Author Topic: Cheap meal for 30 people (homeless shelter)  (Read 18990 times)


  • Magnum Stache
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Cheap meal for 30 people (homeless shelter)
« on: February 10, 2017, 11:46:18 AM »
My Girl Scout troop is taking on a service project to cook and serve dinner at a homeless shelter once a month for 30 men.  The girls are only 1st graders, so it will be a team of 2 or 3 girls with a parent each month.  Not all 12 six year olds at one time.


Must be prepared between 4 pm and 5:30, meal is served at 5:30 promptly.  Cannot get in building between 8 am and 4:30 pm.

No stove- ovens, electric skillets, crockpots only. 

We can prepare a crockpot meal the night before, put it in the fridge overnight, and someone can plug it in for us in the morning.  We could also prepare casserole type stuff ahead of time at our house and bring it in to bake. 

I am a vegetarian and prefer not to touch raw meat.  But they are used to meat meals, so if it is vegetarian it needs to be substantial.  I can handle browning ground beef for example, but I'm not making hamburger patties or touching raw chicken.  I will not usually be the only adult, so maybe this is a non-issue as the other adult can handle the meat part.

Some food is available for us to use, we will purchase the rest.  I am going today to check out the kinds of food they have.  We want to be as frugal as possible with what we have to buy.

There are no nutritional guidelines but I would like to include a vegetable in every meal. 

I don't think things with a lot of assembly like tacos are a good idea- but if others have experience with serving at shelters, I am all ears.  I am thinking one dish meals will be better. 

They would like us to teach the residents to cook.  That is the downside of doing all the prep ahead of time and just bringing in a finished casserole to bake.  But this is optional. 

My 2 main questions are: 

1.  What meals would you suggest (specific recipes appreciated if you have them)

2.  How do I figure out quantities for 30 men who have big appetites (they may not have had food since breakfast at the shelter).   


  • Handlebar Stache
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Re: Cheap meal for 30 people (homeless shelter)
« Reply #1 on: February 10, 2017, 12:13:23 PM »
Have you been to

If you wander back through her posts you can probably find some good ideas.  Her big thing is freezer cooking for large groups as outreach and mission through her church.  I think she uses the ovens and crock pots a lot, take a peek for ideas about scalable meals that can be prepped cheaply...

It's not a very well organized blog... but the recipes may give you some ideas or you could email her.

If you prep some of the stuff, you may be able to do some teaching.  Like, pre measure most things but show how to measure using a liquid measure, spoons, and cups for one or two things. 

I'd probably pre prep the stuff for lasagna and then assemble and bake with the guys.  Browned meat, pasta sauce, noodles, cheese.  Super filling, everyone loves lasagna, meaty but not too meaty.  Bread, salad, done.


  • Magnum Stache
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Re: Cheap meal for 30 people (homeless shelter)
« Reply #2 on: February 10, 2017, 12:15:00 PM »
I regularly help out at my church's Sunday soup kitchen. We plan on about 100 people each week.

I'm not sure that we have ever served a vegetarian meal - it's mostly casserole type stuff, but sometimes baked chicken or a ham (especially around the holidays.)

Typical main dishes are sloppy joes, spaghetti, meatloaf, chili, johnny marzetti, hot dogs, etc. We also usually have a salad, a vegetable (canned greened beans are extremely popular), bread and dessert. Generally each cook brings a cake to cut into squares and people pick out what they want.

GFS and Sams Club/Costco are very helpful!


  • Handlebar Stache
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Re: Cheap meal for 30 people (homeless shelter)
« Reply #3 on: February 10, 2017, 02:42:24 PM »
I'm one of the people who take turns cooking for our church's homeless cafe. I was assigned a meal called Dirty rice. My family liked the smell so much that they asked me to make it for them. 

Here's the recipe for 15 people as given to me:

Brown 3 lb ground beef with 3 large onions, chopped. Drain fat.
Transfer to a large oven-safe pan (we use the kind of large foil tray that can sit on a heating rack).
Add 4 chopped bell peppers, 6 cups rice, 7 cups boiling water, 10 beef bouillon cubes.
Cover and bake at 350F about 35 minutes.
Add 1 large (30 oz?) can corn, drained, and continue heating through.
You can do the first step in advance, even the night before.

A vegetarian option would be a meatless chili.  That would definitely have to be prepared in advance, but you could make (teach) cornbread to go with it once you arrived.

How good are the electric skillets?  Could you make a stir-fry in them? There probably isn't time to do all the chopping onsite.  You could bring rice cookers and prepped ingredients, and start the rice while you cook the stir-fry (also teachable).  That could be vegetarian if there's something like tofu or nuts for protein (it should feel substantial to the guests if they are used to meat).

In my experience, meals for the homeless always include salad and dessert.  I would bring those made in advance.


  • Pencil Stache
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Re: Cheap meal for 30 people (homeless shelter)
« Reply #4 on: February 10, 2017, 03:11:46 PM »
What do you consider cheap for 30 people (Not being a smartass, I really have no clue)?

I would probably make beans, rice, and some kind of chicken. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are pretty reasonably priced at Sam's. I bought 2 large trays (don't know price per pound) and smoked them for the Superbowl. I think I paid maybe $22 per tray. I'd imagine if you went by proper portion size, 3 trays would feed 30 people easily. Maybe $30-$40.


  • Pencil Stache
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Re: Cheap meal for 30 people (homeless shelter)
« Reply #5 on: February 10, 2017, 03:34:45 PM »
I second the veggie chili and will also throw in a vote for tuna casserole


  • Senior Mustachian
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Re: Cheap meal for 30 people (homeless shelter)
« Reply #6 on: February 10, 2017, 03:48:02 PM »
No recipes - but some experience to share:
1. Don't do anything you have to assemble there, like tacos - it slows the line down;
2. Stay away from anything hard to chew(like hard taco shells, hard grNola bars), several may have dental issues that make those sort of foods hard to eat, and may request you modify the dinner (taco fillings without the shells);
3. We always provided dessert too, as well fruit - grapes and bananas were popular;
4. We also provided things like soft granola bars too - they could pick up and eat later;
5. We used those fool half sheet pan size casseroles when possible;
6. Yes to giant cans of green beans, or corn.

I don't see how you can provide food AND teach them how to cook, this seems like different tasks.

Rice is cheap -
Chicken and rice and vegetables
Pasta is relatively cheap -
Mac & cheese
Baked ziti
Chicken and noodles


  • Bristles
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Re: Cheap meal for 30 people (homeless shelter)
« Reply #7 on: February 10, 2017, 03:56:39 PM »
I work on a casual basis at a homeless shelter and wanted to give you a few tips when making a meal:

1). Some people may have missing teeth and can't eat raw crunchy veggies in a salad, which almost always will get tossed.
2). Nothing spicy, many people cannot tolerate spice and it is thrown away at an alarming rate.

The most popular meals are pasta, meat and potato meals (like roast chicken, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli). I understand that you are a vegetarian (as am I), but veggie meals are not very popular among the residents at work.


  • Bristles
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Re: Cheap meal for 30 people (homeless shelter)
« Reply #8 on: February 10, 2017, 04:02:24 PM »
Teaching residents how to cook does not seem very practical.


  • Magnum Stache
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Re: Cheap meal for 30 people (homeless shelter)
« Reply #9 on: February 10, 2017, 04:36:57 PM »
I think the teaching to cook would be like 1 man helps us cook, not all 30 of them. 

I visited today and they have loads of frozen whole chickens (which are basically my worst meat nightmare), bread, eggs, rice, pasta, potatoes, various canned vegetables, milk and sugar in large quantities.

I don't know how cheap is cheap. But I'll be paying!

I don't think they typically serve salad- they seem light on veggies overall.

They had lasagna today, no sides, but always bread as an option.  Seems like most people bring cookies/cake.

I guess we could do the same meal- it might get boring for us, but they'd only be having it once a month. That would help us be more efficient.


  • Bristles
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Re: Cheap meal for 30 people (homeless shelter)
« Reply #10 on: February 10, 2017, 05:45:48 PM »
If you talk to the store manager can they help with pricing?


  • Handlebar Stache
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Re: Cheap meal for 30 people (homeless shelter)
« Reply #11 on: February 10, 2017, 06:08:34 PM »
Having one man help seems far more doable than teaching 30 to cook! 

Do you ever use gloves with meat?  I hate touching or eating most meat, but find that the barrier of a medical style glove makes prepping and butchering meat tolerable.  It makes no sense, but it works for me...

Maybe you can do something like chicken parts where your husband or a kid moves it from the tray to the ziploc/bowl of marinade the night before and then your learning to cook helper moves it from the marinade to the pan?  Do a pan of roasted potatoes, carrots, onions, etc for soft veggies? 

I'm not sure what the population is you are serving, but if these guys are out living rough most of the time, a big calorie bomb of protein and carbs may be really appreciated.

Apple crisp, zucchini brownies/bread could add produce if you want to be sneaky. 


  • Pencil Stache
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Re: Cheap meal for 30 people (homeless shelter)
« Reply #12 on: February 10, 2017, 06:25:26 PM »
We always made hefty casseroles, a side of salad with dressing (just leafy veggies because of the dental issues mentioned above; if anything was left behind, that was it), buttered bread, and milk. Usually the casseroles were pasta based or some kind of soup-base with a mashed potato topping. Sometimes we'd have soft cookies.

We usually had some oranges and rolls or other snacks for people to take with them as they left (this was just a food kitchen with available showers, not a shelter).

The cool thing was, no matter how many people came (sometimes a hundred more than the two hundred or so expected), we always had enough for the people who wanted seconds. We usually had 6-10 large casserole dishes, and, quite frankly, that math seems impossible to me considering the hefty portions we gave.