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Serving Real Food at a Wedding Reception – Is It Possible?

wedding food

You’ve heard me talk about my Real Food Party Planning Guide and how it is a helpful tool for those of you who are event planning. Whatever the occasion might be and for get-togethers big or small, the plan-ahead menu ideas, list of details not to forget, suggestions on what can be done ahead of time, what to do when, etc., can de-stress the whole process for you.

But what if you’re planning a REALLY big shindig? I’m sure many of you have done just that, and today we need your advice.

A longtime reader friend, Nancy, emailed the other day asking for help. As much great advice as all of you have given me through the years with whatever dilemma I’m struggling with, I’m more than happy to return the favor when I have the chance!

wedding food2 Read Nancy’s email:

Dear Kelly,
My daughter is getting married July 30, 2011, and I will be catering the wedding reception. There will be around 120 guests and it will be buffet style. I was wondering if you would be able to post this on your blog and ask you and your wonderful readers if they had any good ideas on what I could serve that would be nutritious, reasonably priced and delicious!! Most of the guests will be used to eating the standard American diet, so unfortunately I will need to be catering to their taste buds, which is very different from my family’s!
I would love to have recipes and ideas for drinks, desserts, and side dishes that are price effective to make for a large crowd!
I’m sure there will be leftovers, so I want to keep the food as nutritious as possible, especially since my family will have to be the cleanup crew!!
Thanks again for all that you do in the wonderful world of eating nourishing!! It is so encouraging to have access to you via the internet!!! You have always been such a great help and resource to go to!!
Thank you so much!!!

Congratulations, Nancy, on the upcoming family wedding! (See the cute couple on the right!)

My only suggestion is to use the Real Food Party Planning Guide and just multiply and adapt those ideas for a larger crowd, but I’m sure all of you have even more great advice for Nancy, so here’s your chance.

  • When you’ve made food for wedding receptions or other huge crowds, what Real Food did you serve?
  • Were you able to use mostly Real Food, or did you have to compromise in some areas for cost sake? (I’m assuming that would be the case, I know I have to do that sometimes when cooking for larger groups.)
  • Don’t forget to add your suggestions for main dish recipes, side dishes, desserts, and beverages, too – Nancy said she’d specifically like some ideas for a punch that isn’t sugar filled or one that you have to add sprite to! (The links go to my list of those type of recipes that may be able to be adapted to large crowds.)

Thank you, readers, for coming through for others the way you always do! :)

photo and another


  1. Gravadlax to the rescue!
    Easy peasy to make 3 days ahead so out of the way leaving time for other more time intensive dishes.
    It’s a cold, delicious, nourishing and elegant dish and just needs slicing and laying out – good job for the guys!
    Lots of recipes on the net – I substitute raw honey for sugar – and as well as the dill, salt I crush fennel seeds with the white or green peppercorns.
    A lovely thing to have in the house – wedding or not – and on the Weston Price good fermentation foods list too.
    All the very best for the Big Day.

  2. If it were me, I’d just call a caterer, and if price is an issue, find someone reasonable (maybe ethnic food restaurants, etc). Unless she is used to serving large crowds (100 plus people), and has done it before, I would not make my first attempt at my daughter’s wedding. Too much could go wrong.

    Does she own those silver things pictured, that keep the food hot? Is she planning on renting them? Otherwise, the food will likely get cold. Timing is an issue with catering. I’d hope she would have some helpers.

    There are a lot of considerations when food is sitting out, like at a wedding. Things have to be “just so”, or you could sicken a large group of people there, which would be a catastrophe. Someone not knowledgable about food safety should probably not attempt catering. Sometimes things that you think are safe, like potato salad, which sounds innocent enough, can really cause a huge foodborne illness issue if not handled properly.

    When you cook in big batches, then put it in the fridge, you need to be careful to break things up (not keep hot items in large quantities, which will cause them to sit in the temperature danger zone too long while cooling, etc). Then when serving, if there are unexpected delays, or someone helping you is not careful with something, food could sit in said temp danger zone too long and then become unsafe to eat.

    So be careful when allowing food to go from hot to cold, and make sure you don’t leave foods out for more than 3 hours. That list is warnings isn’t exhaustive, but it’s at least something to start with.

    If you try to make this “real food” by WAPF standards and cook it yourself, it will likely be more expensive than having someone else local, who doesn’t do real food, cater it. I don’t know that for a fact, but that would be my guess. Given those options, I’d just have it catered, since it’s your daughter’s wedding and you don’t want to be running around without time to enjoy the event. Either way, best of luck!

  3. ps–also wanted to add, that a home kitchen would probably not be big enough to handle the amount of food 120 people can eat, if it’s a full meal, and have it come out fast enough so that every guest would eat within the same….hour or two.

    I am actually not sure how caterers pull it off, getting 120 main dishes and sides all at the right temp at once. Maybe when she looks into the chafing dishes, that will become self-explanatory. I’m not sure if those interior pans that go in the serving chafing dishes come straight from the oven, or what. You might need to consider how much oven space you have, and make sure this is all possible. I’m not sure if you can go straight from fridge to chafing dish, with the flame underneath, etc. That is something to look into before planning the menu.

    My food suggestions would be some sort of lasagna (because it is filling), some kind of potato dish since everyone likes potatoes (with some sprigs of dill or parsley for garnish), and a large raw salad with bags of prewashed salad greens and something for color like cherry tomatoes, kept uncut (at least two huge serving bowls of the salad that you refill often. Since it is the only veggie, everyone will attack it), with a few dressings on the side in gravy boats, and croutons on the side in a smaller bowl with a spoon. That might be do-able.

    If you wanted to be ambitious, you could add a trio of steamed veggies—carrots/cauliflower/broccoli, tossed in garlic-y butter, salt and pepper–as another side.

    With chicken as a main dish, you run the risk of it getting dry or rubbery if it sits hot, or cold if no heat is applied while it sits. So that is why I would suggest lasagna. Oh, and if you do lasagna, I’d do some rolls from a bakery on the side too. You can have butter available, just keep it cold somehow in July.

  4. Our daughter got married in February, and I am sort of seconding Bobcat’s suggestions. I say “sort of” though. Go ahead and see if you can do it yourself, but if you feel you can’t–get a caterer. You can get some very simple main dishes and sides that are delicious and healthy. Our daughter wanted a simple wedding, so did we, but simple is also seen in not getting too wrapped up the whole affair and enjoying the days leading up to the wedding and the wedding itself. Even with simple you just can’t comprehend how much there is to do. If you do decide to cater it yourself I please let us know how it turned out and what you did, because I have another daughter getting married sometime in the near future and maybe, just maybe I would attempt….

  5. I am a big fan of roasting a whole pastured pig and serving it with flavorful sides such as: slow cooked collard greens, honey and sage cornbread (you can sour the cornbread batter to make it more nutritious, and use locally grown- freshly ground cornmeal), braised or grilled veggies with yogurt dips, mesclun salad, and individual chocolate mousse cups for dessert using fresh raw cream sweetened with maple syrup or honey and garnished with spring mint or strawberries.
    Most farms who raise pastured pork, lamb or goats are usually happy to sell you a whole animal. All you need is a practiced individual willing to roast it for you. It’s economical and very communal right off the bat.
    Then all you need is a keg of good local beer, good wine and your all set.

    Have fun and congratulations!

  6. I’ve catered real food harvest suppers for my community. Attendance ranges from about 40 to 60 in the winter when space is limited and averages about 200 in the summer when space is more or less unlimited. I work with a budget of about $5 to $15 per person, depending on the event. Some dinners have included 13+ dishes. Most of these people are not “real foodies,” yet I’ve been able to successfully serve them bone broths, fermented foods, liver etc. that the people have LOVED.

    Tips: 1) Get help from volunteer cooks. 2) Make dishes that don’t require last minute details. 3) write out a game plan, 4) post that plan in the kitchen where everyone can see.

    Menus we’ve served:
    – Liver Pate with Sage (
    – Sourdough Bread
    – Apple & Beet Relish (
    – Wilted Greens
    – Roast Beef Tenderloin
    – Roasted Root Vegetables (Potatoes, Turnips, Rutabagas) with herbs and Shallots
    – Apple and Sour Cherry Compote with Honeyed Yogurt

    – Tomato & Onion Salad
    – BBQ Beef Brisket
    – Sourdough Rolls
    – Probiotic Homemade BBQ Sauce
    – Cole Slaw with Homemade Mayonnaise
    – Fresh Watermelon & Heirloom Melons

    – Roast Chicken Breasts with Tarragon Cream
    – Salad of Spring Greens and Peas with Mint & lemon
    – Soaked Quinoa Pilaf with Herbs
    – Roasted Asparagus
    -Homemade mint Ice cream with raw milk, cream, eggs and honey

  7. We had about that many people at my wedding. Outside. In July. In Texas. Hot didn’t even do just how hot is was justice. But we didn’t have to worry about hot dishes getting cold. LOL It was pretty easy to cater, though. We did simple and cheap to feed a lot of people. My parents did it. My Dad cook a few huge briskets son the grill. He also did a few hamburgers for the kids. We had BBQ sauce, potato salad, macaroni salad, salad, cornbread, rolls, watermelon, cantaloupe, cheeses, green beans, pinto beans….that’s all I remember. I didn’t eat much. :) That was before my food conversion, so none of it was pastured or organic, but most of it was homemade and not as bad as the store stuff. With feeding that many people I wouldn’t worry about buying pastured meat. It would make the cost go way up. Just do the best you can and enjoy the day.
    Good luck and congrats to the proud mother of the bride!

  8. Okay, my sixth child (of ten) is making his First Holy Communion and we have many families coming who have eight, nine, ten kids. So it will be about 125 people. I usually serve burritos. I slow roast a 20# whole pork shoulder with real salt, pepper, ground cumin, four sliced sweet Mexican onions and two to three pounds of roasted green chiles. I do refried beans, Spanish style brown rice, homemade sour cream, homemade salsa, shredded cheese and lacto-fermented guacamole. Everybody tells me that they look forward to our parties. It is less than formal though, although my family is Mexican so we cook like this for weddings, Quinceneras, confirmations, everything! Well, for a wedding or Christmas and Easter we will also make tamales. And, thankfully, Bob’s Red Mill now makes a pesticide-free and non-GMO corn masa.

    BTW Kelly, I LOVE the vid with your son Kal! I just started a series on my blog with my son, Joey. He wants to eat “normal” foods. So, things that are healthy but so delicious he doesn’t care get his seal of approval. My youngest’s godfather is an artist and so he made a cool logo.

  9. Fresh lemonade:
    fresh squeezed lemons
    coconut sugar (dissolve in hot water)
    add cold water to concentration
    add ice
    = DONE! SO delicious.

    • Add carbonated water for a sparkling effect :) Also for a different fruit flavor, try 100% blueberry, cranberry or grape juices; look for organic fruit juice concentrate also.

  10. Just wanted to add that I was definitely not trying to be too negative or discouraging. My comments were meant to be helpful, like what I thought a friend might need to tell another friend, in “all honesty.” I think there are some really great suggestions here, that obviously worked out well for those groups. Anyone ambitious enough to pull something like this off is a superhero in my book.

    My main advice would be to only try to pull it off if you already have the confidence that you can do it. The fact that she is writing in and asking for suggestions makes me wonder if she is “ready” to serve a large crowd, if that makes sense. That is why, if someone came to me and asked what they should serve, I would tell them to call a caterer. Because if you don’t already have a menu in mind, based on something you know you can pull off, it is probably going to be too much to handle.

    Either way, just remember the most important thing that day is the bride and groom, and savoring the day as a family. Real food is not as important as the budget or keeping your sanity, on a day like a daughter’s wedding. It is just one day and it will go by quickly, so making sure the animals were raised on pasture or that there is no white flour is not going to matter when you look back on it decades from now. I realize some people have strong convictions about real food, but *people* should always come first. I would hate for her to look back on it and realize she was too frazzled, etc. Blessings!

  11. Grilled veggies and LOTS of them… and if you have a BIGGGGG budget – then SASHIMI! ha ha ah… Yeah, but since not many people get that luxury – simply grilled proteins on sticks for appetizers and nice carved meat for the main would suffice (for me at least).

  12. Cold Broccoli Salad made with greek yogurt, mayo and raw honey, red onions and bacon. Lovely and yummy. Muffins made with almond flower ahead of time…..

    I second the grilled vegis idea. And the roast pig sounds amazing.

  13. Antipasta- grilled veggies with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, and basil. Absolutely delicious and healthy.
    Eggplant parmesian.
    Mexican food, like tortillas (you can make them soaked, and then make a whole bunch in advance and freeze), refried beans, salsa, guacamole, cactus, cortido (mexican sauerkraut), etc. Black bean salsa. Mince meat cooked with homemade taco seasoning. (I did this at a party I catered and it was a huge hit and very frugal!)

  14. For the punch, have you considered sangria? I tend to use it to “class up” cheap red wines, but it would do great in a punch bowl, and can really stretch your alcohol budget. Look up variations if you’d like (white sangria might be particularly nice for a wedding), but my general recipe goes like this:
    Juice of 1 lemon
    Juice of 3 oranges
    1 bottle red wine
    1 tablespoon honey, sugar or sweetner of choice (optional)
    1 apple chopped into small chunks
    1 orange sliced thinly and then into quarters
    Other seasonal fruit (strawberries, sliced plums or apricots)
    Take all the above ingredients and combine a day or two ahead of time to sit in the fridge. Serve diluted 50-50 with sparkling water or seltzer.

    I’ve never bothered with the recipes that require extra hard alcohol like brandy or more than a minimal amount of sugar.

    • What a great idea, and I LOVE Sangria! This would be especially fun if using the above suggestions for Mexi food at the reception.

  15. We have a great feast at my daughters wedding with chick-fil-a nugget trays (on silver platters) and sushi, BBQ and chicken salad ( the bride made it as it is her spcialty). Lots of people commented on how fun it was and how great the food was. Bonus: it was inexpensive and easy clean up.

  16. When my husband and I got married, we paid for the whole thing so our budget was limited. Since breakfast is our favorite meal of the day, we got married at 9am and had breakfast after. We did get it catered but found that the price per person was much cheaper because breakfast fare is not as expensive. We had french toast, eggs, an omlet station, fruit, bacon etc… plus bagels and muffins and juice and coffee. The only thing I wish I had done differently was to give a box of Krispy Kreme donuts as the guests parting favor!

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