10 Group Meal Ideas

Each week we meet together with a group of families from church for a midweek Bible study. The group we are in is focused on those with younger kids as we also have a few teen babysitters. After trying various things last year, and learning the benefits and drawbacks of each, we are trying out a somewhat different setup this fall: 1. We are meeting in a home, rather than at the church building. 2. The start time is set such that we are done by 7 pm, in time for bedtime and school the next day. 3. One person makes the meals each week. We had tried rotating locations, meal making, etc. last year but ended up more frustrated than blessed.

While my husband and I were willing to host and make supper (okay, in all honesty he would only be the financial support in this activity), we did not delay accepting when another family very willingly offered their home for us all to meet in. Being able to spread around the responsibilities according to talents makes it easier on everyone. For example, the family who offered their home could not do it on a certain night because the wife worked that day and they would have had no time to get anywhere or eat beforehand. However, by having it at their home and supper ready when they arrived, those became non-issues. That night seemed to be the one with the least scheduling issues otherwise, so it all worked out.

Making a meal for upwards of 20 people and transporting it 20 minutes away to still be good an hour after it has cooked is doable with some planning. We have hosted in our home throughout our marriage. It does not have to be fancy, usually it is the fellowship that is the main event. With that in mind, I did a bit of research, asked questions of my mom who has been making meals for large numbers of people for a while, and took a look at my store of recipes and slow cooker recipes from a favorite site. Here are ten meal ideas I gathered and have used.

Spaghetti with meat sauce, bread sticks, salad – I actually made a lot more than was needed. Thankfully the meat sauce and bread sticks are freezer friendly and the kids love noodles for lunches. To transport this meal I placed the meat sauce in a large slow cooker, the noodles were in a large pot, the bread sticks were in an aluminum pan covered with aluminum foil, and the salad had each ingredient bagged individually for combining when we arrived. The noodles were the hardest part, as I had several pan going at once to cook the amount needed. From past experience I knew that they easily get soggy when combined into a large pot, but had not other way at that time to transport them. To help avoid this I strained them as well as I could and tried to make them the last thing ready to load into the car.

Hamburgers with buns and toppings, hotdogs wrapped in crescent rolls, deviled eggs, veggies, dip – wanting to avoid dropped hot dogs and broken buns I opted to wrapped them in crescent rolls and bake them. The kids loved the uniqueness and I think the babysitters appreciated the easy of doing this. To help keep the deviled eggs from sliding around, a common issue when transporting these, a few paper towels were placed on the bottom on the cake pan and egg dish. For dip I took the easier way out and bought pre-made dip from the store.

Lebanese stuffed pitas, pizza stuffed shells, fruit salad, spinach dip – while this meal is great for at home it ended up not working so well as a meal which needs to be served later. The pitas ended up being soggy rather than firm. We will not be making this as a meal again for this particular group but will keep it on the options list for those we may feed in our home.

Meatballs in BBQ sauce, grilled cheese, coleslaw/potato salad, fresh veggies – this is not the ‘recipe’ I used for meatballs though it is the one I will try next. Instead I used meatballs and a jar of bbq sauce, the grape jelly was forgotten. The addition of cranberry sauce would be a nice fall variation to this meal. As for the grilled cheese, the bread was toasted and cheese added. I had hoped to avoid soggy sandwiches and was able to do so. If parents or kids wanted it more melted they were free to make use of the microwave. Next time I will try to actually melt the cheese. The sandwiches and fresh veggies were transported in aluminum pans, the meatballs and sauce were in slow cookers, and the slaw and potato salad were in smaller containers.

Cheesy Alfredo tortellini (possibly with chicken), fresh vegetables, fruit salad – This was one of the easiest and best liked meals so far. The tortellini recipe was quadrupled and divided into two 6 qt slow cookers, one of which had cubed cooked chicken added. There were very few left overs. Fruit salad tends to have liquid in the bottom of the bowls, so make sure to drain before transporting or mix it up once you arrive.

Chipotle-chocolate chili, peanut butter sandwiches, pizza rolls, deviled eggs – the pizza rolls this week were courtesy of a sale at the grocery store. As chili can be a bit messy, I planned for the kids to have something a bit different if they wished. The peanut butter sandwiches are for dipping in the chili. Doesn’t everyone do that?

Pizza, veggies and dip – either homemade, store bought, or ordered. In this case it will most likely be carry out as there is a place on the way to our group. It is also the back up meal in case I get sick and my husband is in charge of bringing dinner. Although, the one week I was not feeling well the kids made the meatball meal above with me supervising from across the kitchen. The potato salad and slaw had been made previously and was already in the fridge. By price comparing and using deals this meal will be one of the more expensive but not exorbitant. If we were meeting at our house home made pizzas might be an option, though oven space would be the limiting factor.

Breakfast: pancakes (lemon ricotta pancakes, buttermilk pancakes), bacon/sausage/fried ham, fruit – breakfast can be done a variety of ways and is a wide open field of choices. As I know the kids like meat with their meals this seemed like an easy option. I also do not need to use syrup if we have fruit to go along with it. I may still take a bottle in case someone wants it, but know the pancakes taste delicious without it as well.

Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, corn, green beans – while trying out the recipes at home I tested cooking this meatloaf in my Ninja. The loaf itself came out okay but the bacon on top was not crisp like when cooked in the oven. For that reason this dish was made, formed into smaller loaves, and put into the oven on multiple pans. Those loaves were then kept warm until it as time to serve by placing in an aluminum pan topped with aluminum foil. The mashed potatoes were placed in a 6 quart slow cooker set to warm. The corn was placed in a smaller 2 quart slow cooker set to warm or low. The green beans were put in a pan inside of an insulated carrier, as I ran out of smaller slow cookers to use.

Kheema, rice/mashed potatoes/naan, fruit – this could also be a shepherd’s pie or a similar dish. This particular meal could be made ahead, frozen or refrigerated, and rewarmed or assembled when needed. Again, a slow cooker is used to keep each dish warm. The fruit would work well to be something like peaches or mango or oranges.

Drinks: lemonade, water, sodas, tea – by far lemonade has been the common drink taken. An empty milk jug or pitcher works well. If I have a milk jug to use, I make a bit of lemonade and place it in the freezer to serve as ice when I make up the rest of the gallon. This helps keep it from tasting watered down an hour later.

Desserts: cake, brownies, cookies, chocolate pudding, leftover candy 🙂 – desserts are not something I have been purposefully planning, though at times others have offered to make.

Transporting tips:

  • for some of the potentially messier meals I moved our rubber floor mats to the back and put the dishes on top of them. Not only did they keep the dishes from sliding around, they made clean up much easier.
  • aluminum pans can be found at the Dollar Tree and are useful for many items – vegetables, bread sticks, sandwiches, desserts. As you can see in the picture above it makes for a great vegetable tray. If you need a lid, and one does not come with it, a layer of aluminum foil or plastic wrap works well to hold items in. These pans can also be used to make ahead dishes such as mashed potatoes or spaghetti which can then be kept warm in an oven until serving time. If the dish is not too messy, such as bread sticks or vegetables, I rewash the pan for a future use.
  • using empty milk jugs to transport lemonade worked well I was using powder to mix the lemonade. If I planned ahead appropriately I would mix up about a forth of a gallon (or 1 quart) and freeze it the day before. This would help keep the drink cool without watering it down while in transport or waiting to be used. I tried mixing more but found we used it faster than it melted. If my pitcher had not lost its lid I could have made ice cubes from lemonade and accomplished the same result with a better look.
  • give yourself 10 minute extra to get where you are going. Not only does it work better to have everything set up when people start to arrive but your driving may be slower. Personally I take corner gentler and do not accelerate as quickly. This means I need to the extra few minutes to make the trip.