Volunteer Day Part 1/3: Cooking for 30 Picky Eaters

This past Monday I had the amazing opportunity to volunteer at a local non-profit organization that supports teenage girls who are pregnant or at-risk, many of whom have no where else to go, have limited financial means, limited resources to health care, and are often escaping homelessness, abuse, or any number of difficult situations at home. My volunteer work consisted of preparing lunch for 30 people (donating the food myself as well) followed by a nutrition lesson for the girls. I had been looking forward to this day for a while and I had also been trying to mentally prepare myself for whatever challenges this day would hold, and now looking back I realize all my fears were unfounded, as it was a huge success and an absolute highlight of my time in Charlotte so far.

 Lunch Lady

Lunch Lady

The Food: Preparing food for large groups is no small feat, and something I had never done before, much less entirely on my own. I had no idea how to estimate food quantity or how much food to purchase but I always have the philosophy that its better to have too much food than not enough, so I went wild and bought all the food.

On the menu was something that I make all the time at home when I want to make something easy that will last all week and requires very little prep or clean-up. I modify this recipe from Fit Foodie Finds to make it vegan, and I usually just go wild and add in any/all veggies I have in my fridge. Its a veggie-quinoa-sausage bake and it is so good, so easy, and apparently a really great option for large groups.

My way of preparing: 1 part quinoa to 2 parts veggie broth, so usually about 2 cups quinoa, 4 veggie broth (depending on the size of the pan), layer a ton of whatever greens you have (Kale, Spinach, collards, chard, anything is good) and pile on more than you think you actually want (it wilts down), drizzle a little olive oil and salt and pepper (not too much because the broth already has lots of sodium, and you'll be adding more at the end). Then add in all the chopped veggies you have lying around the house (I used sweet potatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, red onions), sprinkle on any spices you want, then if you want to add in vegan sausage, chorizo, or any other vegan meats, go for it. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and cook in oven for around an hour (or until quinoa is cooked and veggies are to your liking) at 375 degrees (F). Done!

 [This is one of those meals that tastes way better than it looks, especially when served like this. Promise you, its delicious!]

[This is one of those meals that tastes way better than it looks, especially when served like this. Promise you, its delicious!]

So making this for 30 people was basically, that, but on steroids. I chopped veggies for at least 6-8 hours the day before and I was literally sore the next day. I also learned that when you bake something in those large catering-size pans, the food on the outside will cook faster than the food on the inside, so you might want to leave it in a little longer, or cook in smaller pans/batches. Also, I recommend adding in the sausage only in the last 10-15 minutes or so - it tends to get dry if its in the oven for a full hour (this goes for any size portion). Otherwise, my first attempt at large-scale cooking was a success and all the adults loved the food. I was not surprised, or offended, that the teenagers mostly were like, "um... wtf is this green shit" - I was amused and used it as a learning opportunity to segue into the nutrition lesson.

Stay tuned for my next post to learn about my experience teaching a very difficult group of young women about how to be healthy.