See a letter from Ellen about the donation campaign. Your help matters!

Cook Talk

Low Cost Meal Challenge for 100 - Not Pasta
Julia E
Hi there. I have a Tent City nearby. They have a meal calendar and I see there are some days not "taken". (Church & Scout groups will sign up to provide a hot meal.) I am considering getting some friends together to serve dinner one day. The challenge:
-Pasta has been done to death so they asked for a non-pasta meal.
-Up to 100 guests
-Meal should be hot and ready to serve - easy transport is important
- No nuts or raw veggies due to dental issues.

I am a fairly good, creative cook. I just wanted to hear some ideas if you are up for the brainstorming. One idea I had is large baked potatoes topped with a vegetarian chili (boost the protein with TVP), cheese and sour cream, onions for toppings. Cooked veggie like corn with red peppers. I would bring milk/juice and cup cakes for a dessert. In many cases this is the only hot meal these folks eat each day.

What would you make if you were going to take this on? Thank you for taking the time to read and, perhaps, reply.

Julia in Woodinville, WA

I apologize, I have read many posts down the thread now and have taken a look at Ellen's Turkey Intro page. Thank you for providing such great information online.

I still would be interested in hearing other tips and ideas.


Definitely see the info on how to transport food hot in "preheated"ice chests on the potato bar page.

Chicken and rice make a terrific base for low cost large meals. So does a (very mild, unspicy) taco fiesta. For this and your potato idea, you can see the taco/potato bar page.

For your chicken and rice, you use chicken thigh meat- 40 pounds boneless or about 70 bone in. Budget a bit richer, a leg quarter each, 80 pounds (the backbone piece adds weight but no meat).

From there, you can go in any direction, Chinese stir fry, paella, Italian chicken cacciatore (it does not have to be spaghettified), French braise, or just plain roasted with some nice gravy for the rice.

Try to have some fruit and some beans to fill the hollow legs. In winter, hot soup is a very welcome appetizer. If you are willing to "glean", groceries and produce markets may offer you discounts on dead ripe, won't keep items; local gardeners or farmers may give surplus. If you are or can be affiliated with a church or non-profit, you can access the local food bank network.

See the Chow Train on Facebook for inspiration.

Cost cutters for the taco bar, ground or shredded chicken or turkey for the meat sauce; canned diced tomatoes for the salsa and topping; very finely shredded cabbage instead of lettuce (this is traditional sub for shredded lettuce in some parts of Mexico and the Philippines); make your own taco seasoning (see the walking taco salad page). 8-12 pounds dried rice and dried beans to cook up as the sides.

Big fat hot burritos with rice, beans, meat, veg, are also an option. See this thread:

Broccoli cuts are cheap veg and hold much better than chopped broccoli.

Bread pudding with plenty of eggs and sweet, served warm, will fill out a light meal.

Generous real breakfast, with hash brown casserole, plenty of eggs, fruit ,sweet rolls/ toast and jam and butter, is also well accepted on an occasional basis.

You are exactly who I made the site for. I hope it helps. Do see the the thread called "soup kitchen cooking",

As well as all the basic budget entrees on the Big Pots page.

Write back when you need to.

Julia E

You are the Bees Knees! These are the kind of ideas I was needing. Why didn't I think of Bread Pudding? Yes, rice - Jambalaya type of dish would go very far.

Thank you. If I go forward, I will report back - with questions and suggestions. Thanks for everything. Your work is truly appreciated.


E-Mail: (optional)