Over a year ago, I happily started helping out with our Wednesday evening suppers at church. The family that was doing it had been doing it for many years and had decided it was time to stop. Consideration was given to stopping the meals altogether. (Actually, they weren't really meals at that time but more like snacks.) Myself and others did not want it to end, so I decided I'd give it a try. I knew this was something that the children looked forward to, and with our bus ministry, I knew some children really needed it.
After weighing the options, I realized that a small meal for the youth would cost relatively the same as purchasing snacks - sometimes cheaper! So, that's the direction I chose to take. At the time, I had a few ideas but started searching the Internet for meals that were easy to serve to a crowd, but unfortunately, I didn't come up with a whole lot. Over time, we've developed a few different menus, and we just rotate those.
This is a ministry that I enjoy participating in, and I have a lot of help. The hardest part, which actually isn't hard at all, is deciding what's next in the lineup and purchasing what is needed. I rarely spend over $40 a week and usually it's less as others are often donating some of these items that I just have to add to. I usually shop on Wednesday afternoons, deliver the items to the church, and I always have help to get everything cooked or ready to serve, and thankfully, there are several who help with the cleanup afterward, so this is not a burden for anyone.
Here are some of our menus (I usually plan for 40-60 as I want the adults to feel free to eat, too):
Nachos! (This is the crowd favorite)
We use the big can of condensed nacho cheese at Walmart, and after adding milk, it goes a long way. In addition, I have to purchase the chips (around 6 bags), 4-5 pounds of ground beef and 2 packs of taco seasoning, shredded lettuce (1 large bag), sour cream, and salsa. Then we add a dessert, which is usually cookies, brownies, cupcakes, etc.
I buy around 5 bags of chicken nuggets (usually the 90-count bag at Walmart). Each person is given 4 nuggets with usually some left over for seconds. Macaroni and cheese and a salad is served with this. Condiments and desserts are added.
A local grocery store has a box of 80 corn dogs for $12! They are slightly defective, which just means they may look ugly - not dangerous to eat or taste affected in any way. We add tater tots, condiments and dessert!
Same as chicken nuggets, there's usually 90 in a bag, sometimes more, so I buy 4-5 bags. I usually serve corn and a salad with these in addition to condiments and dessert.
I buy the big bag of Tyson chicken patties, usually 2-3 bags, and then purchase buns and shredded lettuce. We'll serve chips, pickles and dessert alongside.
I purchase 6-8 packs of hot dogs and buns, and with this we'll serve chili (sometimes I'll make a crockpot full and sometimes I'll buy canned), and on occasion I'll make slaw. We add chips, condiments and dessert.
I cook a lot of noodles and then offer two choices for sauce. I make a red sauce with meat and a white sauce with chicken. I buy the canned sauces, fry up some seasoned ground beef for the red sauce, and open up some canned chicken and add to the white sauce. We'll serve a salad, bread and dessert to go with this.
If there's a good bit of extra money left at the end of the month, I'll purchase pizzas from a local restaurant. We all love their pizzas, and they sell one-topping pizzas for $5.99 each! We'll add a pasta salad (2-3 boxes of colored noodles boiled/drained, tiny pepperonis, 2 cups of mozzarella, Parmesan cheese to taste, and 1-2 bottles of Olive Garden Italian dressing) and dessert, and this is an easy night for all of us!
In the winter, I have a chicken noodle soup recipe a friend shared with me that the kids enjoy. (Two LARGE cans of cream of chicken soup, 1 box chicken broth, 1 Rotisserie chicken, and 2 packs of fine noodles - these are in the Jewish section at the grocery story, if I'm remembering correctly. I then double or triple this recipe.) PB&J sandwiches and desserts are served with this.
With all these choices, we can easily rotate and the kids are getting a variety so if they don't like one week's choices, they might like the next. :>)