Cooking for a Crowd on a Tight Budget

A couple of days ago, I received a private Facebook message from a Hillbilly Housewife reader. She asked me for some suggestions on what she could cook for her church youth group on a tight budget. I gave her a few ideas, but knew that the HBHW community would come up with some things I hadn’t even thought of… sure enough, they didn’t disappoint.

Reader question about cooking for 12 people on a budget

We’ll get into specific suggestions on what to cook in just a bit. First though I wanted to share a great suggestion from one of the comments. The basic idea is to ask for help. You don’t have to cook for a crowd on your own. No matter if you’re organizing a church supper, or if you’re having a big gathering for a family reunion, birthday or the likes. It is perfectly fine to ask people for help.

Make It A Potluck

You can approach this idea in two different ways. You can take care of the main dish or entree and ask everyone to bring complimenting dishes (assign them if you’d like by asking a few people to bring sides that will go well with your main entree, a salad, a dessert etc.). The second option is to ask everyone what they would be willing to make and bring and just make what you feel is missing.

There are a couple of reasons why I love the potluck ideas. Obviously it is the most frugal option, but also saves you a lot of time in the kitchen. I also like the fact that you end up with a greater variety of food, making it more likely that everyone finds something they like.

But it goes further than that. By allowing people to contribute and bring their favorite dishes, you make them part of the celebration. If you’re feeling a bit embarrassed about “having to ask for help” (which it really isn’t), think back to some times when you’ve been asked if you could bring your famous macaroni salad or apple pie. Did you mind? Did you think the person asking was being cheap or lazy? Nope… You probably felt proud and honored to be asked to contribute to the meal.

Great Frugal Dishes To Cook For A Crowd Great tips for cooking for a crowd on a budget.

Start with some filling but inexpensive appetizers. A platter of deviled eggs is always a crowd pleaser, as are chips and dips. Buy a bag or two of store brand potato chips and make a batch of homemade ranch dip.

Homemade Ranch Mix 

From the Homemade Mixes Kindle Cookbook.

  • 1/4 cup dried parsley leaf
  • 1 tbsp. dried dill leaf
  • 1/2 tsp. dried basil leaf
  • 1 tbsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl until well combined. Store in an airtight container.

For homemade ranch dip, stir 1 tbsp (or to taste) into a 16 oz container of sour cream. Keep in the fridge for at least one hour or until you’re ready to serve it.

Main Dish Ideas

My biggest piece of advice here is to use meat as a flavoring instead of main ingredient. Instead focus on some starchy main ingredients like pasta, rice or even tortillas and beans.

Side Dishes

With all-in one meal ideas like above, you won’t need much when it comes to sides. I suggest sticking with some garlic bread and a side salad if you feel the need to add some side dishes.


When it comes to drinks, keep things simple. Buying a bunch of soda or even juice can add up quickly. Instead I suggest you stick to one of the options below. They have the added benefit of not being nearly as bad for you as soda is.

  • Water
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Koolaid


It’s easy to go overboard when it comes to dessert. Most of the time, people just want a little something after a big main meal. Pick something from the list below and make it from scratch or use your own favorite dessert recipe. Of course the simplest option is to ask someone else to take care of dessert.

  • Cake
  • Cupcakes
  • Brownies
  • Cookies
  • Pie

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Crockpot Cooking Is About More Than Convenience – It’s About Saving Both Time And Money

I bought a crockpot some time ago, thinking that I found the solution to my nightly dinner dilemma.  Like so many other “crockpot fanatics,” the bloom was off the rose as soon as I found myself with a bit more time and money to spend.  So, my crockpot found it’s way into the deep, dark recesses of my pantry, never to be heard from again.  Or so I thought.  My budget is tighter than ever and time is at a premium, as well.  Dinnertime is again centered on a warm and wonderful crockpot meal, much to the delight of my family.

If you have forgotten exactly when you bought your crockpot, or it has a pattern or color that’s reminiscent of the 70’s, 80’s, or 90’s, it’s best to buy a new one.  You’ll be doing yourself a favor spending the $30 to $50, what with all the new energy efficient models available.  There are also some really great new features like additional temperature settings, warming cycles, and secure leak-proof lids.  Although, the best feature of all is that a crockpot saves you both time and money.  That’s great to know, but how exactly does that happen?


Small Appliance Wattage vs Big Wattage Appliance

If you’ve got a pot roast in the oven, you’ve got your oven heating for a long time.  Let’s just figure your pot roast is going to cook for 3 hours.  That’s 3 hours in a roughly 2500 watt appliance, which calculates at about 10 kWh for your pot roast.  Now, put that same pot roast in your crockpot, cook it for 6 hours, and you’ve used 1.2 kWh to cook the same meal.  That’s because your crockpot uses about 200 watts instead of 2500.  Why heat up a big oven, or have a burner on radiating heat for long hours when you’ve got a little personal-sized oven all ready – your crockpot.  Look at the online energy consumption calculators and check out your own appliances to see if this doesn’t make sense.

Bring Home Those Budget Cuts Again

It’s time to try some of those budget cuts of meat again!  This time, when you cook them in your crockpot instead of the oven, the meat will fall right off the bone and you can cut it with a fork.  The sinew and tissue breaks down nicely when cooked with a low, slow method of the crockpot.  Cooking the meat with some liquid added also adds to the tender results.  An expensive, tender cut of meat won’t do in the least in your crockpot; they just don’t come out as well as your budget meats.  So, if you’ve been avoiding the less expensive cuts of meat, now’s the time to try again.  No more disasters, because they’re not going in the oven!

Stay Out Of That Drive Thru

Are you spending money on fast food?  How many times have you rushed through the convenience store, spending money you didn’t have on bad food?  Here’s where your crockpot can save you money with a little planning.  Get your meal planned, shop, and prepare everything ahead of time.  Now, when everybody gets home after school and work, and all that evening chaos begins, at least you know you have dinner bubbling away in the crockpot.  No more quick, and expensive, stops for fast food.

Don’t Add Heat To An Already Stressed Air Conditioner

If your air conditioner is running, you really don’t want to start that oven, or even have a burner going on your stove top for any length of time.  I know you’re thinking, well, it’s hot out so why not just eat salads and sandwiches?  But, if you live in a part of the country where the summer heat lasts sometimes for seven or eight months out of the year, you and your family can really get hungry for a nice pot roast or hearty soup.  And when it’s hot and steamy outside, and the air conditioner is just barely keeping you comfortable, you don’t want to stress it, or yourselves, out by adding more heat to your kitchen.  Your little crockpot just won’t crank out that much additional heat.


Give Up The Watched Pot

If you are watching your pots boil, you are wasting time.  Even stirring soups and sauces take time, especially if you’re making something that could stick to the bottom of the pot if left unattended.  When you make a meal in one pot it truly does save time, but not if you have to watch it!  Sure, you can put a pot roast in the oven and you won’t have to stand over it while it cooks, but now you’re not saving money.  Don’t we want to save both money and time?

Get The Family Helping In The Kitchen

The whole family can help put a crockpot meal together, which frees up some of my time.  I don’t worry about my kids getting burned on a hot stove, so they can wash vegetables and throw them right in the crockpot for me.  You don’t start a crockpot cooking until everything is inside, so it’s safe for the kids to be in the kitchen helping.  And because there are so many recipes for simple crockpot meals, recipes which require only a few main ingredients, anyone, even my non-cooking husband, can grab a recipe and throw together a meal to help out.

Eliminate Running To The Store

Nightly stops at the store to quick grab something to cook for dinner is a serious waste of time.  Now I take one trip to the grocery store, and buy everything I need for at least three crockpot meals.  I can plan several all-in-one-step meals, buy and even prep a lot of the ingredients ahead of time, and pop a meal in the crockpot in the morning.  Now, we can go straight home from the soccer game… home to a hot meal!


Cook Once Eat Twice

I’m a big believer in cooking larger portions so that we’re cooking once and eating twice.  My crockpot is a 6 quart size oval, which is big enough to have leftovers for lunches, so we don’t have to spend money buying lunches at work or school.  We also will cook double and put half in the freezer.  This way, I’m cooking only two or three times a week, and we’re eating from the freezer the other days.  For us, that’s a real time and money saver.

Now that you’ve seen the time and money saving reasons to use your crockpot, I challenge you to give your crockpot a second chance.  Get your crockpot out again, or treat yourself to one of the new models, and browse through some recipes.  It’s time you started cooking, and saving time and money all at the same time!

Ready to get your crockpot fired up?  Find almost 500 recipes plus tips to make your crockpot meals come out perfect every time in this valuable resource Crockpot Cooking Made Simple.

If you don’t have a crockpot yet, this guide will give you all the information you need to help you choose the crockpot that’s right for you.

Click on Crockpot Cooking Made Simple and start saving time and money today!