Cooking for a large group can feel intimidating, especially if it's not your only task for the day. Choose a meal that you can prepare ahead of time so you have a chance to get yourself together before guests arrive. If the guests include kids, make something that kids typically like so it will be sure to please everyone.
If you like your dinner to be hot but will need to attend to guests right before the meal, put a casserole on the menu. Assemble the casseroles earlier in the day, then put them in the oven an hour before guests arrive. Many casseroles even freeze well, so you can make them farther ahead, but you will need to fully thaw them in the refrigerator before baking. Ideal casseroles for large groups include lasagna, baked penne with sausage and cheese, tuna casserole, shepherd's pie and creamy vegetable-rice casseroles.
A huge pot of hearty soup is a crowd-pleaser, especially during cold times of the year. Plus, if you overestimate how much to make, you can always freeze the leftovers for an easy family dinner on a busy evening. Soups are best on days when you are at home for the whole afternoon, so they can simmer and develop flavors. They are mostly hands-off during this time, but you typically need to be in the house. Types of soup that many people enjoy include meat and bean chili, vegetable soup with barley, split pea soup with ham, minestrone and clam chowder. Choose one recipe to make, or make a few kinds of soup to offer some variety to guests. Serve the soup in big bowls with bread and butter, and a big bowl of salad with assorted dressings on the side.
Cooking for large groups can be a challenge if you are not sure what foods everybody likes. Between gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian and generally picky eaters, it might seem like there's not anything you can cook to please a crowd. The best solution in this case is to prepare a variety of ingredients that guests can assemble on their own plates. A classic option is tacos or taco salad. Prepare meat and beans for the base and provide cheese, salsa, cooked corn, sour cream or chipotle salad dressing, chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce, sauteed onions and peppers, and sliced olives. Provide flour and corn tortillas for tacos or tortilla chips for taco salad.
Turkeys are not only for Thanksgiving, nor are hams only for Christmas. Slices of meat make an ideal starting point for any large group meal. Start with a beef roast, pork roast, turkey, ham or a few whole chickens. Make a large salad early in the day by pouring a bottled dressing at the bottom of the bowl, topping it with hearty chopped vegetables, and putting the lettuce and fragile ingredients at the top of the bowl. Toss it just before serving. Other side dishes can include mashed potatoes, stuffing from a box, steamed vegetables and bread with butter.