Small event food and menu ideas

Food and menu ideasss

Julia Wise

Thoughts on food for small EA events

I’ve been hosting EA dinners since 2011, ranging from just a few people to 25 people in my apartment.

EA gatherings tend to attract a lot of vegetarians and vegans. I’ve basically stopped serving meat at the EA dinners because so few people ate it.

It’s a good idea to ask about diet restrictions in the invitation. You may not be able to accommodate every need, but there may be things that are easy to work around.

People, particularly students, appreciate a home-cooked meal even if it’s not fancy.

If cooking for crowds is not your thing, consider ordering takeout and having a bowl on the table for people to chip in money. Just explain in the invitation that this is the plan. You’ll still need to think about things like drinks, plates, utensils, napkins, and seating.

Store-bought bread and some kind of soup is an easy way to go, as is rice and curry. You either need bowls or plates with a rim that will keep the stew in place. If you don’t have enough or don’t want to do that many dishes, you could use disposable dishes. I do this enough that I bought a lot of 10-oz custard cups to use as soup or dessert bowls for the masses (they don’t take up the whole plate, so there’s room for your bread or salad as well).

Test-driving the main dish is a good idea so you know about how many people it serves, how long it takes you to make etc.

Some of these menus are fairly ambitious. If you don’t have much experience with cooking for large numbers of people, you might want to start with one of the simpler menus (like the Fall menu or an abridged Mexican menu).

Make more food than you think you need, at least of a central dish.

Newer hosts often forget things (are there cups and something to drink? Utensils? Napkins or something to clean up the inevitable spill? Is there enough toilet paper in the bathroom?)

Appetizer ideas

The idea here is something easy you can have out on the table while people are arriving. If people want to bring something, you could ask them to bring fruit and serve it either before dinner or with dessert.

pear slices (buy in advance so they can get ripe), with sliced cheese

pistachios (bonus: can supplement protein if there’s not a vegan main dish)


Dessert ideas

Some easy desserts that go with a lot of meals and are adaptable for vegans:

orange segments dipped in chocolate. I melt good-quality vegan chocolate chips in the microwave and dip segments of clementines in them. You could sprinkle them with a little coarse salt, too.

ice cream with thawed frozen fruit. If the weather is cold enough, I have dished up servings of ice cream in advance and put them on cookie sheets on the porch.

About serving alcohol

We tend to have wine and beer available at these dinners. Guests often bring a bottle of wine, and we serve it either at that dinner or keep it in store for the next one, so it’s usually not much of an expense for hosts. I’ve never had a problem with people drinking too much at the EA dinners I’ve hosted.


An easy no-cook menu

For 10 people, with rough prices from my supermarket:

3 cartons black bean soup ($4 each)

3 loaves crusty bread ($4 each)

butter and olive oil

2 bags salad mix ($3 each)

1 bottle salad dressing ($3)

2 storebought pound cakes ($5 each)


Heat up the soup in a pot. Heat the bread in the oven for a few minutes.

Other equipment:


ladle or large spoon for dishing up soup

plates for dinner and more plates for dessert



at least a couple of knives for spreading butter



a pitcher of water, or getting people glasses of water from the tap

Food cost: $4.30/person. More if you buy drinks, disposable napkins, etc.

Summer menu

Fresh spring rolls

Peanut dipping sauce

Red curry coconut soup with mushrooms and tofu

Key lime pie

Coconut-lime popsicles

Cost when I made it: $5/person.

Everything is vegan and gluten-free except the key lime pie, but I think it comes off as light and summery rather than restricted.

The food is served cold and can be prepped in advance except the soup, which could still be done in advance and just heated and garnished at the last minute. If you’re still working on the spring rolls when guests arrive, people like helping assemble them. This took longer than I thought, about 90 seconds per roll, including waiting for the wrappers to soak and finding room for trays as we filled them. Do the math and leave yourself enough time.

Fall menu

West African Peanut Stew


Store-bought bread

Apple crisp (vegan or not vegan)

Cost when I made it: $3.80/person.

This is one of the easiest menus here - I did it for 25 people in about 2 hours.

Polenta menu


Braised beef with tomatoes

White bean stew

Braised kale

Vanilla ice cream with cherry-wine sauce (just heat up some frozen cherries in red wine with a little sugar)

Gleaned from this menu. You could make the polenta earlier in the day and keep it warm in a slow-cooker or something.

Curry menu

Jasmine rice

Chicken coconut curry

Chickpea coconut curry (same as chicken curry above, but use cooked chickpeas)

Indian spiced spinach (palak paneer without the paneer. I took some out before adding the dairy so there was a vegan version.)

Store-bought naan

Plain yogurt


Key lime pie


Cost when I made it: $3.25/person.

The nice thing is that you can make the curry in advance and heat them up before dinner. If you make the pies in advance or use a store-bought dessert, you could serve this on a weeknight – it might take 40 minutes to heat up the curries and make the rice.

Chili menu

Vegetarian chili

Toppings (shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa, diced avocado)



Orange segments dipped in chocolate

Not one I’ve made yet, but one I enjoyed at someone else’s party recently.

Mexican menu

Appetizer: Nachos

Tortilla soup

Soup toppings (tortilla strips, shredded cheese, sour cream, diced avocado)

Oven quesadillas (vegan and non-vegan) with caramelized onion and roasted red pepper

Palomas (grapefruit cocktail - I did versions with and without alcohol)

Ice cream with thawed frozen mangos

The vegan nachos and quesadillas are done with refried beans, salsa, and vegan “cheese” shreds.

Ice cream and thawed fruit works well because it takes no prep other than thawing a bowl of the fruit, and vegans can eat the fruit even if you can’t find vegan ice cream. Berries become a mess when thawed, but ones like cherries and mango stay pretty intact.

Middle Eastern menu

Appetizer: pear slices and pistachios


Pita bread (store-bought)

Tahini sauce and/or cucumber-yogurt sauce


Shakshuka (eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce)

Chocolate lava cakes

Orange segments dipped in chocolate

Cost when I made it: $5/person

If you’re serving pears, buy them enough in advance that they have time to get ripe.

Everything is vegan except the shakshuka and lava cakes. You can do tabbouleh with quinoa if you need it to be gluten-free.

I do the lava cakes in muffin tins, which is way easier than ramekins. You can make them in advance (basically 10 minutes of melting and stirring), refrigerate them, and bake them during the party (they only bake for 12 minutes).

Chana masala menu

Chana masala (curried chickpeas)


Indian spiced spinach (palak paneer without the paneer)

Plain yogurt


Ice cream and fruit

Cost when I made it: $3.50/person.

You could make the curry in advance - it only gets better after a few days.

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