Going out to eat with your small group can be fun, but there is just something special about sharing a homemade meal together. At the same time, feeding a group of teenagers is rarely cheap and you’re probably not looking to burn 5 or 6 hours of your week in prep time. That’s why I’ve mastered a few ultra-cheap and easy recipes so that when I have a few teenagers over it isn’t a (huge) strain on the budget or the schedule.
Frozen Ravioli + 2 sauces
3 large pots
Bags of frozen ravioli (look at the serving size on the bag and assume two servings per student).
2 kinds of bottled pasta sauce
Optional: Frozen meatballs (if you’re feeling generous)
Optional: Bagged salad (no one is going to eat this but it might make you feel better about yourself).
Depending on the size of your group, grab a few bags of frozen ravioli. I know, I know. Spaghetti noodles are cheaper and you can totally use them here but ravioli just feels more fancy. Now, you COULD make two sauces from scratch, but you can also drop by a dollar store and buy a red and a white sauce bottled for next to nothing. About 10 minutes before students arrive, boil water in a large pot. In two smaller pots, put each of the bottled sauces and start heating them up. Drop the raviolis in the boiling water in as the first students arrive. When feeding time starts, let students grab some pasta and ladle out the sauce of their choice.
Dessert: Make your own cookie. Buy a roll of sugar cookie dough and a few toppings like sprinkles, icing, and chocolate chips. Let each student decorate their own cookie and bake them.
Packages of ramen noodles (buy 1.5 packs per student)
Ground sausage (mild)
A dozen eggs
Soy sauce, sriracha, and other condiments you like
Before your students arrive, brown ground sausage and boil enough eggs to have one per student. 5 minutes before your students arrive, boil water in 2 or 3 pots on your stove. When students arrive, have them rip open their ramen packet and top in a pot. If they’re all the same flavor, have them drop in their seasoning packets as well. If not, you may want a “chicken flavor” pot and a “beef flavor” pot. When it’s time to eat, invite students to top their noodles with sausage, boiled eggs, and whatever sauces you provide for them. As always, ask in advance about any food allergies that may prevent a student from enjoying these ingredients.
Dessert: Top My Trifle.Buy a couple of angel food cakes, a few flavors of boxed pudding, chocolate chips, fruit, and any other toppings that might be lurking in your cabinet. Ahead of time, make each pudding according to directions and put in plastic containers. Have students build their own personal trifle by layering torn pieces of angel food cake, their favorite pudding flavor, and toppings.
Crockpot BBQ Sandwiches
• Half-pork loin (one will feed 4-6 students)
• 1 bottle of BBQ sauce
• Bags buns and bag of chips
Go buy a half-pork loin like this one. Toss it in the crockpot the night before your event with an entire bottle of BBQ sauce. You could also throw in a can of pineapples. When it’s time to eat, let each student make their own BBQ sandwich and enjoy it with a bag of chips (you can have parents donate these).
Dessert: Ice cream treasure hunt.The day before students arrive, buy a couple of containers of vanilla ice cream and melt them in the microwave until soft. Scoop all the ice cream into a big bowl and mix in 3 or 4 different kinds of candy. (Avoid peanuts and make sure you know your students’ food allergies). You could include candy bars, M&Ms, and other chocolates, OR Skittles, Nerds, and other fruity candies. Just don’t mix Skittles AND Snickers, k? Spoon the ice cream with mix-ins back into the cartons and pop in to the freezer.
Spray-can whipped topping (why not?)
Mix the pancakes according to directions. As students arrive, start making pancakes using a frying pan or griddle. Oh, and warm up the syrup in the microwave—we’re not animals.
Dessert: Reverse Dessert. Pancakes are already pretty sweet. So, no need for more sugar. Instead, buy their favorite chips or salty snacks (I recommend Takis) and surprise them with a salty dessert.
Secret Ingredient: Canned chili
Optional: sour cream and shredded cheese
Okay, I know dried beans sound scary but they are SO cheap. The night before, rinse 2 cups of dried beans and put them in your crock pot with enough water to cover them by two inches. Cook on low all night. When beans are soft, brown your ground beef and add to the crock pot along with 2 or 3 cans of pre-made chili. Serve with bread (literally any kind. A loaf of white bread works). And, if you’re feeling fancy, put out some sour cream and shredded cheese for toppings.
Dessert: Snack Cake Pyramid.Go to your local dollar store and buy a few boxes of different kinds of snack cakes and unwrap them. On a platter or cookie sheet, stack the snack cakes into a pyramid and serve after dinner.