Feeding a Large Crowd Easily and on a Budget, My Go To Trick

There's this couple that I've had over as guests a few times, because I really like their company. The third time they came over, they mentioned something about how I always serve the same thing. Not that they dislike it, they specifically like it, but they know that's what to expect when they come to my house. But you know what? The thing is, I don't actually serve the same thing over and over again, I tend to vary up my recipes and menus and nearly never serve the same thing from one time to the next. So three times already I served the same thing?

And then I remembered. Each time I had them it was the same time that I had a few other families over, and each time, I followed the same formula, and essentially served the same meal.

Because when I have a large crowd, it can be a lot of work and a lot of money to make the same thing I make for my family, just multiplied by a lot.

So instead, I have my large crowd on a budget and easily trick.

It's make your own meals.

By that, I mean "Make your own tacos/wraps" or "Make your own subs".

My kids call the latter "Subway at home". And I do that because I realized how delicious it is to go out for sub (also known as a hoagie, hero, or grinder), how much my kids like it, and how I can recreate it at home easily and on a budget. Same for tacos.

And it's been a hit every single time.

The best part is that its perfect for picky eaters (which some of my kids are).

Oh wait, the best part is how easy it is to make it!

Actually, the best part is the price tag- super low!

Ok, so many bests, which is why this is my go to for crowds, not to mention when I just want to have a nice meal for my family while taking it easy.

The thing is, when I make mine at home, it's even tastier than when I go out. I will buy from our Subway equivalent locally when I'm out and need to eat, since they have gluten free options for relatively low cost. But each time I do that, I realize just how much better it is when I make it at home. Because I offer even better and more diverse fillings and toppings.

Here's how I do it.

If I want to keep down the price even more, I make buns at home. This last time I did it, I made about 25 buns from 2 kilos (a little bit under 5 lbs) of flour, which cost me about $2.50 to make. (Ingredients were flour, water, yeast, sugar, oil, and salt.)

It is a little bit time consuming, but fortunately I let my kid do most of the work while I was doing other things. I bought gluten free rolls for the non gluten eaters, but everyone else got gluten buns. (This time I made them round but usually I make them more rectangular.)

Alternatively, you can just buy buns. I often do this too. Which isn't too expensive anyhow. But in my circles people generally ask what they can contribute to a meal, so I often tell them buns is great if they want to bring something.

And if you want wraps or tacos, then just provide tortillas/taco shells instead of the buns.

And then there's the fillings. The reason why this is especially easy is because only some of them need to be cooked/prepared in advance. So I'll put an * next to things that need to be cooked/prepared in advance. You don't have to provide everything listed, but I would recommend some of each category. Of course, depending on how much money you want to spend or how much time you want to put in, you can make this more or less cheap or time consuming. If one of the options I listed below isn't cheap or easy for you to make and that is your goal, skip it! The beauty of this is that its versatile. The things that I mention that might be more expensive for you are things that are cheaper for me because I buy them on sale or from scratch and dent stores or make them from scratch. I don't provide all of these each time, I just make sure to have a selection from each category each time.


I generally will use at least two or three types of meat, to give variety.

Ground meat is actually one of my favorite things to use here, because it stretches really far in such meals. I nearly always mix my meat, 2 lbs of meat with 1 large grated zucchini. This also stretches it, but also keeps the meat much more moist.

  • Meat crumbles*. Season this how you like, but I generally leave thus more or less unseasoned, other than salt and garlic powder, and then have the flavorings as additions. If I'm making a taco meal I'll add taco seasoning or chili powder or just cumin and garlic. You can do this with ground turkey or ground beef.
  • Burgers/kebabs*. I bake these and can do a lot at a time. Sometimes I leave it more or less plain (other than being stretched with zucchini), just with salt and garlic, sometimes I add Middle Eastern style seasonings like cumin and paprika and garlic.
  • Chicken breast*. I usually just bake these with salt and garlic powder, and then cut them up to serve. If making tacos, I'd season them with fajita seasoning. Alternatively, I sometimes chop them up and saute them with seasonings first, but this is more work.
  • Chicken salad*. I take chicken wings, bake them, debone them, then add mayo and flavorings to it. This is super cheap because of how cheap I can get wings.
  • Chili*. This is more work but not too much but its a really nice addition.
  • Deli. This is more expensive but less work.
  • Refried beans*. When making tacos.
  • Hot dogs*. This is cheap and easy but also looks less fancy.
  • Special sausages. Last time I made this with special Moroccan sausaces called mergez, and is just as easy, but is more expensive, and looks nicer.
  • Shnitzel. This is a lot of work and I don't usually bother, but this last time a guest brought shnitzel as a contribution to the meal, and everyone enjoyed it.


This is honestly where I think I do better than the takeout places, because I offer more variety here. I try at the very least to offer most of these. Most of these can literally be prepared on the spot.
  • Tomato slices.
  • Cucumber slices.
  • Pickles. Homemade* is best and cheapest and really not a lot of work, I like this recipe.
  • Olives. Green and/or black.
  • Lettuce.
  • Fried onions*.
  • Sliced raw onions.
  • Pickled onions*. I use the onions that are part of the pickles I make.
  • Fried mushrooms*.
  • Coleslaw.
  • Cabbage salad, Mexican style, with cilantro (when doing tacos).
  • Sauerkraut. Homemade* or store bought.
  • Pepper slices.
  • Sauted peppers*.
  • Sliced hot peppers.
  • Avocado (a nice extra when in season)
  • Corn (when doing taco)
  • Fried eggplant*. 


This changes every time, depending on what I have time for, or have in the house, or whether its tacos or sandwiches, etc... The more the better here, in my opinion, and most of the time these are easy to have at hand. I do make sure to always have the first three. The ones I do make from scratch are ones that last a while and I usually have already waiting in my fridge.
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Mayo. Store bought or homemade*.
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Sweet chili sauce. Store bought or homemade*.
  • Sriracha sauce. Store bought or homemade*.
  • Zhug. Store bought or homemade*.
  • Tahini dip. Store bought or homemade*.
  • Dairy free cheese sauce*. This is the most favorite, so even though its the most work, I try to have it nearly every time I make such a meal. 
  • Chimichurri sauce.*
  • Salsa, fresh or cooked, homemade or store bought.
  • Enchilada sauce*. Only for tacos, though I'm sure you can do it for regular subs.
  • Guacamole
How to have the meal:

I literally put everything out on the table, often more than one bowl of each thing to make it easier access. 

To roll wraps or tortillas, follow these instructions

I usually have the buns pre-sliced. Taco shells should be warmed up, but tortillas I don't usually bother warming.

To make the sandwiches, spread the bread with spreadable toppings, put in your meat, then fit the vegetables in around the meat, and then drizzle on the toppings.
I usually provide everyone with parchment paper, because if you fill your sandwich while on parchment paper, you can really over fill the bun with lots and lots of toppings, and then by rolling up the sandwich in the parchment paper, then twisting each end, you squish it all into the bun and it stays together, and you're able to hold much more fillings than you would otherwise.

I usually just do water, but if/when I do drinks, I serve seltzer (made in my Sodastream), fresh lemonade (bottled lemon juice is easiest), iced tea, and iced fruit tea. I do usually open a bottle or two of wine, bought on sale, when I have a crowd.

 This is literally the most popular of the meals that I make, including with my kids, and with guests. Prep work is so minimal, and the costs for a meal with 16 people probably costs the same as a "regular" meal with chicken/meat for 4 or 6. 

Do you ever have a large crowd over for company? What would you call a large crowd? (Our table expanded fits 16, so that's my usual "large crowd" but I've served this also when I had 20+ people over with extra tables.)
What do you serve when you have large crowds? Any tops to keep down the cost while not having too much extra prep work?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


Thank you for leaving a comment on your blog. Comments are moderated- please be patient to allow time for them to go through. Opposing opinions are permitted, discussion and disagreements are encouraged, but nasty comments for the sole purpose of being nasty without constructive criticisms will be deleted.
Just a note- I take my privacy seriously, and comments giving away my location or religion are automatically deleted too.

  1. I assume, if one does know how to make tacos, or cannot buy, that they can use whatever bread-type item they gf ave - like a pita pocket?
    I have never yet eaten Mexican foods - not taco, nor tortilla,not empanada or enchilada.
    Unfortunately, all these foods are still just words to me.

  2. Years ago I usually made the same thing for company as it was easy and could be prepared a head of time. One person made mention of the fact that I always had the same thing when they were over. I felt insulted. They should have appreciated the effort and not mentioned it, in my opinion. I didn't realize I was repeating my menu with the same people, so was careful after that to not repeat it. I still think that one "should not look a gift horse in the mouth."

  3. Fortunately we have only one major family event a year: Thanksgiving. There's no real way to get around all of the classic foods, so we plan for that crazy expense and just bite the costs.

    BTW: the post below, about ice cream. There's an even easier way to make it: 1 can sweetened condensed milk, and 500 mL cream (some recipes say 600 mL, but 500 mL is easier to get where I live). Put it in a bowl and beat the bejesus out of it for about 10 minutes (or have the stand mixer do the work), until it thickens, stir in flavorings (oreos, cookie dough, softened peanut butter, chocolate chips, the sky's the limit) and then pour it into a container to freeze.

Previous Post Next Post