Are you a menu planner or do you fly by the seat of your pants? What would you do if you had no idea how many would be showing up for supper?
Ever since my husband, Steve, and I started our feeding ministry in 2009, one of the most frequently asked questions is, “What kind of food do you cook? Do you use menu plans?” We started this endeavor with money out of our own pocket. Our thought was we have to cook supper anyway so why not cook a little extra for those in need. Therefore, our first menu plans consisted of the same type of meals we ate at home. I planned a meat, starch, and vegetable, or a casserole for 15-20 people by multiplying recipes.
Numbers climbed after the first Thanksgiving meal, when we began delivering meals to the homebound. This required changing my menu plans for a crowd of 100-150 every night. No more meatloaf. Time to rely on casseroles or soups, depending on existing food donations and sales. What volunteers were cooking also became a consideration when planning these menus for large crowds. Simple recipes that stretched our menus included: chili, soups, chicken and noodles, tacos, spaghetti, tamale pie, goulash, hot dogs or sandwiches. Estimating 10 servings per 10″x13: pans meant fixing 10-15 casseroles per night. However, it was impossible to mix large quantities based on multiplying the recipes and divide into pans equally so the eyeball method was born.
One day I was speaking to a friend of mine on the phone who is a mom of nine. I asked her what she was cooking for supper and she was clueless. That boggled my mind until a week or two later when I caught myself laughing. I realized we had no idea what we were cooking that night at our Community Dinner (feeding ministry). Choosing to allow call-in orders for carry outs to those not wanting to dine-in jumped our numbers up to over 300 per night. This was a multitude and creative cooking replaced menu planning.
A new method of cooking using oven roasters became necessary. Ingredients had to be switched when short on product. You know, elbow macaroni instead of rotini, or tomato soup for tomato sauce. Meat was thawed out or put on earlier in the day then someone from our church would decide what to cook by looking in the pantry. Volunteers joined in opening cans, stirring, and serving food, as well as clean-up.
Growing spurts, change in income or donations, and change in continuous volunteers can make a person want to quit. Instead, focusing on finding a solution rather than being defeated pushes you through. It can make a difference to someone…or to many.
What keeps you from persevering?