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Tired of ordering pizza!! Ideas for Easy lunch party for 50?

  • c

Party menu ideas needed!! We usually order pizza, but we (and our guests) are tired of the pizza party.

I did carnitas tacos a couple of years ago & it was a huge hit thanks to you Chowhounders! Guests were impressed & so was I. Looking for more ideas...

Here are some details about the party:

* I am a novice (and I do mean NOVICE) cook- so easy, fool proof dishes that don't take a lot of time to make. I'm thinking oven cooking might be easiest??

* We're having about 40-50 people to our house. About 30 adults, 20 kids: 9 months - 8 years old).

* I work & have 2 little ones so I don't have much time to prep & cook- just cleaning the house is a huge chore.

* This will be for my 2 year old's birthday, so we'll have cake, lunch and drinks. Starts at 11am so a few appetizers but focused on the entree.

* Prefer inexpensive without seeming cheap. Is that an oxymoron? Preferably not sandwiches since there isn't much "wow" factor- and I'm tired of sandwiches because we eat those a lot at home & so do our guests with little ones.

* It's summer so chili probably won't work - and kids don't like spicy & people will remember the pulled pork from last time (the only time I cooked for a party)

* Prefer to make it the day before & put it in the fridge to reheat in the oven

* We don't have cooking tools for large portions - a small crockpot, we can buy pan liners to cook in the oven.

* No nuts since we have a lot of nut allergies. This includes pesto, and in salads too.

* will probably have a salad, but the last time I brought a green salad to a party (cucumbers, tomatoes, craisins, & romaine lettuce) no one touched it! My husband thought it was because we got there late, but I have my doubts. They liked the orzo & kale salad (something different- most had never had it including me). Is orzo inexpensive, easy to make? Kale seems like a lot of work to prep?

I know it sounds like a tough order to fill but I welcome any and all suggestions even if they don't fit everything I wanted. Just my "wish list".

Thank you!!

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  1. Since I do not know where you live it is difficult to know what to suggest. If you live in an area where there's a Primo's Hoagies (NJ, Delaware, Philly), order several large ones. One can slice each large hoagie into about 6 smaller ones and still have plenty to eat. During my 40+ years living in the Philly area, Primos are the best, and they are generously filled.

    3 Replies
    1. re: ChiliDude

      I was going to suggest a 6 foot subs...

        1. re: MidwesternerTT

          I know about the no sandwiches, but I was kind of thinking that a 6-ft sub was a departure from the traditional sandwich/wrap circular platter...

    2. Baked potato bar so guest can make it their way. Spaghetti and meatballs (make your own, or not), garlic bread, and Caesar salad. Baked ravioli With store bought ravioli, Red sauce (yours, or not), shredded mozzarella, and grated parmesan. Layer in pan sauce, ravioli, parmesan, mozzarella sauce. Repeat if pan is tall enough.

      1. Chicago-style beef sandwiches? I see you'd prefer not to do sandwiches, but this is a little different take on meat between bread than a cold cut tray and potato buns.

        The day before, roast a large piece of top round with a bottle of red wine. Rub the round with salt, black pepper, Italian seasoning, and lots of granulated garlic / garlic powder. Cook until medium rare (hard to say how long, as it depends on the size and shape of your round). Wrap in foil and refrigerate overnight. Save the jus.

        Next day, slice the round as thin as you can, and reheat the jus. Put some of the jus in the crockpot for dipping, and then reaheat the meat in the barely simmering large pan of jus.

        Use a very crusty and glutenous Italian bread, or a similar French bread. Have giardiniera / pickled mixed vegetables on hand, as well as provolone cheese, and sauteed green peppers for toppings. Sandwich can be served as-is with toppings, or dunked in reserved jus.

        1. Orzo is just a pasta, should be inexpensive. I like orzo salad with peppers, tomatoes and feta. Add in dressing and maybe fresh herbs. kale would require cutting and blanching.

          what about a pasta bake of some kind? either stuffed shells, or even just a penne with meat/tomato sauce covered in cheese. Or a large mac and cheese, but could get pricey with all the cheese required but can beef it up with sausage or bacon. I would serve these with garlic bread and caesar salad.

          Another option would be a jambalaya (a cheaters version, maybe no shrimp for price, no spice for kids)

          I know you said no sandwiches, but you could do a philly cheese steak bar. cook and slice your meat the day before, saute all the peppers and onions and place on top of meat in large tray. Heat up day of with all the cheese on top. People come along and grab bun and place meat/veg cheese on top. Along this note you could do a sausage bake with peppers and onions and potatoes. Just reheat and serve.

          2 Replies
          1. re: cleopatra999

            I've done this Jambalaya for a crowd before. You can sub the equivalent weight of ham for the Andouille. If you've got enough time between now & then, troll the supermarket ads until you find shrimp frozen on sale. Even just a half pound per recipe would be enough. Same with the ham (and even canned tomatoes): it keeps a long time if it's vacuum sealed, so you can just keep watching the ads to see if you can find it on sale.


            Since you're concerned about spice, maybe use the "mild" instead of the "original" mix. http://www.zatarains.com/Products/Ric...

            I also like to double the amount of bell peppers, just because I like a lot of veggies.

            I've never tried to reheat it in the oven before, but I'm sure you could. I always reheat on the stove top.

            I like orzo, but I'll admit it often clumps on me if I try to make it in advance. Also, I wouldn't pair orzo salad if you end up serving jambalaya as your main. Even though orzo is a pasta, and not a rice, it does seem very rice like.

            How about this corn and black beans recipe for your salad? http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6206... Sunflower seeds are not a tree nut but still provide that nutty crunch.

            Happy birthday to your two year old!


            1. re: cleopatra999

              Kale does not have to be blanched...it is very tasty raw

            2. How about a brunch? I have a great recipe for a crustless quiche. It's extremely easy, the veg and/or meat components can be varied, and it can be baked off in disposable 9X13 inch foil pans. It can even be done the day before, cut when cooled, and reheated the day of the party. Along with that, I'd serve some mini croissants, bagels (minis for the kids), flavored and plain cream cheese, a fresh fruit tray with cut-up, bite sized pieces, and a pasta, rice, or mixed green salad. A cheese tray can also be added. Pretty much all of it can be done in advance.

              1. I'd think brasies and stews. Both can be done ahead and then reheated. Jambalaya as mentioned is a good option. For the kids, you may consider doing a big pan of mac and cheese.

                1. We did a French country picnic for my mothers birthday last year.. It was awesome.. You dont have to go as wacko as I do( put french lables on the bug spray bottles) annnnyway we had 100 people. and did french chicken and crusty bread with grilled veggies and for the kids chicken legs and mac and cheese...we also did mussles and pate but you can leave that out.... the chicken we did in in batches the night before and then put the sauce on the day of cooked and put into my hotel pans.. but you can buy foil hotel pans three for 24.00 at party city...

                  How do you feel about a craw fish boil?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: girloftheworld

                    but you can buy foil hotel pans three for 24.00 at party city...


                    eeesh. $8 per pan that you throw out? i can buy hotel pan-sized at family dollar for a buck.

                    except for clearance items, party stores are mostly a rip-off.

                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                      they are on stands with sterno under them and the serving spoons... not just the pans

                    1. Taco Bar. Set out seasoned ground meat, refried beans, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole, sour cream and salsas, along with tortilla chips, flour and corn tortillas, and hard taco shells. People can make nachos, tacos or burritos -- whatever they like. You can make the meat 1-2 days before and just heat it in the microwave when you are ready. Serve with a Mexican style salad (olives, red onions, iceberg lettuce, crushed tortilla chips), a fresh fruit salad and some rice if you want a carb. It's kid friendly, and vegetarian friendly too.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: boogiebaby


                        Taco bars are a great way to offer a lot of different variations so everyone can have their food how they like it. Don't forget large lettuce leaves if you have people who eat paleo or low carb. (or lots of shredded lettuce for taco salads instead of wraps.)

                        You could ask around and borrow a couple of crockpots, one for each kind of meat.

                        1. re: boogiebaby

                          I'm with taco bar too. Honestly, it sounds like you really don't have a lot of time and cooking for 40 or 50 with a big entree is not easy. You'll still be doing a lot of work with the taco bar but it's all prep (cutting veggies) which can be done in advance.

                          Make the filing in advance and keep it in a crock pot the day of so it stays warm. And like boogibaby says, put out taco shells, and corn and flour tortillas. Don't make the filling spicy so the kids will eat it but have plenty of hot sauce/salsa for the adults. I wouldn't bother with salad, just put plenty of veggies out for toppings and include beans for anyone vegetarian/vegan. Serve fresh fruit too.

                          1. re: Jpan99

                            i don't own a slow-cooker, so am curious? how much meat can fit in one, practically speaking?

                        2. Wow, thanks for the responses so far. Great suggestions- my thoughts... may need some follow up.

                          Yup, I've thought about pasta, but not sure if it's labor intensive or if I could cook the day before? Suggestions for easy recipes? I do make my own pasta sauce & I think pesto (without nuts) is doable ahead of time? Haven't made pesto though. Has anyone made pasta for a party? How did it go- how long did it take, budget? For the sides, was thinking of Caesar salad & bruchetta, but garlic bread sounds easier so I can focus on the entree.

                          I do like the philly cheesesteak & chicago-style beef sandwiches since it can be done ahead of time. Isn't beef more expensive? Not sure since i haven't made either but would be willing to try.

                          Orzo sounds easy, but that's just a salad or side, right?

                          I live in CA so no where near Primo's.

                          I do like stew, but would it be too hot in August for stew? Personally, I can eat stew when it's 100 degrees because I like it so much...

                          Braises- tell me more! What kind of recipe do you have in mind? Would I need a couple of crock pot batches?

                          For the most part, the kids can eat whatever the adults eat. i usually don't go out of my way. My little ones eat whatever we eat.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: chele

                            Coq au Vin is a classic braise that can be made ahead of time and reheated. Use chicken thighs which don’t overcook easily and are budget friendly. For that many people, I’d start it on the cooktop in a few batches. Then transfer to some large aluminum pans covered in foil to finish in the oven.

                            1. re: chele

                              it starts at 11:00. presumably a weekend day? that's brunch.

                              if you're a novice cook, make BIG batches of a few things. less fiddly details and easy to replenish. it also "looks" bountiful and less stingy. realize it takes no more effort to cook for 5 than 50; just more product and bigger vessels. don't kill yourself trying to make 6 batches of one dish in your only slow-cooker. just buy big aluminum disposable pans and cook, covered, in the oven on low heat.

                              make an outline of EVERYTHING that needs doing. give yourself several days to accomplish it all. this means from shopping to cutting/slicing/cooking/chilling/reheating; setting tables, and having enough toilet paper in the bathroom. don't plan anything that needs last-minute fussing, like frying or delicate saucing.

                              crustless quiche or fritatta are insanely budget-friendly, versatile and better if made ahead. they also are just as good room-temp as hot, so no sweat about timing everything coming out of the oven. make some with veggies and some with meat for broad appeal and to save $$$. a 9x13 pan will take 12 eggs and make 8 generous portions, or 16 petites. i can buy a dozen eggs for 99 cents. this is a good way to stretch other ingredients that cost more, like meat and cheese.

                              nice assortments of olives, nuts and cheese straws are good nibbly foods.

                              also make ahead is sausage and peppers. cut them up, you can add potatoes and onions too, add some vinegar or chicken stock and cook til done. this reheats very well and is also good room-temp.

                              i like the idea of coq au vin for groups too, but make a white wine version for warm weather -- much lighter. you don't need a crockpot. use big disposable pans and just cook low and slow in the oven.

                              orzo salads are great for groups, with LOTS of fresh herbs and citrus. you can do cous-cous or barley this way too. potato salad with vinaigrette, NOT mayo, is also a good warm weather side. i agree with your observation about green salads on buffets. they take up too much space on a plate and there is usually more appetizing stuff on offer. you CAN make a chopped veggie salad though -- like carrots and cukes with mint and sesame oil. easy fork food.

                              any kind of make-your-own-something-bar gets very messy very fast, especially if kids are at it. am not a fan. they also involve lots of moving parts that need replenishing.

                              cake, cookies, brownies/blondies, fresh fruit.

                              have fun!

                              p.s.: i buy disposable pans at family dollar for either 2 for $1 for smallish or $1 for big giant sized ones. do NOT buy these at the grocery store!

                            2. Around here, beef top round is roughly the same price as burger. If you figure 6 oz (raw weight) of beef per person, that's about 19 lbs of beef. A lot of butchers will cut you a break if you're buying that much at one time. If you go that route, I'd recommend doing two roasts, which can be done at the same time in the oven.

                              I'd avoid pasta. Yes, it can be cooked the day before, but it doesn't reheat well, unless really well-sauced, like in a lasagna. If you do it the day of, unless you have a pentola or similar in-pot strainer, you're going to be boiling a lot of water, especially for 50. A pound of pasta should be cooked in at least 4 quarts of water. A pound of pasta will serve approximately 6 people, or maybe less if there are many big eaters in your party. That's at least 8 gallons of water that need to be boiled, and that takes a fair amount of time.

                              1. ok I run a little catering company i am going to give three of my most popular lunch requests for people that want something inexpensive ( camps and such) that are so easy

                                Chicken Wellington

                                2 lbs fresh mushrooms diced
                                1 lb fresh onion, diced
                                1/2 lb fresh celery, diced
                                1 tsp herbs de province
                                50 (4 oz) raw chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
                                50 (5") puff pastry squares

                                Preheat oven to 375° F. Sauté veggies lightly.
                                Brown chicken breasts on grill or under broiler.
                                Lay out pastry and spoon l oz. of veggies onto each one.
                                Place one chicken breast on each square; wrap pastry around each one
                                sealing with a little water. Brush with egg.

                                Bake at 375 in a convection oven for 20 minutes or in a
                                regular oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown.

                                Cheesy Chicken Rice Casserole

                                6 (10-3/4 oz.) cans cream of mushroom soup(I make a sauce but just use caned mushroom soup no biggie)
                                3 c. chicken broth
                                3 c. finely chopped onion
                                2 lb. grated cheese
                                2 1/2 tsp. thyme
                                6 (10-3/4 oz.) cans cream of chicken soup( i use stock and cream but just use soup)
                                6 qt. cooked rice
                                4-1/2 qt. cubed cooked chicken (18 cups)
                                1/2 c. diced red pimento
                                1 tsp. pepper

                                Combine all the soups and broth. Stir in half the cheese and the other ingredients. Pour into pans, two pans, approximately 12 x 20 x 2 or equivalent. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until cheese melts.
                                Makes 60 servings.

                                Chicken Adobo
                                Serves 50

                                20 lbs. whole chicken
                                2 cups vinegar
                                6 oz. garlic, minced
                                6 bay leaves
                                2 Tbsp. salt
                                1 tsp pepper
                                3/4 cup vegetable oil
                                3 cups unsweetened coconut milk

                                Cut each chicken into 18 pieces. Cut breasts in fourths and wings, drumsticks,
                                and thighs in half. Place chicken in pot large enough to hold all pieces.
                                Combine vinegar, garlic, bay leaves, salt and pepper and add to chicken.
                                Add enough boiling water to cover and simmer, uncovered until chicken is tender
                                and water has evaporated, about 30 minutes.
                                Add oil and fry pieces until brown. Add coconut milk and heat until
                                slightly thickened. Serve hot.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: girloftheworld

                                  I love these recipes. I'm definitely going to try some of these. Thank you for the recipe in portions to serve 50!

                                  1. re: chele

                                    sure! let me know if you need something more specific.

                                    1. re: girloftheworld

                                      Hi! I noticed the chicken adobo recipe doesn't have soy sauce? Maybe this is a different version of chicken adobo? Wanted to check with you first. :) Thanks!

                                      1. re: chele

                                        ..no soy..I tend to not use soy sauce very often...

                                2. Baked chicken pieces, just dip each into a zesty Italian dressing, bake in a hot oven, can serve within a reasonable amount of time without it having to be piping hot.
                                  Then an easy to eat salad (like the orzo, or another mac salad). Have some breads on the side, breadsticks, rolls, whatever.

                                  1. I'll take it a slightly different direction..

                                    Chicken empanadas and chilled (or hot, whatever) black bean soup.

                                    If you use Goya Discos, the empanadas are super easy and reheat well. Soup also easy to make ahead, and plenty of good recipes out there.

                                    The Discos come 10 to a pack for around $2, and if you get the larger (Grande) ones, a single empanada will easily fill up one child or half an adult. Figure 7 or 8 packs to make sure you have enough.

                                    Bake or fry in batches, rest them on paper towels to cool and drain, and they keep well in the fridge or freezer. Filling, well, there's a million recipes out there. I can offer mine if you like, but google is your best bet, since you can browse for one that fits your taste. In any event, you can easily make the filling from baked or poached (easy and easy) chicken, and you only need to make one big batch of filling, two batches if you have vegetarians.

                                    Throw together a large pot of yellow rice with black beans, onion, and green olives as an alternative (or addition) to the black bean soup. I like to use Goya Sazon (no, I don't work for Goya!) and I briefly brown the rice in olive oil before adding the water and Sazon. When the rice is done, add sauteed diced onions, halved green olives, and a can or two of drained, rinsed black beans, depending how big a batch you make. Stir up from the bottom so you don't break up the rice grains.

                                    Serve it all with some salsa or whatever dipping sauces you like, plus a bit of sour cream for the soup, and make sure I get my invitation before the event ;)

                                    1. We did a lunch for 60 (mix of kids and their parents) and did Italian sausage with peppers and onion subs and meatball subs as the 2 main choices. Both were made a day or two ahead and rewarmed in sauce in the oven in large aluminum pans the day of. Club rolls worked well.

                                      1. I like the idea of quiche and a salad. It can be made ahead. You can make some different ones. Really simple. And pretty refreshing for the summer. And it's cost effective.

                                        1. Chicken Marbella. Use all thighs, which are often on sale.
                                          Buy jarred alcaparrado rather than separate jars of olives and capers - cheaper and easier that way, and you can use the brine instead of the vinegar in the CM recipe, which you can google. Most folks cut the brown sugar by at least half.I add onion to the marinade and make sure to push the marinade's solids into the liquid in the pan before baking, so they don't scorch.

                                          CM is an easy recipe. You can bake it on sheet pans the day before, and serve it hot, warm, or cold. Just be sure the sauce is warmed up and serve lots of crusty bread for dipping into it. A salad of dark greens, or a steamed green vegetable, and you're good.

                                          1. I recommend this a lot - It can be made before warmed up and served in a crock pot..

                                            Jerk Chicken Sliders -

                                            Super good - You won't regret making it


                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: sparky403

                                              Sounds delicious and easy, but how spicy is it? The OP is feeding young children and mentioned they don't like spicy.


                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                It's really not that spicy/hot. The sweetness of the citrus and Molelasis seems to mask them? Habenero's scare me so I was relunctant the first time I made it - but the heat really goes away on this dish.

                                                But for kids etc I would recommend half a Habenro or use a jalapeno (though the fruitiness of the Habenero makes this dish) Instead of one - when I make I normally add 2 and it disappears.

                                                1. re: sparky403

                                                  Thanks for the response- I was wondering the same thing. I'll be trying this out this week. My kids will be excited to eat something new this week. :)

                                            2. I don't think cooking for 50 people would ever be easy. I've done 20, and still stressed a bit.

                                              Ordering food other than pizza would be better, seeing that you work.

                                              But if not, here are some ideas for dinner.

                                              Ina Garten's panzanella
                                              Ina Garten's Shrimp salad
                                              Ina Garten's roasted veggies with orzo
                                              Ina Garten's Chinese Chicken Salad
                                              potato salad
                                              peppers, sausage and onions served on small rolls
                                              Giada's caprese salad
                                              Taco buffet

                                              Good luck, it's a big undertaking. :)


                                              1. Find a good cuisine that does good "cafeteria food"
                                                (Indian and Greek come to mind). Call up an eatery, and explain the situation. Ask for takeout, and ask for a deal
                                                (you're ordering in volume, you ought to get a discount).
                                                Also, be flexible -- food that you pick up at 10:30 will be ready for an 11:30 lunch

                                                1. Sloppy Jim's/Joes are easy, tasty and loved by all ages. Look up the old Betty Crocker recipe from the 1950's, it is simple and very good.

                                                  1. What about a Mediterranean take on a carnitas bar. Marinate chicken in lemon, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil for at least an hour. What I do is sear chicken on both sides and then bake for 20 minutes. You can make them the day before and slice them the day of the party. Have out slices of feta, sliced red onion, sliced tomatoes pita bread and a tzatziki (yogurt with grated cucumber, garlic, and lemon). With that, you can have a nice panzanella, orzo salad, and a green salad.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Dcfoodblog

                                                      nice idea! a mixture of white a dark meat would make it more budget friendly. I would add oregano to the marinade. You can serve with greek lemony baked potatoes or a greek flavoured potato salad or rice salad. Greek salad on the side too.

                                                    2. I missed at 11:00 A/M part-

                                                      For a brunch parties - you should make a Strata! at least for one of the dishes.

                                                      Very easy to make (think different flavored stuffing). Very easy to make, needs to sit over night (though It could very easily be made a day or two before.

                                                      I made this one in the past - it's very good. Because it's made with stale bread - you can go day old (and actually you should). Lots of recipes - very flexiable canvas and EASY. Google for more Ideas of things you or your guests like.


                                                      You might also consider making Ham (or even a Turkey)- with rolls, potato salad, or pasta salad, etc.

                                                      One other Idea is pulled pork for sliders done in the oven with a slaw.

                                                      1. I like a fajita party; marinate large bags (costco?) of chicken tenderloins in italian dressing or homemade fajita seasoning overnight; grill night before or morning of party; roast peppers in oven (strips) olive oil and salt; carmalize onions in crockpot - low and slow for hours; make pan of refried beans (cans mixed with little extra seasoning) top with cheese - warm; serve with chopped tomatos/lettuce/sour cream -

                                                        get a helper! if you take it slow and work in stages, makes for yummy, easy party - oh i and usually cut the chicken in strips after cooling from grill; put in large foil pan for reheating ... good luck - if too much, order cubans from publix (serve warm) with black beans/rice and a summery drink (we do strawberry lemonade) ..

                                                        1. At 11am, I'd do some form of a strata. I like baked croque monsieur. I don't use a recipe but something along these lines:


                                                          I also like it with a bechamel. I know you said no sandwiches but this is a step above and so easy to make/prep in advance. In the morning, just bake. It's perfect w/ a salad, greens and/or fruit.

                                                          1. Chinese -- Sweet & Sour chicken or pork, steamed rice, store-bought eggrolls (these are labor-intensive to make at home, but are inexpensive and can be done ahead of time.) Thin-sliced tomato & cucumber on the side.

                                                            Foil-packet meals - Layer sliced potatoes, onions,carrots, mea some spicest on a square of aluminum foil. double fold all sides to enclose. Refrigerate. When ready put in the hot oven for about 30 minutes to cook. All prep could be done the day before, slide trays holding the packets (in a single layer) into preheated oven just before guests arrive.

                                                            1. I'm very impressed with the thoughtful responses. Great responses... Very much appreciated. I'm definitely going to try some of the recipes in a small batch before I cook for our guests.

                                                              I know it's a lot of work to take on making the food, but looking forward to the challenge. I was pleasantly surprised with myself the last time I followed chow hound advice.

                                                              Ironically, one of the dishes I'm considering is one of the sandwiches... Not the deli meat ones, at least not for this party.

                                                              I love the creative party menu ideas and if I don't use all of them this time, I know I'll use the ideas for the next party. Always seems to be a party to plan for our little ones.

                                                              So, feel free to throw me your ideas!

                                                              1. We'll start the party at 11am, but it's a lunch- serving around 11:30. Kids eat early because they get up so darn early... Naptime after lunch (crossing fingers!).

                                                                1. I just thought of something I've done for that many people and made most of it ahead of time. Focaccia pizza. I used Peter Reinhart's recipe:


                                                                  If you're not up for making the dough that way, there's artisan bread in 5 minutes recipe. You just mix it up and let it rise in the refrigerator for a few days. I've never used their focaccia recipe but have for bread and brioche.


                                                                  I baked two pans at once, then put more in. Cut into small pieces. Bake on parchment so it's easier to remove. I use scissors to cut. Keep the toppings simple--tomato sauce, cheese and basil was the most popular, which surprised me.

                                                                  1. Pasta isn't necessarily glamorous but it's pretty easy and can be delicious! What about a few pans of lasagna (you can make it ahead and freeze it) or other baked pasta dishes--baked ziti, stuffed shells, etc.? You can find a more gourmet variation on any of these.

                                                                    Keep in mind that a recipe that serves ten should not be multiplied by five times to serve 50! When you have several different dishes going on, people don't take an entire portion of every single item. I would prepare enough to serve 30-40 for each dish, or maybe a tiny bit more if there is something highly desirable or served in individual portions.

                                                                    You can serve salad in large bowls (punch bowls from party city, for example) and then put the dressing in a nice pourable bottle alongside. (Do not dress the salad in advance!) Leave toppings that might not appeal to everyone on the side in bowls so people can take them if they like them.

                                                                    One last tip - make little cards that explain what each recipe is, in fancy menu-speak. It's fun, makes the food look fancy, helps people know what they are eating, and can point out potential allergens/dietary information people need to know!

                                                                    1. A glazed ham would be easy and still manage to impress. Roast some asparagus in the oven while the ham is in there and serve it with Hollandaise sauce to add to the wow factor.

                                                                      Orzo is not any more difficult than regular pasta. My one tip for pasta salads is to include a variety of colorful vegetables. Orange peppers, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, feta will attract the eye. Kale is a little involved in that you need to trim the ribs and blanch the vegetable, but the flavor is great.