Feeding a Crowd
First, don't panic. Preparing lunch for 50 people may sound daunting, but with a focus on simplicity, the task is entirely doable. Choose uncomplicated recipes; focus on streamlining all steps in the process, and select crowd-pleasing dishes rather than an impressive but time-consuming menu. Serve the lunch buffet style to accommodate a large group, and stick to general tips for feeding a crowd.
Just a few massive stock pots or large casserole pans provide enough food for 50 people. Use the stocks pots to first cook pasta, and then toss in vegetables for pasta primavera or pasta with broccoli. Or use the pots for vegetable soup or for chili, cooking hamburger in the pot first before adding the other ingredients. You can also mix ingredients for a baked pasta dish directly into casserole pans if you use no-cook pasta designed especially to cook along with other ingredients rather than requiring precooking. A frittata with precut vegetables takes awhile to bake, but cut into squares, it is easy to serve.
Use Packaged Ingredients
Precut and precooked ingredients are lifesavers when it comes to easy lunch ideas for a large group. For one-pot chili, use canned beans and precooked shredded pork along with condiments such as shredded cheese and large containers of sour cream for guests to serve themselves. Bagged lettuce makes salad-making a snap, and precut baby carrot sticks provide an instant vegetable side dish for chili. Buy frozen vegetables or cut broccoli or winter squash to add to pasta dishes or soups. And don't even think about baking your own cookies for dessert.
Sandwiches may be your easiest option for a crowd. Set out platters of deli meats and cheeses, with bread and rolls, and let your guests do the work. Or choose salads either as the main course or as an easy side. For a hearty grain salad, cook rice, quinoa or bulgur in a stock pot; let it cook slightly, and add cut vegetables and roasted nuts from a jar. Toss the salad with packaged salad dressing for a healthy and easy main course. Or buy cut fruit for a fruit salad as a side dish or dessert.
Have Guests Help
Letting your guests make parts of the meal saves you both time and trouble. In addition to sandwiches, tacos also work for a do-it-yourself lunch. Set out taco shells and large bowls of hamburger meat, packaged shredded cheese, packaged shredded lettuce and tubs of salsa. Carnitas work on the same principle when you set out warmed flour tortillas, bowls of precooked, packaged shredded pork that you have warmed up, and the same shredded cheese and lettuce.
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Susan Lundman began writing about her love of cooking, ingredient choices, menu planning and healthy eating after working for 20 years on children's issues at a nonprofit organization. She has written about food online professionally for ten years on numerous websites, and has provided family and friends with homemade recipes and stories about culinary adventures. Lundman received her M.A. from Stanford University.