Hosting a blitz – what about the food?
When the registrations started flooding in for my recent blitz, I had a sudden panic – how can I feed everybody well and on time, allowing for vegan, vegetarian, gluten free as well as carnivore diets! I looked at the advice in the Hosts’ Guide, thought about food at other blitzes and…
So, here are a few tips to make it easy for you to provide good, hearty food for hungry workers:
- Make a list of the volunteers and their diets, so you know how many vegan, gluten free, etc. there will be. I like to use a spreadsheet to organise (it’s the project management/process improvement background in me); feel free to use the one here.
- Provide lots of vegetarian dishes; we like veggies, even if we also eat meat.
- Enlist a friend or two, to help with the cooking and serving, in shifts if not all day for each
- You will not be distracted with questions from your facilitators – where is spade, where to plant the apple tree. This is less of an issue if you are a couple. (My husband went to a friend’s as he is quite ill so it was just me).
- Lots of soups, casseroles and other dishes can be vegan or vegetarian with a side dish of yoghurt, cheese, or meat that can be added optionally. (for example, a friend made a vegetarian minestrone with cheese and chorizo in two separate bowls on the side, making it vegan, vegetarian or meaty, as needed).
- Make lots of a few things, rather than many different dishes. It’s easier to plan and execute.
- Do as much as possible the day before. A friend came over on the Saturday and together we made everything that could be left and re-heated. Since my blitz was held when the weather was cold, much could safely be left in the very cold part of the house overnight. Some needed to be in the fridge (a neighbour might have temporary space).
- Make rather than buy if possible. It will cost you less and most of us like home-made even better. I made muffins for morning tea earlier in the week and froze them (a friend had temporary freezer space). Many cookies and cakes can be made a day or two before. These are very easy and quick to do even if you are not a great cook. Cakes need to be sliced, so a touch extra work.
- In summer, filling salads will work well (rice, pasta, potato), as well as bread or rolls. Sandwiches can be quick to make but need to be done on the day.
- Make easy to prepare items rather than recipes with complex instructions – a long list of ingredients is no big deal if much of it is put in at the same time (e.g. lots of spices in a curry)
- Generally it is best to use tried and true recipes rather than experimenting on blitz day. I used some recipes from a cookbook my mom wrote out for me (by hand, no home computers that long ago!). The old recipes from church groups and the like tend to be easy to prepare (tested by umpteen mothers with hungry families), nutritious and filling. You can alter for today’s tastes. For example, use a stock, or tomato puree instead of tinned soups.
- I thought soup would be more problematic since any accompaniment would need a separate dish, so would need to be juggled.
- A bowl of sliced fruit is quick and easy to prepare, nutritious and tasty.
- Gluten free: if you are not used to this, don’t panic. A friend found a gluten free cake recipe on line that has four ingredients and tasted delicious. Or try a cake mix. There are many gf products in supermarkets now. Most of your main dishes are likely to be gf unless a sauce is thickened with flour or wheaten cornstarch. Millet, oats, quinoa, brown rice are gf, I understand.
- Vegan: use margarine instead of butter in pastries (whipped spreads have more air, so you need a slightly higher quantity if using them), soy or rice milk instead of butter; eggs can be replaced with an egg substitute or, for many things, with pureed apple, pear or banana! There are also vegan varieties of cheese, meat substitutes, and of course, tofu.
- Vegetarian: just no meat; eggs and dairy are fine. Protein from pulses and rice and so on.
- have a table set up for water, tea and coffee from start to finish. A hot water urn is handy, but we managed well with a few insulated jugs and a kettle for the hot drinks. We made plunger coffee available all day and hot water for tea, herbal and black, and instant coffee in case it was preferred. There were at least 40 people (you & your kitchen helpers count too!) but we managed with this and one kettle.
- There are various websites that estimate quantities for parties. They are a useful guide, but for blitz working parties, be a bit generous! So, about 1 cup of a stew/chilli/curry might make a serving, given that it is not the only dish.
- Aim to feed all who register plus your designers/facilitators, your kitchen helpers, family, BUT you will find that people cancel at the last minute or simply do not turn up on the day. You WILL have leftovers, so make sure your family likes the food!
- There is usually morning and afternoon tea, as well as lunch, and people fill up a bit at morning tea, eat fairly heartily at lunch, then may nibble more in the afternoon.
- Cooking in quantity – some recipes can easily be doubled or tripled but not all.
- Allow for more than one cup and glass per person, as these get left around a bit (I must say however, that blitzers are pretty considerate). Recyclable dinnerware & cutlery makes it easy for you but I prefer to be truly sustainable and use the everyday stuff. There is a box of it available for loan (see end of this article).
Logistics on the day:
- Have the beverage table ready to go when people arrive.
- Morning tea could be served as they arrive as well, if the start time is 10 a.m. No need to clear it away until you are ready to set up for lunch.
- Have one person responsible for ensuring a steady flow of tea, coffee, water.
- Label the dishes that are gf, as you want to make sure they don’t go hungry.
- Set up for lunch at a separate table if you can. That way you can have the plates, cutlery, serviettes, salt & pepper, other condiments, butter, ready.
- Be flexible with lunch time. The blitzers might not be ready at the planned time.
- For afternoon tea, if you are having it, set up right after lunch and let them come and go as needed.
- Clean up as you go along (use the dishwasher on its shortest cycle today) and finish at the end of the day – nothing worse than facing a mess when you get up the next morning!
- If you end up with way too much food, your facilitators would probably appreciate a ‘doggie bag’ of goodies to take home.
There is now a box containing about 20 plates/soup plates, 35 mugs, and cutlery, available to be borrowed. Just ask the Collective when it comes time to for your blitz, and they will sort you out.
Remember that everyone on the day is volunteering their time to help you out, and transform the space you live in. They deserve to be well fed, so provide the best you can. Everyone will appreciate it.