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…

Homemade  Cornbread

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.

Moist and Fluffy Cornbread
Serves 8
The secret to good cornbread is lots of rich dairy! This cornbread goes fast, so I say that if you're serving more than 8 people, go ahead and double the recipe and make two panfulls! Leftovers are tasty toasted and dunked in milk.
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  1. 2 c. cornmeal
  2. 1 1/2 c. white or whole wheat flour
  3. 1/2 t. salt
  4. 1 1/2 T. baking powder
  5. 1/2 c. butter, melted
  6. 1/3 c. yogurt or buttermilk
  7. 1 1/2 c. milk
  8. 3 eggs
  9. 1/4 cup honey (or sugar)
  1. Grease a 9x13 pan. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Melt the butter in a small sauce pot. Meanwhile, mix the dry ingredients.
  3. When butter has melted, pour it into a large bowl, add the milk, yogurt or buttermilk, eggs and sugar or honey.
  4. Mix well, then add the dry ingredients and stir to combine.
  5. Pour into pan and bake 20-25 minutes until center is set and a knife inserted comes out clean.
Grace Table
Trina Holden / Posts / Blog
Trina Holden is a modern-day gypsy, currently parked in Alabama where she and her husband encourage families to thrive through real food cookbooks, classes, and consulting. Together they homeschool their four children, drink gallons of raw milk, and dream of their next road trip.
  • Avatar
    Leah Adams

    This post was an ‘aha’ moment. I had never considered that large families don’t get ‘invited over’ often simply because of their size. I guess I feed large groups so often that I would never think about not inviting a large family. Thanks for an insightful post, Trina!

    April 6th, 2015 11:45
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    dawn w

    Since moving to a much larger house this year we have the luxury of having large and small families over often. Many Sundays my adult daughter and I will turn to each other and sign about a new family who we think should come for lunch. Our secret is to have two go-to meals that we know we always have the ingredients on hand that can be made quickly in any quantity. One is gluten and dairy free. We rarely eat desert but always have lots of fresh fruit available.

    We serve water because no matter how much gets spilled it rarely matters.

    Another thing we have in our house is a pile of folding chairs in the basement. When our seating for 20 is full they pile on the couches or the children on the floor on a washable blanket.

    We have found when people come in a moments notice they get to see that our family, like theirs, lives in a house that is not always in perfect order on a Sunday morning. The children are kept busy by gathering ingredients, putting out dishes, setting up chairs, and washing fruit. Moms cook with us. This leaves the men to be able to talk together alone. I love it when men get to encourage each other.

    Our medium sized family of 7 rarely gets invited out so we bring them in. Many families have told us they have reconsidered the size of their family after being at our house. They also see that entertaining isn’t about fancy dishes its about a real family getting to know another real family better.

    April 6th, 2015 13:49
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    Christie Purifoy

    I love this! So inspiring and practical. We have four kids AND food allergies, so I’m saying amen to all of this. Also? I just prayed a “loaves and fishes” prayer on Saturday as we hosted a big group. I was worried we wouldn’t have enough, but we ended up with such an abundance my family feasted on leftovers for the next two meals. Miracles do happen.

    April 6th, 2015 14:07
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    Stephanie Kay

    I agree with Dawn! We have 5 (soon to be 6) kids. In the last 3 years the only home we’ve been invited to for a meal was that of another “large” family like ours. You really get to know people in their homes in ways you never do in a public setting.

    To your awesome tips I add: think outside the hospitality box! A full meal for Sunday lunch or Friday night supper is great but there are other times to incorporate food and fellowship in your home. Consider a picnic – inside or outside. S’mores are lots of fun on a summer night around a fire pit! Or maybe just a dessert after an evening church service. Ice cream sundaes can’t be beat!! 🙂

    April 6th, 2015 14:47
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    Soul deep yet so very practical! What a thoughtful offering, Trina!

    April 6th, 2015 18:32
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    I’m one of 10 kids and my husband is one of 7 kids so . . . any family gathering is a large one. 🙂 While I don’t host our entire family often due to the size and our smaller home, any gathering usually consists of everyone bringing a dish to share. We are hosting the entire family this fall for an outdoor event (renewal of our vows!) and we plan to have it catered buffet style!!


    April 6th, 2015 19:42
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    Traci Rhoades

    You know the unspoken rule. Real cornbread gets made in a cast iron pan! A great post with tips for families of three, like mine 🙂 I recently took a meal to a family with foster kiddos. Twelve total people. My main dish looked way too small as I bagged it up. So I stopped and got deli meat and bread for filler or another meal.

    April 7th, 2015 14:04
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    Jessica White

    Yes. and Amen. The only time we get invited over to someone’s home is by our neighbor {who was the 2nd of 7, the oldest girl} and a family that has 2 more kids than us. With our neighbor she always makes a large casserole or a pot of soup, and we bring a side. Our other friends we combine who brings what and work together.

    April 7th, 2015 17:24

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