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
- 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?