Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

How to Feed 25 People Real Food & Not Lose Your Mind {Eat Well, Spend Less}

May 22nd, 2013 · 27 Comments · Special Situations

Real Food Big Party Plans (10) (317x475)

My husband really wanted us to go with pizzas for my son’s First Communion party, especially once we branched out from immediate family and invited some extra uncles and cousins, but I promised him I’d plan real food well and make it an unstressful day.

If you’re reading into that and assuming that I’m usually a basketcase for big events when I’m trying to do all real food, you might be right. It might be more of a stressed-in-the-head-and-short-tempered case than a real basket, but I’m not committing. I plead the fifth. Winking smile

As it turned out, we fed 18 adults and a handful of children for a lunch, and we had enough food for at least 25. We arrived home from the First Communion right along with everyone else, so logistically, that’s always tricky because you can’t be in the kitchen preparing things for the hour or two before guests descend on your home.

I’m very proud to say that my husband’s assessment after the fact was, “You did it, babe. It was a really good party; you pulled it off.” The amazement in his voice was the part that said, “Whoa, I really didn’t think you could do it without seeming stressed…”

Woot!

He was also justifiably surprised that the entire week had included more, “I was really productive and felt good about my day,” sort of days than the, “Ahhhhhhhhhh I didn’t get anything done today and am SO behind on my LIIIIIIIIIIIST!” kind of days.

Not that I know anything about those.

It’s all about what my high school Math teacher used to preach, the 7Ps: “Prior Proper Planning Prevent [Pretty] Poor Performance.” (That’s been edited for a family-friendly blog.) Winking smile

1st Communion party - pizza toppings 2 (475x356)

I started planning the menu over a week in advance, and I worked backward to prepare stuff all. week. long.

It paid off! Everyone had plenty to eat, truly enjoyed themselves, my attitude remained good (plus I knew the consequence would be pizza at all future parties if I failed), and we had leftovers that lasted us a good many days of lunches and parts of dinner.

Plus, we didn’t really spend that much on the party, so it’s perfect for the Eat Well, Spend Less theme of “Entertaining on a Budget” this week and my own Monday Mission of “Share the Real Food.”

The Party Menu Plan

This real food party menu plan should feed about 25 people, so adapt it up or down (or just enjoy the leftovers) if you need to.

Appetizers

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Real Food Big Party Plans (1) (475x317)

Those nachos were long gone before I even thought to snap a picture…

main course

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  • Homemade individual pizzas, both whole wheat and gluten-free
    • I used this recipe in the breadmaker with only 1 tsp. yeast to make almost a dozen 8-10″ pizzas and pre-baked the crusts.
    • I used a gluten-free buckwheat crust from Nourishing Meals (that I did test a few weeks in advance) for another dozen crusts.
    • They baked as many as I could fit at a time on my baking stone and even larger cast iron griddle from Mighty Nest, and we managed to not mix any of them up that I know of. (I use that thing all the time, btw, in the oven and on the stovetop.)
    • Toppings included:

Real Food Big Party Plans (4) (475x317) Real Food Big Party Plans (6) (475x317)

      • pepperoni (conventional because the health food store was out of Applegate…you do what you can! But I only bought one small package and bulked up on other, better meats)
      • homemade sausage (cooked way in advance and frozen)
      • well-sourced bacon
      • shredded cheese (I tossed my husband a bone and said I’d buy pre-shredded, but I could have found time to shred my own, I’m sure of it!)
      • pizza sauce
      • onion
      • red peppers
      • mushrooms

salad/sides

1st Communion party - pizza pasta salad (475x356)

  • Big bowl of lettuce with raw red onion, diced red pepper, feta cheese and the veggies from the appetizer plus homemade dressings
  • The gluten-free pasta salad for a crowd that I posted yesterday
  • Veggies cooked in pasta sauce with cheese – red pepper, green beans, broccoli and corn, all from frozen
  • Cut fruit

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dessert

First Communion gluten-free cake (6) (475x317)

I made a gluten-free buckwheat spice cake from Nourishing Meals that we tested a few weeks before – see how far in advance I started planning? I adapted the “spice” to just be “vanilla bean” with raspberries inside.

I used a very unique frosting on top and kept the decorating simple, which is the prime reason I was sitting on the couch with my husband when my parents arrived at 10 p.m. instead of still frosting the cake, which is what I’m normally doing when they get to our house before any child’s birthday party! There’s no sweetener in this healthy frosting at all, which is amazing…

We served it with Breyer’s ice cream, and it was a hit.

Essential Keys to Planning

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When I write out a plan (and, ahem, stick to it), things generally go pretty smoothly. This is my superhero process:

  1. Write everything down in an organized way, beginning with the food.
  2. Figure out any prep that needs to be done for a certain dish – for example, when I make homemade potato salad for gatherings, which is often, I start days in advance making sure I have enough homemade mayo, then boiling some eggs and baking potatoes (preferably when the oven is already on for something else), and then the day before I can piece it all together.
  3. Make shopping lists – if you do need any items that you don’t already have on hand, go shopping early in the week to get that out of the way and so you can prep everything before the last minute.
  4. Work backward through your week – write every food item and prep job in on a day of the week so that you know exactly what you need to do on any given day and don’t end up planning 6 hours of work on one day. Include planning your shopping trip!
  5. Frontload the prep as much as possible – I looked for anything that could be done far in advance, like the pizza crusts that I froze, and put as much at the beginning of the week as I could. Two reasons for that:
    1. I knew that many things, like cutting raw veggies, HAD to be taken care of the day before the party, so I wanted to have time and space for that.
    2. A front-heavy week means that if I miss some items on my list, I’m not completely overwhelmed at the end with 50 “to do” items on Friday. Did I mention I have 3 kids, one of them who is 20 months and doesn’t always nap, and I still had to feed them all week long? ;)
  6. Delegate – I asked my mother-in-law to bring cut fruit and my mom to bring cut veggies. Not to brag, but in this case I actually could have done both as well, but it was nice to sit on the couch by 10 p.m. Friday instead of running around like a crazy woman at that time. Not that I know anything about something like that…
  7. Plan your dishes – I hope that doesn’t sound crazy, but I did write down what serving bowls/platters everything was going to go into, so that I didn’t have to think as much Saturday morning (we had to be at church by 9:30 a.m.). I could get everything out and had a clear vision of what would go where when we walked in the door 5 minutes before our guests.
  8. Minute-by-minute list might be needed – if you do have a situation where you need to serve people food as you’re all arriving at your house from the same event, be it a Baptism, Communion, Graduation, Sporting event, etc., you’ll want a detailed plan of attack for that moment you walk in the door.
    1. What can be already in bowls ready to serve?
    2. What needs to get cooking immediately?
    3. What items/pots/dishes/etc. can be laid out on the counter ready to be put together in a moment?
    4. What can others do to help? They’ll offer, and life is easier if you have  a ready answer.

My Planning Lists

1st Communion party (5) (356x475)

I was lucky that there were some things I already had on hand: black beans in the freezer, plenty of homemade yogurt made up (our raw milk day is Friday, so I usually make a gallon of yogurt then), red peppers in the freezer from summer. If I hadn’t had black beans in the freezer, we would have had black bean soup for dinner or something and I’d pull 4 cups from that batch for the dip. For the rest of the food, I scheduled it carefully.

When I blocked out my week, it looked something like this:

Monday

  • Strain yogurt for yogurt cheese (in the dip)
  • Go grocery shopping
  • Soak dough for whole wheat pizza crusts
  • Wrap present for party

Tuesday

  • Have tacos for dinner; make extra taco meat and freeze for Saturday
  • Bake pizza crusts in the afternoon; freeze

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Wednesday

  • Morning omelets with a ton of extra mushrooms, red peppers, and onions. Pulled most of the veggies to be pizza toppings. Also cooked a pound of bacon and incorporated a little bit into the omelets, saving the rest for pizza toppings. This was hardly any more work than a normal breakfast, and I ticked some big things off my prep list!
  • Clean house
  • One more grocery shopping trip

Thursday

  • Bake cake
  • Soak and make frosting (needs to refrigerate overnight)
  • Thaw black beans
  • Make veggie dip
  • Cook GF pasta; cut some veggies for the pasta salad

Friday

  • Thaw things that need to come out of the freezer
  • Cut any raw veggies that haven’t already been done
  • Make guac, bean dip
  • Mix up pasta salad
  • Frost cake
  • Lay out pretty clothes

My Saturday morning to-do list wasn’t very long:

  • Have simple oatmeal breakfast
  • Get things out that I didn’t already do the night before
  • Get everyone dressed and polished
  • (I think I might have had Paul make the guac that morning, come to think of it…)
  • Put frozen veggies in the pot
  • Add raspberries to the cake
  • Delegate cutting fresh flowers from the garden for the table

And finally, my minute-by-minute plan of attack for the moment  I walked in the door was something like this:

  • Turn oven on for nachos.
  • Spread chips, meat, cheese on my stainless steel baking sheet, which was already out and ready to go.
  • Get out the bean dip, guac, sour cream, and salsas and delegate someone to put in our fun Mexican serving dishes.
  • Delegate someone else to get the cut veggies into the veggie serving tray with the dip in the middle.
  • Turn the heat on under the side veggies (which were already in the pot since they started out frozen) and dump in the pasta sauce a few minutes later (which was already on the counter ready to go).
  • Check list…
  • Start preparing ingredients for pizzas.

I even do my best not to use disposables at parties, so we used real plates, utensils, and cloth napkins.

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Even the clean-up wasn’t that bad (thank you, dishwasher) and we had already planned to go out to eat for dinner, which made everyone happy. Winking smile

What’s your favorite strategy for serving real food to MANY?

Other posts about entertaining with real food:

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Kitchen Stewardship is dedicated to balancing God’s gifts of time, health, earth and money.  If you feel called to such a mission, read more at Mission, Method, and Mary and Martha Moments.

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27 Comments so far ↓

  • Courtney

    Wow. Sounds like you pulled off a wonderful gathering! It has inspired me to plan and host an event just to see if I can feed that many people in such an organized and healthy way! If only the pregnancy fatigue would subside :)

    Thanks so much for sharing- Ive truly been inspired!

  • Laura via Facebook

    very timely – we’re having some friends help us move (which seems to necessitate serving pizza and beer), but I’m hoping to stick to our healthy eating – and share it with others! Thanks!

  • Cait

    Good job! That looks like a lovely lunch, and I’m impressed that you even did appetizers! I love hostessing but definitely need to work on the stressed out thing, as my husband can attest to ;)

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Cait,
    I figured people would want something to munch on when we first walked in, and in hindsight just raw vegs and chips/guac would have been plenty, but my son had requested nachos. I was thinking, “Nachos and pizza? Doesn’t really fit…” but then I figured it could be an appetizer. ;) Katie

  • Becky via Facebook

    At our last birthday party, I made a huge pot of bone broth soup with beans and cabbage. We served salad, hummus, carrots, fruit tray, chips (eh), gf/cf brownies and gf funfetti cupcakes. Everyone loved the brownies and probably would’ve had no idea about their gf/cf status had I not told them. The kids also downed the cupcakes. Yes, it can be done! Great post.

  • Shelli

    How long & at what temperature did you cook the pizza crusts? That is a great idea!

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Shelli,
    I just followed the directions for the buckwheat pizza crust, so I think the initial bake was 8-10 mins at 425 or 450, and then once topped, we baked again at 450F for 8-12 mins, if I remember right – whenever the cheese looked browned a little, we took them out. :) Katie

  • cristi

    I’m very interested in those cooked veggies. You just put them in the pot with sauce and cheese? Anything else? Sounds too good to be true.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Cristi,
    It is too good to be true! If I’m using red peppers, I’ll saute them first, but then I throw frozen vegs right in the same pot (so no extra dishes) with spaghetti sauce – not too soupy, just enough to cover. When it’s all hot, throw in some cheese. Done. We had so much food at this party that those were kind of ignored (although I enjoyed them!), so I added 1/2 lb of meat and put it all over pasta for a complete meal 2 days later! My kids really eat more veggies this way…
    :) Katie

  • Cinnamon Vogue

    Katie this is fabulous. I am glad you didn’t listen to your husband. Pizza is so yesterday. My theory is if you are having a party, give people good real food or not have one at all.

    When you prepare good food, you are also respecting your guests and they feel honored. Bravo, this is well done. I couldn’t have done it better. And like you said with proper planning it costs less.

  • Jennifer

    I like having people over better than going anywhere, plus none of our friends have a baby, so no one has a baby proof house. Fortunately our friends love Mexican, and I think Mexican is so easy to prepare ahead–things like enchiladas, taco fixings, guacamole, nachos, Mex meatloaf/casserole, homemade salsas, sopapillas, homemade tortillas, etc. Our favorite fast Mex side is just a pot of pre-cooked beans, corn, chiles, tomatoes, zucchini–whatever’s on hand–with some Mex spices.

    Also, we live on the Tx Gulf coast and all like to fish, so when we get together after fishing, it’s easy and quick to throw some kind of salad together, boil some potatoes, corn, and whatever else with some spices and throw the fish on the grill–fish cooks fast. I highly recommend cooking fish if you want the main course to be quick, but I don’t highly recommend store bought fish! If I’m not fishing, I’m not real happy about it, but I’ll get some rice going while waiting for the guys to bring in their catch.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Jennifer,
    Absolutely, we have OFTEN done tacos, etc. in the past. I wanted this one to break that mold a little. ;) I’m totally salivating over your fish cookout…
    :) Katie

  • Aimee @ Simple Bites

    Fantastic! I love tip #7, as I always try to plan what food goes into what dishes. It makes for brainless slap-the-food-in on party day when someone is talking your ear off. :)

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Yes! My friend picked on me once for putting little labels in the dishes…I thought, “Really? When you have a nursing baby and have to let other people in your kitchen…” I’m sure she would still tease me, but that’s just because that’s how we are with each other – but I’m guessing she labels her dishes now! ;) Katie

  • Karen

    Great job! I usually try to cook some party food way in advance (like weeks ahead), seal it with a Foodsaver and freeze it. I’ve done this with meatballs, taco meat, refried beans, etc. I also do a little bit of work every night in the week leading up to the party. I work full-time, so I can’t do anything during the daytime. My time-sucker is the cake. I bake and freeze the cake layers ahead of time and sometimes even the frosting too. It’s the elaborate carving/assembly/decorating that takes me a long time. I usually take a “vacation” day the Friday prior to a Saturday party, just to do the cake and prepare for the party. I’m almost always up past midnight! I’d like to be sitting on the couch by 10pm for my next one.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Me and cakes after midnight have a long tradition…they’ve never been this simple before! ;) Katie

  • Kristy

    Way to go! I used to dread entertaining big groups because I would be too busy in the kitchen or be too exhausted (from all the cooking) to actually visit with my guests. Plus, I’m not very good at delegating, so I could never give a task to a guest who offered to help. Like you, I had my “a-ha” moment when I figured out (1) how to plan out things by working backward and (2) how to make a minute-by-minute schedule as guests would be arriving. The minute-by-minute took the guess work out of the last minute details. Plus, when people offered to help, I’d tell them to check the time and look at the schedule and pick on of the tasks (in the timeframe) to help. At first, they’d laugh at my list but then we’d all have a blast working in the kitchen. Once all the guests arrived, everything was ready; and I wasn’t stressed.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    You posted a schedule! Now that is awesome. ;) Katie

  • Amy

    Ok….I am going to be checking out all these recipes. I am VERY impressed with pulling this off with real food. I’m definitely not there yet.
    My FAVORITE part is actually your basket full of super cute napkins! My kitchen is small and I really don’t have room in the drawers for my cloth napkins so I’m forever defaulting to paper :( Is that how you always store them? They just look so darn cute! I think if they don’t have to be folded that’s a double bonus since I’m about to have two babies under 18 months…..

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Amy,
    Yes, we do keep them in a basket! Easy for the kids to reach to help set the table (and for your family, just stuff ‘em in w/o folding!) ;) For our family, folding napkins is the perfect first “laundry chore” for a 2-or-3-year-old.

    You’ll get there – start small with homemade dips or something and go from there… :) Katie

  • tara

    Great work! I’m impressed! We did individual sized pizzas for our Christmas gathering last year. When the oven was going slow with the number we wanted to cook my husband had the idea to try the grill outside. It worked like a charm and the grilled pizzas ended up tasting better than those in the oven. Give it a try sometime if you have a gas BBQ grill.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Mmmm, I love grilled pizza!

  • Johanna

    This was inspiring! Two weeks until the kids’ joint 2yr/5yr BDay party, so this was a good refresher on actions I need to take ie: write it down… it’s all in my head!

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Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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