wisdom!

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  1. Hi! I just texted my friend who runs a deli/catering business and he told me that 2- 2 1/2 full trays of each hot item should be plenty for your guests and probably won't give you much surplus. 2 big bowls of salad and 2 nicely-sized cookie platters should do it as well. Hope this helps. Sounds like a wonderful and much appreciated service that you're doing, D! Best wishes!

    6 Replies
      1. re: Sra. Swanky

        Sra., I've so been looking for you!! How are things going?
        Deborah: you need to figure for 28 portions, so the advice above it good, to avoid all the surplus. 2 hotel pans and 2 salads (huge), figuring about 3 pounds lettuce and fixings. what a wonderful thing you're doing!!

        1. re: mamachef

          Hi Marci! All is well thank you! How are you doing? I've been meaning to email you. Will def be in touch. :o) DeLobstah - please tell us how everything turns out with your dinner!

            1. re: DeLobstah

              No, a hotel pan is one of those stainless steel pans that you see on steam tables or at buffets. I think a full-size one is 13x20 or so - approximately double the size of a 9x13, but deeper.

        2. One deep dish full tray(3-4 inches) should do the trick for the lasagna and salad....but two would yield nice leftovers for another day. Four/Four/Four of Noodles/Ricotta/Mozzarella...3-4 jars of sauce per tray (deep dish) should suffice.

          If you tell us where you will be shopping and your actual budget, it will make it much easier, e.g., Costco or your local super market. Asian markets sometimes have much better pricing for salad ingredients over your local big chain supermarkets.

          2 Replies
          1. re: fourunder

            Thank you! And I am shopping at Costco. I am not sure what Four/Four?four means. :)

            1. re: DeLobstah

              Four packages of Pasta

              Four pounds/pints of Ricotta

              Four pounds of Mozzarella

              3-4 jars of Sauce.....or one large # 10 can of Crushed Tomatoes.

              One large bag of Field Greens or Mesculin....you can mix with Romaine.

          2. You've received good advice so far. I would also ask whoever is in charge at the house. We have a similar house here, and the volunteer coordinator is helpful in determining food amounts. Also ask about leaving and storing leftovers. The house here has containers and wrapping to store leftovers so people who come in late can still get dinner, or have leftovers for lunch since dinner is the only meal provided at the house. As long as you stay within your personal budget, there is not such thing as too much food.

            1. You've gotten good advice regarding quantity here but I would suggest doing lasagne or ziti, not both, and choosing another non-pasta main dish for your other entree. Not everyone likes pasta, and those two are not only both pasta but both red sauce/cheese pasta. At the very least, do the ziti with chicken and a creamy sauce - but honestly I would change it up and do something else entirely.

              5 Replies
                1. re: DeLobstah

                  If you can afford it on the budget you have, I would suggest something with a separable and substantial protein element so that if there are any vegetarians or low-carbers, they'll be able to take a portion of what they can eat, plus a salad, and be satisfied. Perhaps a bean or lentil based dish with sausage, ham or even chicken on top - you could keep a portion of it completely separate for the vegetarian crowd and let any low-carbers just take the meat off the top.

                  1. re: DeLobstah

                    King Ranch Casserole: layered tortillas with mild chiles, chicken, and creamy sauce, topped with cheese. Pretty addictive stuff. I like the idea of considering something other than the two red sauce pastas too.......If you definitely want to serve the pasta, you could do a main dish Asian noodle salad....delicious and really fun; can be vegetarian if you wish. Or a carbonara. Possibilities are endless...let us know how it turns out please!!

                    1. re: mamachef

                      Nice ideas. Thanks they all sound great.

                  2. re: biondanonima

                    Good starting points.
                    When cooking for a crowd of "unknowns" it's hard.
                    Don't forget there may be vegetarian/vegan folks. Kosher. Low carb. All diets that are not that strange or obscure depending upon the location.

                    Personally, I'd consider one composed dish (e.g. a lasagna) then take alone some pasta, some red sauce and some meatballs and grated cheese. Let folks compose their own pasta dish kinda thing. Salad and bread could round out the meal.

                  3. Not to make things more complicated but I think a ziti vegetable primavera would be great with the lasagna. Alfredo sauce, some steamed vegies and a little parmesan cheese. This would give the vegetarian and kosher people an option and even non-vegetarians (like me) love pasta primavera. Also I would definitely serve crusty bread with the meal.

                    1. In reference to the budget, are you able to get any of the ingredients donated? I know you have enough to do with the prepping and cooking, but is there someone in the organization to perhaps ask supermarkets if they would be willing to donate? If so, that could give you some leeway with the meal.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: CookieLee

                        We are cooking next week, so it;s not likely we can get donations, although that is a great idea for the next time we do this.

                      2. I would suggest lasagna or ziti but not both. Choose another protein-based dish, even it is really just topper for the salad like roast chicken or marinated tofu.

                        1. Have you considered a soup, with hearty loaves of bread?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: PattiCakes

                            I am going to do that in December when we go back.

                          2. Wow! Thank you all for the amazing suggestions and planning advice. I really appreciate your help!

                            1. Why do people always automatically think Ziti when it comes to Italian food? It is a huge unweilidy type pasta. Put it together with sauce and it spells cheap. I'm half Italian, grew up on Italian and cook Italian. And the LAST thing I would ever fix for anyone is ZITTI w/sauce..

                              I second the King Ranch Casserole - Good stuff..

                              1. Hello everyone. I wanted to thank you for all your help, The dinner was great, I made some lasagna and a couple of vegetarian casseroles. I also served a Caesar salad with my first attempt at homemade Caesar dressing and chocolate chip cookies. I almost brought garlic bread but in the last minute frenzy I accidently turned the bread into carbon. Plan to press that later and make diamonds. When I got there I found out Panera brings fresh bread to the house daily so that was good news.

                                1. I'd try to get a store to donate a couple of turkeys. Lots of times they have frozen turkey's that they have had for quite a while. The store can get some good advertising and a charitable tax write-off. Tell them you'll make a point of thanking the store somehow. Turkey is cheap and pretty well everyone likes it and associates turkey with a 'special' occasion. Thaw the turkeys and brine them. Roast them remove the meat for use in a TON of dishes. TIP: Crush the big bones to release all the good stuff then make stock for maybe turkey soup. The possibilities are endless with turkey. Good luck and thanks for your service.