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JPipes

Dinner ideas for 60+ people

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Hi all! My wife and I are on the board of directors for the "Young Friends of The Ronald McDonald House", and we have volunteered to take over making dinner once a month for all of the residents, starting in January. We are really looking forward to it! The kids, their parents, and siblings are going through hell, and what better way to take their mind off of everything than by having a great home cooked meal?

We love cooking and entertaining, but I can't say that I've ever prepared dinner for 60 to 70 people at a time. So I task all of you with this: Help a young couple pick some recipes and strategies for success!

Thanks,

Josh and Tracy

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For a large crowd, pasta dishes comes to mind. For something fun, do a pasta buffet. Make a few different pasta sauces (i.e. marinara, meat sauce, alfredo, pesto) and cook a few different types of pasta (spaghetti, bowtie, penne, etc.) and let people choose what they want. You can add some garlic bread, salad, meatballs, grilled chicken/shrimp, lasagna and dessert to the spread. I like the idea of having people assemble their food as it encourage interaction among guests. Other similar ideas would be to do a taco or a crepe buffet.

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Check the "Dinner for 40" thread.

As far as planning, start off at the proteins, calculate how much each person will eat, then backtrack from there to scale your recipes accordingly. On average, I assume 4-8 oz. of meat per person depending on what I will cook. For 44 hungry people, I will easily go through 15-25 pounds of meat, but it is always a good idea to make a bit extra.

Also consider any allergies, vegatarians/vegans you may have to cook for. For example, I cook for someone who is a celiac, is allergic to eggs, dairy, nuts, etc., so I try and cook a protein that they can eat, then a seperate side if I need to.

If it is only you cooking, you will find that 95% of your time is devoted to prep, so plan accordingly, and use shortcuts (such as pre-peeled garlic cloves or stewed tomatoes) to help along the way.

As far as what to cook consider something meaty, a vegetable, and something starchy. A good pasta kills two birds with one stone, and a really expertly prepared sauce makes many people very happy....I find that it is actually easier to prepare a nice rich, long simmered sauce than something less time consuming because it gives you time to prepare other components.

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I did dinners for the Ronald McDonald House at the University of Michigan about once a month for a couple of years - both with the Junior League and with a woman who put together a group independently. As far as menus, it's a good idea to talk to the house manager - there may be some "rules". For example, in Ann Arbor there was only one night a week where you could serve tacos, and one night where you could serve spaghetti - otherwise they'd end up with those things every night because they're easy to serve to a crowd.

As far as menus, here are a couple that were very popular:

- meatloaf with mashed potatoes, veggies, etc.

- homemade macaroni & cheese (we almost always had this, because the kids love it)

- Roasted chicken with potatoes

- Quesadillas with sides like refried beans

The parents really like good fresh fruits and vegetables - that's something they don't get a lot of. Salads are very popular.

Remember that these are average American (and sometimes international) families - they like to eat the same stuff at the hospital as they do at home. It's a good time for recipes out of your Betty Crocker cookbook.

If you're cooking at the House, remember that the ovens and stoves may not be what you're used to. One of the first times we cooked there, we had a near disaster because we didn't realize you had to hit "start" after setting the oven temp. We also got used to having oven temps that were off. Bring your own knives and gadgets (like peelers) if you need them.

Good for you for doing this! It's a very rewarding experience. It's sad to see the same families month after month, but also heartwarming when you hear they went home with a kid who is much better.

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Which RMH? Some RMHs will have lots of kids undergoing cancer treatment. The one in Manhattan is ONLY kids with cancer. These kids are likely to be neutropenic, so you have to pay attention to that. Also, these are going to be very stressed families with small kids so make sure everything you serve is kid-friendly. At our Manhattan RMH, families are often there for months at a time. The parents are lonely, and the kids are either sick, or very stressed out siblings. So make it fun and friendly.

Themed nights are very popular with the RMH crowd, by the way. Mexican night, Italian night, etc. Or something with a movie or cartoon tie-in.

I know all of this because my son was treated for cancer in NYC, and I am close to several families who spent months at the RMH. I stayed there myself, but not for such a long period.

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