The other day, friends of ours who live in another part of the state were passing through our county, so I invited them for lunch. They are a family of eleven (or is it twelve?) so when my guests said there would be just seven of them coming, I felt like I got off easy.
I planned on serving chili and cornbread, and promptly doubled everything as I mentally gathered my ingredients for feeding the multitudes.
Our guests arrived and all thriteen of us enjoyed big bowls of chili and seconds on cornbread while we fellowshipped, and then I heard one of them say,
“I just can’t believe you made enough food!”
Sure enough, everyone was satisfied, but there was still chili in the pot, and one of the pans of cornbread was only half gone.
Their surprise and appreciation for the abundance of food reminded me of one of the challenges of being a big family— being on the receiving end of bountiful hospitality is a rare treat.Growing up in a family of nine, I know the stress when you look at the table and wonder if there will be enough for the crowd that has gathered.
But I also watched my mother repeatedly meet the challenge of fellowshipping with other large families with giant bowls of pancake batter, huge pots of soup, or multiple heads of lettuce in a single, enormous tossed salad. I learned from her how to triple or quadruple a recipe so everyone would get enough.
I have heard a whisper from large families–similar to those who struggle with food allergies: people are so challenged by the idea of hosting them, they rarely get to be on the receiving end of a home cooked meal and fellowship around someone else’s table.
I have a heart for offering hospitality to those who need it most—from the friends with gluten intolerance who rarely get to join into potlucks, to the families so large they never get invited for dinner. Having a crowd for dinner can be intimidating, so here are some tips I learned from my mother…
Tips for Feeding a Crowd
1. Simplify the Menu. The goal is full bellies, not an impressive variety or gourmet flavor combinations. If you can pull off a five course meal for twenty without breaking a sweat, then go for it. If not, stick to trusty, one-pot meals like a hearty soup or casserole. Skip multiple sides and put your effort into making sure the main dish is bountiful.
2. Choose a filler. If you do one side dish, let it be filling, like bread. You want to ensure that if the pot does get scraped clean, there’s still a basket of something on the side to fill in the edges of someone’s appetite. If bread is off limits, a large bowl of fruit is a simple, filling addition to any meal.
3. Make the food ahead of time. Large families are often uncomfortable with the added trouble they feel they bring to their hosts. Make them feel at ease by having most of the prep work done before they arrive. If you are relaxed, knowing there is enough food and it will be ready on time, they will be able to relax, too.
4. Serve buffet style. This is the fastest and easiest way to fill a lot of plates, and makes going for seconds easier on your guests and you. Besides, buffet style is often how big families serve meals on a daily basis, so you’ll be making them feel right at home.
5. Don’t be afraid to accept help. If your guests offer to bring something, let them (if you’ve already got the meal down, let them bring condiments—butter for the bread, or toppings for the soup.) If they offer to help with the mountain of dishes after the meal—again, put everyone at ease by admitting help would be a blessing.
6. Pray for the food. When your budget or your time just doesn’t seem like it will cover the needs when a crowd is gathering, don’t overlook the power of a “loaves and fish” prayer. Five and two make seven in ordinary moments, but when you ask Jesus to be a part of the preparations, miracles can happen.
Feeding a crowd doesn’t have to be intimidating—the main thing is to just double or triple your favorite one pot meal, then embrace the rich (and loud!) fellowship that happens when you use up every chair and fork in the house.
- 2 c. cornmeal
- 1 1/2 c. white or whole wheat flour
- 1/2 t. salt
- 1 1/2 T. baking powder
- 1/2 c. butter, melted
- 1/3 c. yogurt or buttermilk
- 1 1/2 c. milk
- 3 eggs
- 1/4 cup honey (or sugar)
- Grease a 9x13 pan. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Melt the butter in a small sauce pot. Meanwhile, mix the dry ingredients.
- When butter has melted, pour it into a large bowl, add the milk, yogurt or buttermilk, eggs and sugar or honey.
- Mix well, then add the dry ingredients and stir to combine.
- Pour into pan and bake 20-25 minutes until center is set and a knife inserted comes out clean.