At least once a month, we have Family Dinner with my Dad, stepmom, brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews. Yes, that’s most of the crew in the picture above last Christmas. Nick and I also invite his family over for dinner at our house with regularity. Feeding a large crowd can be stressful and sometimes expensive. This week I’m going to give you some tips for saving time, money, and stress when it comes to feeding a larger gathering. With the holidays approaching, chances are you’re going to have a house full of people at least once between now and New Year’s.
The first rule to feeding a crowd is, “Keep It Simple!” It can be tempting to want to impress friends or family with a complicated gourmet meal. However, this is going to likely be time-consuming and stressful. If you’re like me, you want to make sure the house is spic and span for your guests, so you’re already going to be pressed for time with your extra cleaning chores. Prepare a dish that is delicious and simple that you’re very familiar with. Now is not the time to try something new and be stressed out that it may or may not turn out okay.
The second rule is to ask your guests to pitch in and bring something – an appetizer, bread and wine, or a dessert. Most of your friends and family will be happy to help out. Let them know what you’re making for dinner so they can ensure what they’re bringing will complement the main dish. If you’re making tacos for dinner and you’re sister-in-law makes spectacular salsa, go ahead and request that she bring chips and her famous salsa for an appetizer. She will probably be flattered that you like it enough to special request it. Also, don’t be afraid to ask friends or family members to help set the table or clean up the dishes. The flip side is true when you are invited somewhere for dinner – ask what you can do to help out. When we go to Michigan for Thanksgiving, all of the women gather in the kitchen after dinner and help my aunt with the dishes. Many hands make for light work!
The final rule is to remember that Family Dinner is first about the people, then about the food. Don’t become so wrapped up in making sure everything about the food is absolutely perfect that you don’t have time to socialize and have fun.
Instead of giving you my menu plan for this week, I’m going to give you seven of my favorite meals to make when I host Family Dinner at my house.
~ Spaghetti & Meat Sauce – I make a double batch of meat sauce, which for me is one pound of ground turkey (browned and drained) with Classico Spicy Tomato spaghetti sauce. I recruit my sisters to bring salad and dessert. Add garlic bread and a little red wine to round out the meal.
~ Oven Fried Chicken – See my blog post from August 22nd for this recipe that’s a healthier version of fried chicken. It’s definitely a crowd pleaser!
~ Chili – This is another easy recipe to double or triple to feed a crowd. Just add corn muffins and a salad and dinner is served. Here’s the chili recipe that I use.
~ Turkey Stroganoff – This recipe can be made with either ground beef or turkey. This recipe is chocked full of mushrooms, so make sure the crowd you’re feeding is full of mushroom lovers! (It seems people either love or hate mushrooms, there’s no middle ground!) This was the first Meal Planning Monday recipe I shared on my blog.
~ Beef Stew – I just made this recipe this weekend for Nick’s mom and brother. My secret is to add a can of beef gravy (which I got for 25 cents at Kroger’s Mega Sale this week) to thicken it up.
~ Turkey & Gravy – I’ll buy a turkey breast and bake it almost all the way. Then I take it out of the oven and slice it. I’ll toss it in the crockpot on low with several cans of turkey gravy and fresh mushrooms that I’ve sautéed in a little butter. This is a good choice when you have several waves of guests coming in at different times to eat because it stays nice and hot in the crockpot.
~ Ravioli Lasagna – All of the deliciousness of lasagna without all the work! See recipe below.
- 1 jar of pasta sauce
- 2 bags of cheese ravioli (18 – 20 oz. each), fresh or frozen but thawed
- 2 links of Johnsonville’s Three Cheese Italian Style Chicken Sausage, sliced
- 1 10 oz. box of frozen spinach, thawed with excess water squeezed out
- 8 oz. package of shredded mozzarella cheese
- ½ cup of grated Parmesan cheese
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spoon a thin layer of the pasta sauce over the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish. Cover with a single layer of ravioli. Top with half of the spinach, mozzarella, and sliced sausage. Top with a third of the sauce. Repeat with another layer of ravioli, spinach, cheese, sausage, and half of the remaining sauce. Top with another layer of ravioli and remaining sauce. Sprinkle with the Parmesan. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and return to oven for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until bubbly. Serves 6 people.
If you’re not keen on sausage, you can omit it and use meat sauce. You can also add or substitute veggies of your choice.