ever since i learned how to cook and bake on my own, i have loved making food for others. in high school i would make cookies and bring them to school to share with my friends. in college i would have friends over for dinner at least weekly.
my senior year of college i stepped up the game and started hosting a dinner every friday that 15-30 people attended. when i worked as a missionary in germany for a year i was in charge of food for one of our conferences of about 100 people. for a while we had four foster kids plus my mom in the house, which meant making breakfast, lunch and dinner for seven people on a daily basis. more recently, i make dinner almost every week for our community group (about 10 people) and lunch after church (5-10 people, depending on the week).
needless to say, i love hosting and i would certainly say that it is a strength of mine. not only do i love feeding people delicious and healthy food, but i love the connections that people make over meals. i love discussing theology, life, economics, politics and hardships, and it seems like this happens so naturally over a good meal.
because of this, i encourage more people to host others for meals. and the more the merrier, which is why i have come up with some tips for feeding a crowd.
keep it simple. when i first started hosting, i would try new recipes and make elaborate meals. but this can lead to weird meals (when you try out a new recipe on someone) and added stress. now i try to keep it simple, especially when i am cooking for more than a few others. i usually just make one main dish (something i am familiar with and make often) and sometimes a side dish to go with it (often the side dish is either something i made ahead of time or something quick to put together, like cut up fruit or a salad). things like soup or casseroles are easy to make in large quantities, and they don't have to be eaten as soon as they are ready (when you invite lots of people over, someone is bound to be running late). sometimes i make a dessert when we have others over, but certainly not all of the time, and especially not if i am feeling crunched for time.
make more food than you think you need. i can't tell you how many times i thought that i made way too much food and later found that it was just enough. furthermore, making extra food gives you the flexibility to invite someone over last minute. if you happen to have more leftovers than you think your family could finish, you can always give some to one of your guests to take home (single guys in particular will rarely turn you down on this!).
ask for and accept help. this one is difficult for me and i have had to learn this the hard way. it is prideful and dishonoring to God to try to be a superwoman who does it all. when people ask what they can get to contribute to the meal, take them up on the offer. when they arrive and ask to help, think of something for them to do, even if its just setting the table. this will lighten your load and give them ownership of the meal they are about to enjoy (and help appreciate the work that went into it).
prepare as much as possible ahead of time. things like dessert, salad, or side dishes can usually be made the night before. sometimes i even chop veggies a few hours before the meal so that when it is time to cook, all i have to do is add ingredients to the pot/pan, rather than try to rush around chopping as i am adding things in.
keep convenience foods on hand. this is helpful in case you realize last minute that you didn't make enough food, or if several people show up unexpectedly (this happens a lot when you have a lot open-invite events like we do). even though i am really into cooking from scratch (for health and for cost reasons), i try to keep a few convenience foods on hand, such as mac n cheese and some canned goods. its harder to keep homemade convenience foods on hand (since they tend to spoil unlike preservative-filled store bought packaged foods). but i do try to keep homemade crackers around (since they can last for weeks without going bad), and i also keep the freezer filled with things like biscuits that i can pop in the oven to heat up last minute if need be.
plan ahead. at the beginning of every week, i sit down and write out a meal plan for the week. though i am generally a planner, i actually don't enjoy meal planning and i usually have to force myself to do it (because i am always happy to have the meal plan after i have done the work to plan it out). this helps me to make sure that i have all the ingredients on hand that i need for various meals. since i make so much from scratch, i will sometimes need to start something the night before for the next day's dinner (for example soaking dry beans or making bread dough). this will also help you to plan out what you can make ahead of time (dessert, salad, etc). furthermore, you will know what to tell people to bring when they offer.
remember jesus. he fed thousands of people with a few fishes and loaves, and he can easily stretch your food for a couple extra people too. sometimes i get stressed out when we have just barely enough food, and then i find out that one or two extra people are coming that i didn't expect. it is helpful to remember that when you are hosting people in order to honor jesus, he will gladly provide enough food. we have always had enough food for people that we have hosted, even when it seemed impossible (jesus is in the business of doing miracles, and he has done way bigger ones than provide enough food for a few extra people). if need be, i serve myself last and take a small portion to make sure everyone gets enough, knowing that i can always eat more of something else after they leave if i didn't get enough for myself.
have flexibility and a sense of humor. this is vital in any type of ministry that you do. people might come late, forget to bring something they promised to bring, bring something weird to contribute that doesn't go with the meal that you prepared, or show up unexpected/uninvited. at these times it is important to remember that you are hosting to honor jesus and help people have a good time, and they don't need your critical/judgmental comments when they mess up your "plan" (and your "plan" isn't as great as you envisioned it anyways!). and since you can't develop these things in yourself on your own, you will need to ask jesus to give you the flexibility and sense of humor.
what hosting tips do you have to share?