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Cooking for a Large Party or Wedding

Doing your own cooking for a large party or wedding is a good way to keep costs down but presents its own difficulties. Even if you love to cook and are good at it, there are some things to consider before considering cooking for a group or cooking for a wedding.

We all know that wedding caterers are expensive, often representing one of the biggest expenses of any wedding or large party. And yet, the food at most weddings is, well lets face it, crap. The same ol' dried out chicken breasts and baby vegetables. To get the good stuff, you've got to shell out the big bucks.

But with a bit of creativity and know how, you can "cater" your own wedding and save money doing it. You might be surprised, the food may even be better than you could have gotten from a professional catering company. However, let me warn you right now. Cooking for a large party is a lot of work. If you absolutely must have a gourmet, fancy, multi-course meal at your wedding, then you ain't gonna be able to do it yourself! That kind of food requires multiple chefs as well as multiple waitstaff to help execute it.

But if you are ok with a bit more low key meal at your wedding, then read on for a few wedding food ideas and tips for cooking for a group.

Food Choice

A huge component to making cooking for a wedding easier is in the planning stages. Planning the types of food you are going to serve is critical. While there are some foods that are easy to execute for a large group, others would be nearly impossible without a big staff helping you. And you do not want to be pulling your hair out the day of your wedding making sure food gets out.

cooking for large party

Cook Ahead: One of the most important things to consider when planning food choices for a wedding is to focus on foods that can be prepared ahead. Even if you have a bit of help from a friend, family member or worker the day of the wedding, you are not gonna want to be having to stress about the food the day of. Avoid foods that require a lot of last minute preparation or presentation. This is why fancy gourmet foods are a no no. They generally require multiple ingredients and parts that are carefully assembled and each take time to prepare. But keeping things simple doesn't mean they don't taste gourmet. You can have great food, just not "fancy" food. Reheating food the day of or just before the wedding reception is fine, but try to find foods/recipes that can be prepared ahead. Foods that are served chilled are an obviously good choice. Par-boiled vegetables, salads, cold soups and pastas... these can all be prepared ahead, even days ahead in some cases, and then simply served up the day of. To make them more interesting, prepare a fancy dressing or sauce ahead of time that can be poured over the simple boiled or roasted vegetables. You'd be amazed how easily a simple Bernaise sauce (or whatever sauce you like) poured over boiled baby vegetables turns boring wedding food into something a bit more unique, more gourmet.

Ingredients: Another important consideration when cooking for a large party is the ingredients you are going to use. Regardless of the type of recipe, there are some ingredients that are inherently expensive and will quickly consume your do-it-yourself budget. For meats, try to stick to fish, chicken, pork, even lamb. Any meat is expensive, but beef is the most so. Don't plan on serving steak at your wedding unless you've got the bucks to back it up. Plan your recipes and menu ahead to focus on foods that are less expensive in the first place. While lobster is a stretch for a dinner of two, it is that much more so for a party of 100!

Serving Style: Again, I come back to the point that if you want a fancy, multi-course meal served to your guests at their tables, then maybe cooking for a wedding is not for you. However, if you are ok with a buffet style wedding reception dinner, this style of serving will be so much easier and less expensive. And a buffet style dinner opens up other possibilities to make things easier on you. For example, make it a pot-luck wedding reception! You can have a few foodie friends or family members contribute a big family-style dish. If even a few people contribute, it takes a huge load of work off of you. Also, here are some great ideas for wedding finger foods which are easy to make ahead and serve!

Get a Bit Creative

As I mentioned above, even though you are trying to make things simple for your own sanity, you can always do simple but creative things to spice up the dishes and make them more fancy. I used the example of serving cool, par-boiled vegetables with a fancy sauce drizzled over them. The sauce AND the boiling can be done far ahead. There is something about a good sauce drizzled over food that makes it all the more enticing and special. Do the same with simply roasted chicken breasts, shrimp, fish, just about anything. For each easy-to-prepare dish you plan, take a while to think of something you could add to it to make it just a bit more special. Unfortunately, many caterers don't even do this. They serve you a dry salmon steak alongside boiled vegetables with hardly any seasoning (or flavor). Make a fancy sauce available and you've turned bland in to fun and delicious.

cooking for a large party

Serving and Presentation

Again, if you are not opposed to it, make your wedding buffet style. This makes things a ton easier. But wether you serve on individual plates or buffet, take a few moments to consider presentation. No you aren't going to be able to make every plate or platter a masterpiece if you do it yourself, but a few simple things can make it look much more professional. Serve things on a bed of lettuce leaves. Garnish plates with sprigs of herbs. Just a little of natural beauty like this goes a long way to make things look attractive and professional.

Practice Ahead

If you are considering cooking for a large party or wedding, you might want to take a test run well ahead of time. First of all, test out the recipes you are using to make sure they are even what you want. Second, make at least one big batch of something to see how hard it really is to do. Don't worry, you don't have to waste food. Make a big batch of the pasta you are planning to make and then refrigerate some, freeze the rest. Then test over the next few days how it tastes when reheated (for the warm dishes), or served cold. Check in on the frozen batches and see if they held up ok as well. You may find that some things work beautiful and others just don't seem right unless they are fresh. It is good to know these things ahead of time rather than find them out the day before the wedding.


One final note, don't forget that if you are cooking for a group, you will need group sized cooking and serving pieces. This doesn't mean you have to spend thousands of dollars on restaurant grade pots and pans. Some can be rented, but even more importantly, try to plan things that can be made in aluminum roasting pans and the like.

If you decide to cook for your wedding, good luck and let us know how it goes! If you think cooking for a large group is biting off more than you can chew, then check out our Cheap Wedding Food Ideas page for some other ideas on how to keep the cost of your wedding reception food down.

Return to the Do It Yourself Wedding Food section for more resources!

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