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Christmas dinner for 40! looking for inspiration and advice.

I've been asked to cater our office Christmas dinner party. I am nervous and excited, and so far, at a loss about what to cook :)
I have some experience cooking for large groups, although it's been a while since I did anything this size. The focus of the dinner is on spending time together, the food does not need to be very fancy.
Appetizer, main, and dessert, and possibly some small things to nibble before dinner.

I'm planning on doing most of the prep and cooking at the office, because I want to limit the time I spend at home cooking for this. There's a large kitchen at the office, but it has only 2 burners and a smallish oven. No microwave. Heating stuff and keeping stuff warm will be an issue. There's tons of counter space, big sinks, a professional dish washing machine, a huge fridge and freezer though.
Costs need to be kept down to a minimum. The food does not have to be traditional or particularly Christmassy, but seasonal in the sense that its suitable for a winter dinner. It can be really simple and unfussy.
I'll have some people to help me with prep, cooking and plating.

So... what to cook? I'm thinking a starter that can be completely prepped ahead and only needs assembling (cold, or something that only needs very brief reheating).
Main will obviously need to be something briased or stewed, that will only need reheating. (in fact the first thing I though about was a huge pot meatballs in mushroom / onion/port gravy).
Some kind of beef stew seems an obvious choice. But I'm not averse to something completely different, with Middle Eastern flavors maybe, or even a pasta dinner (although pasta for 40... hm...)

Dessert, again, needs to be something that can be prepped ahead and assembled at the last moment. All thoughts, ideas, tips and tricks are very welcome.. and I'll keep adding to this thread while my plans take shape!

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  1. My first thought was something like a large ham, which can be made ahead, and served at room temperature, with a large pan of something vegetarian like a macaroni & cheese or veggie lasagne, for those who don't eat meat. Not sure if some people at your company may have issues with pork, though.

    Another first thought was to perhaps kindly ask your company to rent or purchase (why not they have a great sounding kitchen?) some chafing dishes or warming trays, they are not terribly expensive, and would make the meal much easier if you knew ahead you could keep some dishes warm.

    Other suggestions, just off the top of my head are:
    Lasagne bolognese and a veg lasagne, like butternut squash or wild mushroom
    Various tarts like a leek & gruyere, bacon, onion & Gouda, wild mushroom & goat cheese
    Stratas like tomato & fontina, ham & swiss, broccoli & cheddar
    The above can be made ahead, even frozen, and just reheated or baked on site. Some more are:
    Beef or lamb stew
    Large pot of chili with toppings
    Stuffed turkey roasts (breast w a stuffing and roasted rolled)

    I don't have many ideas for apps, but I think once you have decided on the mains that can feed 40 people, then you will get a better idea of what to serve along with it.

    Good luck & have fun!

    1. I thought of lasagne right away too.

      I'd do a couple turkeys ahead of time and refrigerate, then slice when cold in beautiful slices. Heat and serve with Turkey gravy and rolls.
      Aforementioned lasagne, whatever works.
      Crock pots of meatballs or sausages

      Veggie casserole

      for dessert, CHRISTMAS COOKIES and ice cream.

      1. For dessert you could make rolled cake one lemon and one chocolate and turn them into BUCHE DE NOEL [CHRISTMAS LOG] at the last minute you can put some meringue mushrooms that would be beautiful.
        I have made boeuf bourguignon for 100 people, it's easy and can be made ahead serve either mashed potatoes and or buttered noodles

        1. Because it's an office party and not the holiday itself I would completely skip turkey and ham (people will get enough on the holidays themselves,) and run with your idea of a fall menu.

          Apple pies or tarts, pumpkin custard or pumpkin ice cream, a crockpot to keep spiced apple cider warm, butternut squash and carmelized onion tarts, butternut squash soup, sweet potato gnocchi in sage browned butter, individual chicken pot pies, etc.

          1. I did that at my job for 20 years, 30-40 people. What is your budget? Do you have access to portable ovens, etc? Meatballs are ok but you can't just have one meat You have to remember that lots of folks are not chowhounds, What kind of cooking equipment do you have access to?

            1. hi klarykins
              bummer about your oven limitations, the first thing i thought of was that musakhan (roasted chicken with pine nuts, sumac, allspice, etc, baked on flatbread...it's great) you made a couple of years ago,,,
              the next thing i thought of was the kind of fall/winter lasagna that Dirtywextraolives mentions above, I wonder if you could pack the goodness of butternut squash ravioli w sage brown butter into a lasagna form factor (maybe small slices of this as a first course)

              yeah, non-baked pasta for 40 on a small stove is tough, both in terms of real estate and getting still-hot food on the table....but gnocchi somehow seem easier. make them at home, freeze them, etc. i liked just about all of weezieduzzit's suggestions, but sweet potato gnocchi sound especially great, i should really take care of my orange vegetable/sage craving before i continue answering this....hold on.

              pulled pork sounded good too. i need to eat.

              update: mara just confirmed that i'm just hungry for sweet potato gnocchi: it's absolutely not any easier than pasta for 40. and she suggested a whole kind of new orleans kind of direction, like basically cochon's whole menu, which sounds great. but i still need to eat. xoxoxo

              1 Reply
              1. re: markemorse

                mara just suggested mussels as the starter, which we then thought sounded logistically difficult, but...it still sounded good for a second (us being somewhere where mussels are cheap and plentiful)...were it me, i would think about maybe a mussel gumbo. but i still haven't eaten yet, so don't even listen to me (yet).

              2. baked potato bar. You can bake the potatoes ahead of time. Bring sour cream, bacon, cubed chicken, green onions, barely cooked brocolli, cheese, etc. Put chili in slow cooker to keep warm

                ...or taco/ burrito bar.

                Then have brownie / ice cream sundae bar for dessert.

                1. Klary,

                  As a long-time caterer, before I were to offer any menu suggestions, first some questions!

                  You say budget must be reasonable - but what does that mean per person?

                  Will there be seating for everyone so that they can cut things on a plate, etc. - or more fork-only friendly needed?

                  Will you do a buffet, or are you and helpers serving seated guests?

                  Can you plan into the budget renting a couple chafing dishes to help with heating/holding food, or do you have to rely on borrowing staff crock pots type situation ( 2 burners and small oven is VERY logistically challenging for more than one warm course, is why I ask).

                  If you can answer some of that, I am sure I can offer some creative fun advice.

                  You have already gotten some great suggestions here....

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: gingershelley

                    I'm aiming to keep the food costs around 500 euros. I'm pretty good at budget buying and making cheap things taste good, so I think I can pull that off.

                    It will be a seated dinner, and I am now thinking of soup as a first course, because we have a large bain marie soup pot that will make this easy to serve. Ideas for simple but interesting soups are welcome!
                    And then maybe some goats cheese toasts on the table or maybe some savory muffins, cornbread, something like that.. croutons maybe?

                    For the main I am thinking of a very simple braised chicken, using good chicken and lots of butter and some mustard, thyme, white wine, porcini mushrooms and maybe garnish with sauteed mushrooms? Will need a chafing dish to keep this hot.

                    Then as a side dish some brussels sprouts/potato mash. (mashed together - a version of the Ducth dish 'stamppot.') This can be made on the stove and kept hot in the oven. Also if this is in the oven, maybe I dont; need a chafing dish for the chicken but can use the 2 burners just for the chicken?

                    Am at a loss what to serve as second side dish though. It would have to be cold...

                    Am thinking of plating the chicken and mash and other side, in small portions, and have people come into the kitchen fo seconds. It's not a formal dinner so this would be ok.

                    Also, NO clue what to serve for dessert that can be made ahead and plated easily.

                    I did home made ravioli for 30 a couple of years ago, and I am never ever doing that again :)

                    Lasagna would make a nice main course, served with a big and interesting salad... certainly less traditional than my chicken/mash approach. Trying to think if this would be too laboutr intensive and if the oven is big enough. Or maybe instad of lasagna a baked pasta with butternut squash and sage ? Vegetarian? Have some charcuterie as appetizer?