Feeding A Crowd Wisely (aka, Cheaply)

In the areas of meal planning and budgeting, there are some potential “budget busters” that can cause us (well, me anyway!) to want to throw in the towel and forget about the budget for awhile. One of these areas for me is the few times a year when our extended family gets together and we have to feed a crowd that will include picky children, different diets (gluten intolerance, etc.), and hungry teens. There are the typical frugal dishes like spaghetti that can provide one meal, but what if you’re on vacation and you have to feed that crowd for multiple meals, away from home?

Do you throw the budget out the window, thinking it’s a “special occasion?” Problem is, that could be a slippery slope in our thinking, with many things becoming “special occasions” during the summer. Or more importantly, we just don’t have the room in the budget for “throwing in the towel.”

Our family is together for our annual summer get-together this week. There are 15 people, and each family is responsible for a day’s meals, plus a few others during the time we’re together. I thought I’d share with you my meal plan for one of the days and give you some approximate cost breakdowns.

I’ve found the key is planning, preparing things at home, and bringing most of the food I’ll need using the food I’ve bought at the best prices. If I had waited to shop where we are, I would’ve paid, well, I think probably three times more.

Here’s what I made today (all * items were made before I left home):


  1. choice of 4 different kinds of cereal, 3 bought at about .50 each, 1 bought at .25=1.75
  2. *homemade yogurt, made with 1/4 gallon whole milk= .50
  3. 18 hardboiled eggs = 1.50
  4. 1/2 gallon milk = 1.00
  5. fruit: apples, cherries, backyard berries = 2.00

Total for 15 people: $6.79 or .45 per person


  1. *3 recipes homemade pita bread at about .50 a recipe = 1.50
  2. 8 oz. feta cheese, 3.34 – $1/1 mfc = 2.34
  3. *4 cups homemade hummus using dry beans = 2.50
  4. 1 can olives, 1.25 – $1 in coupons = .25
  5. *whole chicken, cooked and shredded, .49/lb = 2.29
  6. *tzatziki, a garlicky greek yogurt spread, made with the other half of the yogurt, garlic, and garden herbs = .50
  7. 1/3 bag baby carrots =.66
  8. garden produce: lettuce, snap peas, broccoli = 0

Total for 15 people: $10.06 or .67 per person

(Note: this meal worked really great for a crowd – they could make a pita sandwhich using whatever they wanted, or make a chicken salad with pita and hummus dip, and the kids could take what they liked.)


  1. *chili, made with dry beans and ground turkey, approximate cost for and 8-qt. pot= 4.50
  2. 3 packages hot dogs = free with coupons!
  3. 3 packs buns, .79 each = 2.37
  4. shredded cheese = 1.00
  5. slaw and salad made with garden produce= 0 /with dressing= .25
  6. berry crisp made with backyard berries= 0 /*topping = about 1.25
  7. 2- 1.75 qts. vanilla ice cream = 6.98 (had to buy here!!)

Total for 15 people: $16.07 (more than 1/3 is the ice cream alone…) or $1.07 per person

So I was able to feed 15 people 3 healthy meals for less than $33 dollars, or $2.20 for each person (plus there’s enough leftovers to make almost another meal). My goal is to keep each meal at about $10, which would just not be possible without planning and preparing a lot at home. Coming in under the goal on breakfast allowed room for the splurge of the ice cream at dinner.

I’d love to hear your ideas on feeding a crowd good food for less!

Get more recipe ideas at Grocery Cart Challenge’s Recipe Swap.






  1. says

    Oh boy…you make me jealous! I wish I had room to have a garden to grow my own stuff – tomatoes in tubs is as much as I have this year. And, I wish we had coupons and other such things to cut on costs.

    This summer, I’m preparing approximately 5000 meals for our summer teams, interns and ourselves. 2.50 euro/person/day is my self-imposed limit, but it is the things like breakfast cereal and ice-cream that push up the price here. There is limited availability of fresh veg here – I get tired eating only tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and lettuce. So, I end up buying more frozen veg than I would prefer, just to have some variety in the meals. But, this is starting to improve now and we’ll soon have other veg available to us.

    Pre-planning has been my biggest saver – buying large quantities of meat from the butcher and cooking up “massive” pots of freezable meals in the weeks before the crowds arrive. Not only do I save money this way, it also means I can be involved in all the activities of the teams and not be stuck in the kitchen all day!

    This week I’m feeding 22 people each day, only 12 next week, and then we’re up to 35-40 for the following two weeks. I’ll need to get the freezer re-stocked next week when I have a little more “free” time. However, I know that by the end of the month, I’ll have run out of the energy I need to be consistent in eating for less. It’ll be much easier to buy more ice-cream than make a home-made dessert! And, I’ll want to order in pizza rather than make it at home!

    Anyway, enjoy the rest of your family time :) Love to all the Boys!

  2. Jami @ An Oregon Cottage says

    Oh my goodness, Primrose – it’s the feeding of the 5000! You put me to shame. :-) Sounds like you have a good system, working with what you have there. I have a friend in Greece who said she can’t even look at my weekly deal posts anymore,’cause it makes her too wistful, so you’re not alone.

    What a summer! We’ll keep praying for you guys… Love to you both!

  3. Kari says

    Oh my! You are so good at frugality! I am impressed. Bless your heart for the ideas and the inspiration!

  4. says

    Good post! My hat’s off to you.

    It’s so true — food bought on vacation is so expensive! You can’t think, and even if you could think, everything is just…expensive!

    Another very cheap menu that everyone LOVES and can be made in big quantities is pulled pork BBQ sandwiches. Serve with cole slaw and oven fries.

  5. Jami @ An Oregon Cottage says

    Great idea on the pulled pork – I bet everyone in my family would love that, too. I’m going to be looking for deals on pork roast now for an August trip we’re planning! Thanks.

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