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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Your Favorite Meals to Feed a Crowd

While we aren't having a large crowd at our house this coming weekend, we will be having more people than our typical weekday meals. "Crowd meals" seem to call for something fun in my mind, when the occasion is appropriate. 

So with a "fun" meal in mind, my daughters and I brainstormed ideas for our larger family birthday celebration. What we came up with is this: Walking Tacos. I was introduced to Walking Tacos in Girl Scouts. We did this meal often, as it was an easy one for the leaders to throw together, and we could all customize our own plates according to our wants. 

I'll set this up buffet style on the kitchen counter for my group to self-assemble:

  • corn chips
  • lettuce
  • seasoned ground beef
  • seasoned shredded chicken
  • tomatoes
  • shredded cheese
  • olives
  • avocado
  • sour cream
  • salsa
(Anything else you'd add for this meal?)

For my own family, this meal will work great with what we already have. I have the beef, chicken, olives, avocado, and salsa. I'll need to buy corn chips, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and sour cream.

While my daughters and I were brainstorming, we recalled various other "crowd meals" we've either served or enjoyed in others' homes: nacho bar, DIY pizzas, burger/hot dog bars, large salad bars. All good and could be done easily at home.

Here's my question to you all -- what's your favorite go-to meal for a crowd?


  1. That sounds great, taco bars are always a hit, walking or otherwise. The only things I would add are seasoned pinto or black beans and diced habaneros or jalapeños, but that’s because I’m a lover of all things hot. Our warmer weather crowd food plan is typically grilled chicken, roasted potatoes, a salad or slaw and a simple sweet like brownies or cookies. Everyone else brings a side or sweet and it typically becomes an affordable feast. VKC

    1. Hi Vanessa,
      Yum! I like your warm weather crowd menu.
      I'll ask my daughters if they want beans or peppers with the walking tacos. Thanks for the suggestions!

  2. Hi Lilly, we just had a birthday party for my mom who turned 80. We expected 40 people for lunch. So we had green salad, garlic bread and goulash made with 10 pounds of ground beef, 2 gallons of tomato sauce, spices, garlic, onions, and 4 three pound boxes of elbow macaroni. It made a turkey roaster full of goulash. There were enough leftovers for several people to take some home for another meal. And there were 40 people in attendance who ate and some went back for seconds! The ground beef was bought on sale at fred Meyers with coupons lol... the rest at Walmart.
    All in all a respectable meal for about $80-90 including paper plates . I look forward to your posts. Thank you for sharing love gaila in the NW

    1. Hi Gaila,
      happy birthday to your mom! Your luncheon sounds wonderful and very affordable. What a great idea to do goulash. It's affordable and relatively uncomplicated. Thanks for providing the details.

  3. We just did a sandwich bar for my son's birthday (he requests the same thing every year). Different kinds of bread (sub rolls and sandwich bread), turkey, chicken, roast beef, ham, cheese, pickles, onions, tomatos, mayo, mustard and potato salad, olives and chips and salsa as side dishes. And a giant chocolate chip cookie for dessert, baked on a pizza pan. The whole meal was not as economical as usual due to the meat being higher priced than it used to be. But we did end up with a ton of leftovers so that was a plus!

    1. Hi Trina,
      Your sandwich bar sounds like it was a hit. And a great way to allow everyone to customize their meal. I also love the idea of a giant cookie as dessert -- so much less complicated than doing a cake with frosting. The Mrs. Fields that used to be in our mall did birthday pizza-size chocolate chip cookies. I've always meant to do that. Thanks for sharing the details of your son's birthday meal.

  4. We've done hot dog/chili dog bar for the high school graduation parties. I also remember making something like an Italian pressed sandwich which is a big round bread filled with meats, cheeses and other goodies and I think Italian dressing. Then when fully assembled I had to press it down and refrigerate before slicing and serving. It's like a big sub sandwich only round. We've also done big Subway sandwiches for a get together. That sounds really good right about now, a big sandwich.

    1. Hi Alice,
      DIY chili dogs was actually one of my daughters' suggestions! I think we will do that sometime soon, perhaps Father's Day.
      I love Italian salad dressing on sandwiches. Your Italian pressed sandwich sounds quite tasty.
      Thanks for sharing what you've done in the past.

  5. Chili is usually our go-to for a crowd. My DH is the chili chef, and usually has a few versions that use either ground beef or pork. (Still working on a vegetarian version.)

    1. Yum, chili! I agree, chili is a great crowd meal. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Good question. It's interesting to hear what other people have done. My go-to is a big pot of soup with a salad. In warmer weather, it is usually something on the grill. Also, my husband likes to smoke a pork shoulder that we can usually get for $.99/lb on sale. We've also done potato bars. And what makes a crowd meal different for us is I make a dessert which we don't regularly have. When my son was in high school, he took a restaurant management class where they learned to cook large amounts. For his graduation party, we had his class make big pans of jambalaya. The food was quite good and very reasonably priced.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      What a great class your son was able to take. I'm not sure our local high schools have a class like that. Jambalaya is another of those dishes where I think you can feed a crowd somewhat on a budget, depending on what you add for meat and seafood.
      Smoked pork sounds delicious and is just uncommon enough that it would seem special to a crowd, I'd think. At least in my area, I don't know a lot of folks who use a smoker.
      Thanks for sharing!

  7. Many good ideas from everyone. We haven't had a crowd over in ages. The last was over 3 years ago, when our grandchildren visited. We made their favorite foods. My memory of crowd food is a buffet of local catering favorites, Chinese noodles, assorted sushi, teriyaki beef, fried battered chicken, marinated salmon and gotta have macaroni salad. Very starchy, fatty, spicy foods but everyone walked away stomach full with leftovers to bring home. Yup, my pigeon is showing when I think back to those days.
    Some version of this is still popular for birthday parties, graduations, even funerals.
    Not healthy eating this way, and lately it's gotten even more extreme with fancier twists to the old favorites that the younger generation favors. Sorry for my rant (again) but eating like this is so bad, shockingly there are dialysis places cropping up in every neighborhood on our island.

    Wishing you a very good day,

    1. Hi Laura,
      your family's favorite foods sound delicious. But I can understand how they might be on the rich side to eat regularly. It reminds me of the trends at state fairs about 15 years ago with batter and deep-fried Twinkies, batter and deep-fried Snickers bars, even batter and deep-fried butter. My son went to the state fair with his high school when he was about 15 years old and I instructed him to steer clear of all of the deep-fried novelties. Fortunately, those didn't interest him and he just used his money to buy a root beer. One of his teachers, though, did try a deep-fried Twinkie.
      Wishing you a good day, as well, Laura!

  8. My answer looks suspiciously like Live and Learn's. :) I also bake bread for our soup meals, since I find that is considered to be a treat for many. My husband typically smokes a pork shoulder if it's a summer meal. We've done potato bars. We typically provide a meal for the youth group at least once a year, making pancakes/sausage. The sausage is the most expensive part of the meal but it's offset by the inexpensive cost of pancakes (I typically buy the Krusteaz brand of pancake mix in the giant bag container). Potlucks are pretty typical for us if we are eating with a large group, and I feel like that's a good solution, instead of one person doing the majority of the work.

    I'm enjoying reading this, as my daughter graduates in a year and I'm thinking ahead regarding meals to provide. She loves chicken salad, so I'm considering a sandwich-ey meal featuring that.

    It's getting trickier and trickier to prepare food for large groups based on food allergies as well as vegetarian/vegan options. My sister has a nickel allergy so foods like legumes/nuts/soy are off limits for her (but are good options for the vegetarian/crowd). I *try* to have lots of options, but it's hard. Thoughts?

    1. Hi Kris,
      what you said about making bread to add to a crowd meal is so true. Years ago we participated in a monthly potluck dinner and I always brought scratch dinner rolls. Those were gobbled up. I had one lady stand there next to the pan of rolls, stuffing them into her mouth and telling me it was the most delicious thing she'd ever eaten.
      I do like the potluck model for crowd meals. As you said, so much easier for the host than having to prepare everything or spend a lot of money to buy everything pre-made.

      I agree on how tricky it has become. I try to cook foods that will work for all invited. Setting up "bars" is a good way to handle this, then everyone can take what they know agrees with them. I'd never heard of a nickel allergy and foods (I know of nickel skin allergies.) For our family/extended family, we have me, who can't have dairy, processed foods or a lot of starches, and a family member who eats keto or keto-ish and limited dairy. So I try to have a lot of meat, vegetables, and fruit for those with food restrictions and then the starchy stuff and dairy for everyone else. Most people I know with dietary restrictions can eat most meats, rice (brown or white), and most vegetables. I also think it's a good idea to encourage guests to bring a dish they know they can eat. My son and daughter-in-law have been bringing salads to our family meals lately and that means that whatever I make, they both have something that they can and want to eat.

  9. Sounds like a good and fun solution to feed a larger group (in the past I've done a baked potato bar) -- I myself would be tempted to perhaps add scratch cooked refried beans (cheap!) to the line-up.

    1. I will be asking my daughters if they'd like some refried beans or even simply cooked black beans. I agree -- a very good budget stretcher to add refritos. Thanks for the input!


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