How to Stretch a Meal When Extra Company Comes

How To Stretch a Meal When Extra Company Comes 2

Matt only knew my paternal grandmother for a few years before she died. One of his favorite memories of her is the response she gave after being told that extra people were coming to join us for a meal. “Great! I’ll just add more water to the soup,” she said with a chuckle. Seeing as we weren’t having soup that day, he then watched in amazement as she “added water” to stretch the meal she had prepared.

Grandma seemed to make more food appear out of no where, and in record time, too. The table was soon filled with all varieties of goodness. The little bowls of this and the small dishes of that didn’t look like they would feed the number of people we were anticipating. But sure enough, just like the loaves and the fish, Grandma had enough to fill us all with twelve (give or take) baskets left over.

What was Grandma’s secret? Well, she just always had a good supply of food on hand. And not just frozen meat that would take hours of time to thaw and prepare. I’m talking about home-canned fruits and vegetables, homemade bread and cookies – food that she could pull out and feed people in a moment’s notice.

This Sunday, I was blessed with the opportunity to “add water to my soup.”  We already had plans for another family of 6 to join us for lunch after church. Their 6 plus our 6 would equal 12. (Thank you, Laura, for stating the obvious.)  I was making a roast, carrots, potatoes, and gravy. My friend was bringing rolls. It would be a simple, nothing-fancy, but tasty meal.

Then, at the last minute, a friend of my brother’s family needed a meet-up place here in Nebraska.  The friend would come here, my brother’s family would drive up from Kansas and pick him up, and guess what? They’d make it in time for church. Bliss! I got to worship with my brother and his family of 6 and feed them all afterward!

So let’s see here. Six plus six is twelve, plus six more – that’s 18. Then there was my brother’s friend who was meeting us by lunchtime. Did I mention he was a 6’8″ college athlete? And last but not least, a friend of Elias’ needed a place to hang out after church while his family headed out of town. That made a total of 20 people. Super fun.

Thankfully, I had decided to make two roasts instead of just one – just in case. I had loaded the roasting pan with potatoes and carrots. I caught my friend (the one already planning to come over with her family) between class and worship, filled her in on the crazy, and asked her to pick up extra rolls – plus maybe a bucket of ice cream? She was happy to help stretch our meal.

Once I got home after church and started making gravy, I also started a big pot of green beans and another big pot of corn. Our simple meal remained simple, yet because there were so many different foods to choose from (roast, potatoes, carrots, gravy, rolls, green beans, corn, ice cream), it looked like a feast. We had plenty to go around and even a little bit left over. Phew!

How to Stretch a Meal for Extra Company

All of that to say, when it comes to hospitality and being able to say, “The more the merrier!” always try to have a few key foods on hand to help stretch your meal. Here are a few items I’ve thought of that you might have on hand to pull out and serve quickly, or that you can grab at the store if you have time/accessibility:

  • Frozen food that cooks quickly like green beans, peas, or corn
  • Applesauce
  • Canned peaches, pears, or mandarin oranges
  • A jar of pickles
  • A can of olives
  • Quick breads or muffins you might have in your freezer
  • Fresh fruit like strawberries, sliced apples, oranges, or grapes
  • A fruit salad, mixing several different fruits you have on hand
  • Canned or fresh pineapple poured into a nest of cottage cheese
  • Raw veggies like carrots sticks, celery, sweet peppers, or cucumber slices
  • Crackers and sliced cheese
  • Tossed salad
  • Grape or cherry tomatoes
  • Chips and salsa
  • Dessert such as cookies or ice cream

If you’re opening a can or jar, I suggest pouring its contents into a nice serving bowl to make your “spread” look tasty and welcoming for your guests. Did you grab a bag of prepared salad on the fly? Pour it into a bowl and throw in some grape tomatoes to make it pretty.

Don’t hesitate to ask your guests to pick something up at the store on their way to your house (especially if they offer or ask what they can bring). Most of the foods on the list above take little to no prep time, but will stretch your meal and offer your guests a delicious variety.

What would you add to this list? What have you found works well to stretch a meal to feed extra people?


  1. Melissa says

    Great ideas!

    With the chips and salsa you could also add a bowl of warm refried beans for dipping. Just add some water and heat. (The water helps to make it smooth like in the restaurants.) You could quickly make cheddar cheese cubes and insert toothpicks. Rice boiled in chicken broth….cooked egg noodles or spaghetti with a jar of sauce warmed and pour over the top and sprinkled with parmesan or romano cheese…..garlic bread made from a store-bought loaf of French bread. All these are quick, tasty and inexpensive ideas to help stretch almost any meal.


  2. Allison says

    I have noticed that for some reason 20 people and 30 people take about the same amount of food. We always feed lots of Thanksgiving and always over plan. I think people take fewer seconds when there are lots of people or something at least here in Albania. It is always fun. It will be fun to have a meal with you guys when we move back to the States. :)


    Laura Reply:

    Yes, we very much look forward to that!!! :)


  3. Karen says

    Cheese and crackers. A lot of guests to our home have little ones and we are mostly past those years. We are all at different stages in our healthy eating journey, but this seems to have universal appeal to kiddos. It helps the children and parents have a more peaceful meal when they are seeing something on the table that is familiar.


  4. Lana says

    My Mother taught us that we would always have enough food if someone extra showed up at mealtime and I have lived by that. Just pull up some more chairs and get out some more plates and everyone will have enough even without making more food. I have heard elderly relatives tell wonderful stories of times when they barely had enough to feed their own and another family showed up and they had plenty.


  5. says

    Great post! I think the most important thing you said was about having food on hand already. Lots of people have pantries that are BARE! That’s not conducive to feeding more (and more) people. But with a well-stocked pantry, you can always find things to add to the meal.

    You have a great list in this article. I usually add things like fruit salad (I try to keep cans of fruit in my pantry) or bread or a big salad. I also try to keep on hand ingredients to whip up dessert. One of my favorites is Peanut Butter Bars. It’s easy and quick and I almost always have all the ingredients on hand.


  6. Linda Hayes says

    God is speaking to us about increasing our hospitality. This was a great article to remind me to be ready to reach out without stress. A stocked food pantry and freezer sure will help this. The other thing I am really being prompted to do is make sure my house is company-ready. Not spotless, but inviting and neat. (I have to work on this as I am a crafter and can really fill the dining room table with materials.)

    Bear Creek and Cugino’s packaged soups are great. The Cugino’s Lemon Chicken Rice Soup takes 8 cups of water, some stirring and it is delicious. It is a little thick for my tastes so it could easily be thinned with water or low-sodium chicken broth. A great starter for a crowd for $3 a package. This soup is great for those recovering from an illness or operation.

    Having a good starter and fun ending seem to make any meal spectacular. I always have on hand toppings and a variety of sprinkles to make sundaes. The whipped cream in squirt cans seem to last for ever so I stash it in the back of the refrigerator to enhance my sugar-free jello treat. I usually keep a carton of frozen topping so I can whip up Watergate Salad quickly if I need to stretch a meal or take a dish somewhere. I mix one can of crushed pineapple with the juice with 1 box of pistachio pudding, add 8 ounces of topping and about 2 cups mini marshmallows. I like toasted pecans but don’t add them if there are children or those who might have allergies or difficulty chewing the nuts. This is easily doubled and doesn’t have to be chilled a long time for the flavors to mix. It is better though. Also if I am cooking for a crowd and refrigerator space is tight. I put everything that doesn’t have to be layered in plastic bags and transfer to the appropriate pan or dish. This works also with something that has to be heated.


  7. Jean Fast says

    I grew up with the secret code “F H B” which meant “family hold back” for unexpected company. I find that opening a new jar of jam to go with the bread stretches the meal. If the bread is not so fresh, toast it.


  8. Stephanie says

    I keep a big bag of frozen fruit on hand. It can be defrosted sitting next to the stove while the rest of the meal cooks and stretches a meal nicely


  9. Rebecca says

    I always have pantry ingredients on hand to make a big pan of cornbread or a huge pasta and veggie salad. Black beans and tortillas in the freezer get made into enchiladas and canned tomatoes, beans and spices make a super fast chilli. Chocolate pudding frozen between grahms for dessert. A big pot of rice plus a few odds and ends becomes fancy fried rice. Ten cups of random cereal plus pb and marshmellows make great bars.


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