FEEDING A CROWD
Pancakes! Paella! Pasta! Meals and logistics for feeding a small army
Is it Friday, already? I’m writing you from DC—or more precisely, a smidge over the DC border in Maryland—where we’re staying with our dear old friends, our ride-or-dies from our long life as a couple in NYC.
We’ve known these pals for over 15 years—they’re one of the best things my husband brought with him into our marriage.
In our late twenties, we double dated, attended each other’s wedding, and showed up at the hospital three hours after their first baby was born — with the city’s best ice cream and pastry, in tow. Things went on like this, back and forth, for a decade and a half until our party of four (two couples) grew to nine (two couples, and 5 kids).
Over the years, we’ve eaten a lot of meals together. Our get togethers are usually long and extended, spanning days. We’ve crashed at each other’s apartments (to avoid long subway rides home), rented houses together, stayed in each other’s homes (multiple times), and celebrated Thanksgiving and New Year’s together —wherever we could connect—as they moved from New York to Ann Arbor to Madrid and now, DC.
No matter where we are gathered, my friend, Kirsten, and I (both Midwestern girls, married to Europeans) have always had a sort of sisterly ease—I make a meal or two, she makes a meal or two, we all set tables and clean up. Sometimes I take the lead, sometimes she does. Everyone gets fed.
But this week, while my daughter is at the capital for a leadership camp, Mátyás and I are camped out in their beautiful home, smack in the middle of their (very!) bustling July—with swim meets, birthdays, sleepovers, babysitting, orthodontists appointments, play dates, date nights and a few long, lazy pool days. We’re here for seven full days. Seven. (Can you imagine a second family living in your house for seven days? I can not!)
Feeding this crew is no small task, so I thought it would be fun to share how we’ve managed to feed nine people for an entire week—without resentment (ie: someone doing all the work while others get a free pass) or giant messes (real plates for dinners, compostable paper plates for lunches and snacks)…all the while keeping things fun, filling and relatively healthy.
Here are the Cliff’s Notes: Start with a few choice pieces of protein (steak! chicken! eggs! hot dogs!), oodles of fruits and vegetables, a few get-out-of-jail-free-cards (PB + J sandwiches), plenty of treats (ice cream!) and a handful of make-ahead, easy wins (think: gaspacho and Spanish tortilla—two genius, budget-friendly ways to feed a crowd).
I’m giving you all the details for what we’ve made day by day for our crowd—below: ingredients that overlap nicely (for easy shopping), can often be prepped ahead, and frequently build in leftovers for later, or work for two meals.
Lean into this list in case you happen to be co-parenting or vacationing with people you love this summer—the kind of people with whom the conversation just continues from meal to meal, with the drinks being switched from wine to coffee without skipping a beat.
These times are precious—settle in and enjoy. (And P.S. please excuse typos—with nine people in one house, there’s little time for sleep, or editing).
A huge thank you to everyone who became a paying subscriber in the last three months. Together you have supported my work, and helped raised funds for Every Mother Counts, Everytown for Gun Safety, and Feeding America. Thank you!! If you’re new here, here’s how to join in for the full experience.
HOW TO FEED A CROWD FOR A WEEK //
DAY 1: (SATURDAY)*
DAY 2: (SUNDAY)
Breakfast—Kids: Fruit + Cold Cereal for early risers* (kids retire to cartoons) // Adults: fried farm eggs and toast (long, lazy catch-up time)
Lunch —Little boys + Mom # 1: PB + Js at home* // Big girls + Mom # 2: Falafel salads and ice cream sundaes in town (Girl’s date!)
Dinner—Kids: Pizza (after a movie date) // Adults*: Leftover Paella, reheated in a cast-iron skillet with peppers, onions; halved vine-ripe tomatoes on the side
DAY 3: (MONDAY + a very special boy’s birthday)
Breakfast—Bagels + Cream Cheese (after swim team practice) *
lunch—Picnic! Veggies, (Spanish) tuna in olive oil, crackers, cheese, etc. (eaten on a blanket, after swimming and tubing at the Potomac) *
Snack—ice cream date in town
Dinner—Grilled Ribeyes, grilled asparagus, spinach salad with garlic dressing and Parmesan, tortilla chips, homemade guacamole, pico de gallo
Birthday Dessert—chocolate cupcakes with chocolate ganache frosting and chopped chocolate-covered hazelnuts
DAY 4: (TUESDAY)
Breakfast—Hot Cocoa, Watermelon, Blueberries + Toast with Jam *
lunch—Leftover steak (cold), hummus, pita, carrots, veggies, strawberries, grapes, watermelon*
Dinner—Kids: Cheesy scrambled eggs and toast // Adults: Sushi date out *
DAY 5: (WEDNESDAY)
Breakfast—Green Juice, bagels, bacon (save renderings—see below!) + watermelon
Snack—leftover (unbaked) cookie dough balls + milk
Dinner—Blue-cheese burgers + hot dogs (grilled at the pool, during swim meet), corn, chips and shaved ice (from ice cream truck).
DAY 6: (THURSDAY)
Breakfast—Johnny Cakes (Pancakes!) with Fresh Berries (or, jam in a pinch)
Lunch — Turkey sandwiches (On the run—errands and pool day!)
Dinner —Mom + Dad # 1 date night out // Mom # 2 + kiddos, Bacon, Garlic and Burst Cherry Tomato Pasta (try this recipe, start with leftover bacon fat instead of oil, and use cherry or grape tomatoes), Creamed Corn + Ice Cream Pops
Day 7: (FRIDAY—LAST DAY!)
Breakfast—DIY leftovers breakfasts (cinnamon toast, peaches, the last of the eggs)
Lunch — DIY Pizzas + leftovers (Tortilla! BGT Pasta) + cherries
Dinner — Moms + Girl’s Summer-in-Rome-inspired birthday dinner, caprese salad, prosciutto and melon, rosemary focaccia (start with prepared pizza dough), sliced peaches, cheeses, olives, almonds // Dad #1 + little boys, taco party (swim team)
SNACKS, DRINKS + EXTRAS:
We rounded all of this out with lots of iced tea, oodles of sparking water, wine and beer when the craving hit, plus milk, ice cream and other nibbles for the kids when needed. But mostly, there was one meal served one time for all, one (easy) clean up and one heap of satisfied kids after every meal.
I should mention our friends are Spanish (and American), so there’s always a Spanish undertone to their side of the cooking, and a slightly Hungarian-Californian-Middle-American undertone to what I bring to the table. I love this, and it’s uniquely “us”, but you can switch out the particulars here to suit your people, and your story. Please, do.
Note: * the little asterisk indicates a meal that was not so much cooked, but rather prepared, gathered or ordered out. It’s always a win to weave these freebees into a long week to keep everyone sane. They may not be financially free, but free to the mental/physical load of feeding a crowd and therefore—worth it!
SHOPPING + LOGISTICS:
Kirsten + Dario, our hosts, did a giant shop before the week started, packing the fridge with all kinds of fresh fruit and veggies (carrots, celery, grapes, strawberries, watermelon), a bag each of lemons and limes, four half-gallons organic milk, two dozen eggs, coffee, pantry supplies, a huge tub of hummus, and other family favorites.
We arrived with coolers full of fresh farm eggs, organic bacon, vegan and classic hot dogs, cheeses and crackers, tea and other misc. contributions, plus cash for treating out. Late in the week, I did a replenish of all the same fruits and veggies they started with (bananas, grapes, watermelon, apples, tomatoes, peaches etc.), plus organic milk and more eggs, for the tail end of the week, so as we leave their house their fridge is full again. It’s a simple way to say thanks, and help foot the bill without being fussy about it. (Alternately, you could choose one shopper, add up grocery costs for the week and split the bill; Venmo has made this so easy!).
It’s worth noting—this wouldn’t have worked if either of us had gone into this week looking for a perfectly even split on either the cost or the effort it takes to pull all of this off. We’ve been around the block to know it all comes out in the wash.
MEALTIME RULES, RITUALS + MANNERS:
It helps that our two families share similar eating philosophies—we feed our families mostly organic, or farm-to-table-ish, but let it slide when timing, logistics or budget need some wiggle room (like a week in a packed house). We respect each other’s budgets, family quirks and traditions (my son, for example, doesn’t get psyched for Spanish tortilla—but I require him to try a few bites; likewise, their son doesn’t care for my burst-tomato, BLT-inspired pasta—so we can always put aside a little plain pasta with butter and cheese, for him). And, though we expect our kids to respect the effort it takes to make the meal, and eat what’s on their plates—we aren’t fanatical about with-holding sweets, if everyone’s eaten well. There were plenty of novelty treats this week.
Similarly, we both expect our kids to chip in, help, say thank you and clean their plates, but that’s about as far as we try to take manners at a time like this. After they ask to be excused (sometimes overlooked), they’re free to disappear to play while we Sobremesa (or luxuriate at the table, over adult conversation—after the meal), and clean up.
Someday, when they’re all a bit older, we’ll let them take the lead on a few meals, and clean-up. Get ready little people—your times is coming.
Photos for this post by Brenda Jolicoeur, Chris Testani, and Gentl + Hyers. Styling by Sarah Copeland.