The trick to feeding masses is quite simple. Carbohydrates make people feel full quickly, while protein and fat make them feel full for longer. Thankfully, many carbohydrate foods are quite affordable and diverse, presenting a multitude of delicious options for feeding a crowd on the cheap.
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Beans and Legumes
Beans and other legumes are high in protein, carbohydrates and fiber, packing a nutritious punch that make them a powerhouse for feeding people cheaply. Opt for dried versions rather than canned to save even more money. Bean dishes are a staple in many cultures, presenting a multitude of options to keep it interesting. From tasty American classics such as chili, Southern-style red beans and rice and hoppin' john, to Mexican-style bean burritos, Italy's pasta fagiole, Greece's gigantes plaki and India's traditional dal, the possibilities are endless.
With the cost of dried pasta just a little over a dollar per pound, pasta dishes make a fantastic option for feeding the masses. Pasta is loaded with carbohydrates, which make people satisfied quickly, and choosing whole wheat pasta will keep people satisfied longer because the extra fiber digests more slowly. Spaghetti is delicious and easy, but don't get stuck in a rut. Dress different-shaped pasta with veggies, cheese and seasoning for a delicious and versatile pasta salad dish, or play around with different ways to dress spaghetti noodles such as pasta with pesto or spaghetti alla Carbonara.
Soup is amazing for two reasons. First, the liquid base is perfect for filling people up quickly and cheaply -- if it needs to be stretched out, just add more water. Second, it's quite forgiving and can be made out of almost anything. Save chicken bones from previous meals for a delicious chicken soup base, simply bulking up with veggies and an easy carbohydrate like rice or pasta. Use beans and other legumes for tasty options like split pea soup or minestrone.
Where's the Beef?
Meat is expensive, but if skipping meat is not an option, use it to infuse flavor rather than as the main course. It's easy to get away with using only a pound of ground meat and bulking up on beans in chili, for example, or adding just a little bit of sausage to minestrone for flavor.