How to Host a Pasta Dinner for a Crowd

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Last week, for the first time ever, I hosted a pasta dinner for my teenaged son’s sports team.

What do you do when a crowd of 25 or more hungry teenagers lands on your doorstep? Serve a pasta buffet dinner, of course. Here are some hostess shortcuts to make entertaining a bit more orderly.

I was hesitant to do it. My house is small and the responsibility seemed big.

Twenty five-ish very hungry teens arriving on your doorstep after practice. Yikes!

So, like any good mom (pat, pat) I went for it.

The tricky part was really getting the quantities right and getting the timing right.

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Too little food could lead to a minor revolt, and too much is wasteful. (Too much dessert is even worse – because we all know who is going to eat those leftovers.)

Timing was important too – getting everything ready on time, at the same time, in my small kitchen was a challenge.

In true blogging fashion, I decided to take some pictures to document the process for future pasta dinner moms.

To state the obvious – we did serve pasta. But there were a few more things besides plain noodles on our buffet. This is what I served:

  • Plain ziti noodles
  • Cheese tortellini
  • Pot of sauce
  • Chicken Parmesan
  • Crock Pot Meatballs
  • Mac and cheese
  • Garlic Bread
  • Salad
  • Bowl of clementines
  • Gatorade
  • Chocolate milk
  • Coffee cake
  • Brownies
  • Cookies

The Pasta

Pasta sauce for a pasta dinner.

I started my pasta dinner shopping at Costco where I picked up a big box (8 boxes inside) of Barilla Ziti noodles.

I ended up making six of the boxes, which was more than enough for our crowd. I ended up with some leftovers, so 5 boxes may have been enough.

The team was due to arrive at about 7:45 so I started making the pasta at 6:30.

I had 3 pots of water going on my stove.

Two of the pots were big enough to make two boxes of pasta at once, and I made 1 box of pasta at a time in the third pot.

To serve this large amount of pasta, I dug out my Calphalon turkey roasting pan that I use about once a year at Thanksgiving.

It was the perfect size and I was glad that I did not have to buy one of those large disposable aluminum trays.

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The Cheese Tortellini

Cheese tortellini for a pasta dinner.

I also picked up a bag of frozen cheese Tortellini at Costco – and made about half of the bag for the pasta dinner.

Once the pasta was done cooking, I used one of the larger pots to cook up one batch of tortellini.

By the end of the night, most of it was gone, but there was about 1 to two servings leftover, so I feel that I got the quantity right.

The Meatballs

Crock pot meatballs for a pasta dinner.

The first thing that I started was the Crock Pot Meatballs. I bought all of two complicated ingredients for these at Costco as well.

All you need is one big jar of Prego and one bag of frozen meatballs (Costco size).

So easy – and everyone loved them. I got lots of compliments.

I threw these in the slow cooker (I have a 6 quart oval slow cooker although you can probably throw them in a 6 quart Instant Pot on the slow cook setting as well) at about 3:00pm on the high setting. They were perfect by 7:45pm.

Serving was easy too – I let the kids scoop them directly out of the Crock Pot.

The Sauce

The sauce for the pasta dinner was also very easy – I just picked up some ready made Prego at Costco – they sold 2 oversize jars for $6.99 which was pretty good.

I ended buying way too much, though.

For some reason, I could not wrap my head around the right quantity. I bought 6 jars, only used 3, and based on the amount of leftovers, probably really only needed 2.

I used one full jar in the meatballs which was just right, and warmed up two additional jars to pour on top of the plain pasta and the tortellini.

What I didn’t consider was that both the meatballs and the chicken parmesan were pretty saucy in their own right, and so the kids really didn’t need that much plain sauce in addition.

The Chicken Parm

I cheated on this one and ordered a ready made tray from a local deli (thank you Fortuna’s!)

The tray supposedly served 10-12 people but I had a feeling that one tray would be plenty because there was so much other food. The deli offered to cut the pieces in half which worked out perfectly.

I picked up the tray cold earlier in the day and kept it in the fridge until about 6:30 when I put it in the oven alongside the mac and cheese.

In the end, we had two (half) pieces of chicken parm leftover.

The Salad

Salad for a pasta dinner.

Can I just say that there is plenty left for me?

I bought one of the big plastic tubs of mixed greens from Costco.

To serve, I just dumped the tub into 2 salad bowls and put a few bowls of croutons and parmesan cheese out as well.

In all honesty, I think one kid took some salad.

At the end of the night, I pretty much had a full plastic tub of salad leftover.

The Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese was a favorite at the pasta dinner.

This was an easy one too – and such a crowd pleaser.

Basically, I bought a Party Size Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese from the freezer section of our Stop & Shop.

For some reason our Costco did not carry this – so I had no choice but to head over to the grocery store as well.

I took this out of the freezer to thaw a little at about 4:30pm and stuck it in the oven at 6pm.

There were no mac and cheese leftovers at all and I recall hearing a little skirmish over the last few spoonfuls.

The Garlic Bread

Garlic bread for a pasta dinner.

To make things easy, I used ready made garlic bread from Stop & Shop. A team mate provided 2 loaves and I bought one.

It turns out that 3 loaves were just the right amount.

About 7:30 I popped all three loaves into the oven that was already hot from the mac and cheese and the chicken parm.

You can heat the garlic bread right in the foil bag that it comes in which made it easy.


Fruit seemed like a nice touch so to keep it simple I put out a bowl of clementines.

At the end of the night, I found a few peels around, but the majority of the bowl was still there, uneaten.

The Drinks

On the menu for this pasta dinner was Gatorade, chocolate milk, and a pitcher of water.

Team members brought the Gatorade. I think we probably needed about 24 bottles give or take. The kids arrived here straight from practice and I think they were pretty thirsty.

As for the chocolate milk, we went through about one and a half gallons – so having two gallons for twenty five kids is about right.

The Desserts

Surprisingly, I don’t feel like dessert is such a popular item these days.

I had a tray of 15 frosted brownies that I picked up at Stop & Shop and there were about 4 leftover. I also picked up a coffee cake at Costco and half of that was gone.

Team members brought plates of sugar cookies and chocolate chip cookies. The chocolate chip were a hit but the sugar were not so popular.

And can you believe that I forgot to take pictures of the desserts?

The Paper Goods

One of the best things that I did was buy plates similar to these oval shaped paper plates for this pasta dinner. I think these are easier to find around the holidays (especially Thanksgiving).

They were sturdy enough and spacious enough to handle piles of pasta and sauce. This was great because the kids could take all they wanted at one pass and did not have to keep coming back to reload.

The Verdict

If you find yourself hosting a pasta dinner for a high school sports team anytime in the near future keep the following in mind:

  • Aside from the Crock Pot Meatballs, you should start cooking and preparing about 2 hours before  the team arrives
  • If you are serving saucy main dish items, go easy on the plain sauce
  • Serve macaroni and cheese, it will get eaten
  • Salad and fruit are not so popular so a little goes a long way
  • Chocolate and cake (not necessarily together) are what kids want for dessert
  • Consider using large oval paper plates
  • If people are bringing stuff, ask them to send you an email to confirm what they are bringing. This way you know what you need to buy and you don’t end up with too much or too little. Also, ask them to drop off items earlier in the day so you can have everything set up when the kids arrive.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask the kids to help you clean up before they go. I had them make sure all garbage was thrown out and I asked them to fold up the extra chairs that I put out, and move them back into the garage. This was such a big help.

Your Pasta Dinner Tips?

If you have hosted a pasta dinner for a crowd – what are some time savers and menu items that really worked well for you?

Please share in the comments below.

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  1. I would suggest adding a dish of gluten free pasta as an option. I usually do a different shape so it’s easy to remember which is which. Pastas made with chick peas are also a good source of protein if you have any guests who are vegetarian. Many people are gluten sensitive, so trace amounts from you kitchen would be okay, but an entire dish would lead to a stomach ache.

  2. I’m doing a pasta bar for Christmas Eve. I have to make my own sauce though, lol, no jar sauce for me! I’m going to have homemade marinara sauce, pesto sauce, olives, Parmesan, etc. plus meatballs and rolls. Such a fun way to host a dinner!

    1. Hi Belle,
      What a great idea to do a pasta bar on Christmas Eve! I think that hosting a buffet type meal is easier than a formal sit down which is really nice because then you get to enjoy the evening too.
      Happy Holidays!

  3. Thank you for this post! Our PTA is doing a spaghetti dinner for a school event, and none of us had ever done it before! We are doing sauce and meatballs in crockpots, and noodles in aluminum pans with the burners under them (we already had that stuff in our PTA room, so we figured we’d use it!). I’m just doing rolls and Costco Caesar salad to keep things simple. Crossing my fingers!

  4. All this advice and feedback is amazing!! I’m hesitant on hosting my daughters soccer team of 16 girls and their parents my house is good but not the best decorated.. I can grab table n chairs from church and have large table clothes to cover.. I know I can do this but always worry I will fail.. I would have parents bring crockpots n trays of meatballs, sausage, breaded chicken. I would have the shrimp, sauces & bread.
    Anything else? Any advice..

    1. This is such an awesome post! Thank you for sharing your experience…it was a lifesaver. I fed a crew of football players and followed your menu almost to a tee. The amount of food these young men can eat is astounding, but your plan took much of the guess & stress out of how to make sure there was enough food to satisfy them. You were exactly correct about the salad & fruit….almost untouched.

  5. Trying to host a pasta bar for my wedding of 150 people.. eek.. your post is really helpful. I am trying to gauge how much is needed, would you mind sharing (if you remember), how many meatballs each person ate, and how many ounces of pasta you served?

    1. How did it go? Doing pasta bar for grad party at a park. Would love to know how pasta was kept warm, etc. Thanks. 🙂

    2. Hello, I was wondering to just the spaghetti portion was enough to feed 100 or if everything you named met the need to feed 100? We need to make pasta for 100 and a couple to spare and I was thinking of doing all spaghetti and sauce. Meatballs in crockpot to the side. I was thinking plain traditional sauce would be good for allergy sake and meatballs to the side for non meat eaters. Any suggestions?

    3. Hi Kathy,
      It’s been a while since I served this dinner but my recollection is that there were no more than 20 people in attendance, so you will definitely need to adjust quantities. 100 is a lot of people! Perhaps you could read the serving size suggestion on the package of pasta and use that as a guide. Best of luck!

  6. How did you keep the noodles in good shape until they were served? I want a pasta buffet and the sauces and meatballs are pretty easy but
    I don’t want cold sticky pasta…

  7. I just signed up to host my freshman sons soccer team and then realized it is varsity/JV combo so double the kids!!!! Ahhhh. Not sure where we can sit all these boys but I am so happy I found your post.

  8. I hosted a pasta bar for 20. Cooked spaghetti & fettuccini noodles and tossed with olive oil in crockpots. Bought marinara & Alfredo sauces from a local rstaurant but you could use jarred sauce. I grilled chicken tenders with seasoning. Found a Cajun season recipe on Pinterest & put it on some raw, peeled, no tail shrimp & cooked that in a non stick skillet. So they had a choice of shrimp or chicken Alfredo. Added a salad & garlic bread. I was well received.

    1. Thank you so much for posting this. I’m hosting a High School Cheer team dinner for 25 and they want a pasta bar. This helped me so much, thank you!!

  9. Planning a dinner for tomorrow night for my daughter’s High School Soccer Team, using all of your tips! Thank you so much.

  10. Your party sounds like a huge success! A fellow team mom and I have hosted two pasta parties last year during football season and we are getting ready to host another this Thursday. We serve two large aluminum pans of baked ziti instead of plain pasta. Yes, it’s more expensive with the whole-milk ricotta and mozzarella, but the boys love it. We also have chicken tenders, meatballs in sauce and about 10 pizzas and two crock pots of buffalo chicken dip. The price usually runs each of us $150 for 20-25 big football players. Enjoy!!

    1. Hi Christine,

      It sounds like you have the pasta party thing down to a science! Chicken tenders are a great idea – I am sure those are a big hit, and relatively easy to make too.

      Adding pizza to the mix makes a lot of sense as well, I never thought of doing that.

      Thanks for sharing these ideas!!!

    2. This is all such great information! Hosting 35 HS football players in sept. Great headstart in planning for me. Apparently it takes a village to figure out how to host these team events! Thanks everyone!

  11. THANK YOU! Hosting a pasta party for my daughter’s field hockey team and I needed some tips. It’s only about 15 girls, but I am taking your ideas for macaroni and cheese and the meatballs!

    1. Hi Kathy,
      So happy this article helps you out! No need to be nervous – remember that entertaining and parties are all about having fun – even for the hostess. 🙂 So enjoy and be sure to stop back and let me know how everything went.

    1. Hi Debbie,

      You can cover the pan of pasta with foil and put it in the oven on a low temp like 250 degrees F for a little while to keep it warm as you make the rest of the pasta.

      When it is time to serve I just put it out and figured the sauce would be hot enough to warm up the pasta if it cooled down a bit.

      Another alternative is to use a chafing dish with a burner underneath – but I didn’t feel the need for that.

      Good luck with your pasta party!

  12. I’m planning a Sweet 16 party for my daughter. I’m planning on doing this too but I may offer fewer options to keep costs down since we are expecting about 50 people. Would you mind sharing with me the cost of this meal? I’m trying to get an idea of how much I need to budget for.

    Thank you in advance!


    1. Hi Pamela,
      It has been a while since I hosted this party so I don’t recall the exact cost. Also, some of the items (like garlic bread, drinks, and desserts) were provided by other team parents.
      If I had to estimate, I would say that my cost all in was probably just shy of $200. I think one of the largest expenses was the ready made tray of chicken parm. If you made this at home or skipped this you could probably shave down the cost.
      Also, you can always find dry pasta on sale, buy store brand, or check the warehouse price and buy in bulk.
      I hope the party for your daughter goes well. Do let me know how it turned out and what you decided to serve!

  13. I, too, am planning a toddler birthday party with a kid who requested “mac n cheese” for the menu. I wasn’t sure how to feed 25 people (some of which have a dairy allergy) just mac n cheese. This is a perfect solution! Love the pasta bar idea. Thanks for the timeline… Handy to know how far in advance to start cooking!

    1. Hi Lindsey,
      You are so welcome! Good luck with the pasta party, let me know how it goes. It is so cute hearing about your little ones – and the mac n cheese will be a definite hit, it was for the older kids, too!

    2. The party was a HUGE success! Everyone loved the paw-sta bar and I got so many compliments on it. I had a choice of marinara, marinara with meatballs, and Alfredo sauce. I also included toppings like bacon bits, cherry tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and shredded chicken breast. It turned out great for the kids and the adults felt less like they were at a kids party and more like they were also being entertained. It was a fun time had by all! I thank you for the ideas and your blog that helped make our Paw-some Paw-ty a SUCCESS!

      Amie Barr Stevens

  14. I’m not hosting a team of basketball or football players. No, I am hosting about 21 toddlers for my son’s 3rd birthday party. Last night (2/11/19) I asked him what he wants to eat at his party. He said, “Noodles and cake.” I’m laughing now as I type this. Noodles and cake. Ok. So we are going to have a Pawsta Bar (because the party is Paw Patrol themed) I was so lost as to what to serve, Noodles! Cake I got covered, but noodles? I can’t serve adults noodles! But I can if I put it on a bar like you did. Thank you, I am following your advice to a “T”. I have made my chart for what I need and now I feel much less apprehensive about having so many toddlers in one spot, with only “noodles” on the menu. I will keep you posted!! Thanks for a great blog!

    1. Hi Laurie,
      I toss the pasta with a little olive oil to keep it from sticking. I don’t like to mix in sauce because I feel like the pasta gets sort of mushy when I do that. Hope that helps!

  15. I am doing a dinner for 60 and want to do something similar! I will buy 3 Lasagna’s from Costco, do the meatballs like yours from costco, and the tortelini? They really want chicken alfredo but not sure how t o pull that off for a large crowd.

    1. Oh Callie –
      I am so sorry to get back to you so late. Somehow your comment got lost in the shuffle.
      I am sure you have already had your dinner party by now – how did it go?
      Chicken alfredo for 60 – yikes! My recommendation would have been to buy a tray from a local deli or Italian restaurant – enough to feed maybe 20 or 30, and just have them cut each piece of chicken into 2 or even 3 pieces. With all the other food you will (or have already) be serving, no one will need a whole piece. Let me know how it went!

  16. I’m hosting 36 high school girls basketball players (Freshmen, JV and Varsity) next week and I’m so glad I found our post!! My only question is…Since I also have a small house, how did you seat everyone? Did they just grab a spot on the floor? Couches, chairs?? I can maybe squeeze a long table into my living room, but I don’t want to let space be a barrier to this fun idea!!

    1. Hi Allison,

      I was fortunate that the weather was warm on the day of my pasta dinner – so everyone ate outside on the deck. However, another mom hosted on cold day in a small house and she rented long folding tables and folding chairs and set those up as one long table in the family room. I was surprised at how inexpensive the rental was – especially because she picked up from the rental company. If she had opted for delivery then price would have gone up significantly.

      I have also seen people do the buffet style with people sitting anywhere they find room. And there have even been some hosted around a fire pit outside when the weather was colder.

      Good luck with your pasta dinner – no matter where they sit, it the team will have a good time. Don’t stress too much! 🙂

  17. Thank you Neena! I am hosting 22 cross country runners (teen boys) at my house Friday to carbo-load for their first meet Saturday! I am going to copy your blog and am so thankful I ran across it online. Thank you for taking the time to write the details as I was feeling so overwhelmed and now I am feeling much more at ease!

    1. Hi Jenny,
      Thanks so much for letting me know that this article helped you – and good luck with the pasta dinner! I am sure it will go off without a hitch. 🙂

  18. So funny…I googled for help planning a pasta dinner and found your post, Neena! I’m planning a big pasta dinner for two high school teams at once. **Maybe I’m a little bit crazy?

    Great tips!


    1. Hi Christine!
      It’s so funny that you found me online. 🙂
      Yes, it is a little crazy to host two teams at once – but if anyone can pull it off, you can.
      Let me know how it goes. We miss you guys over here. How are you all doing?

  19. Hi Neena,
    I followed your pasta dinner game plan and it worked like a charm. Just enough of everything and no left overs. Our team was very full and happy. My husband was commenting on how impressive it was that I got everything set up so effortlessly. As much as I wanted to take the credit, I had to tell him about your great blog post. I couldn’t have done it without you! Thanks!

  20. Hi Neena,

    Wow 25 kids! Well done. The slow cooker wins again. I recall mom using it to make all manner of meals when we were kids. Everything came out awesome. Patience is a virtue when it comes to food as that really tasty, slow cook flavor is fabulous. Super too for freeing up your sked, so you can focus on the other things you need to do to set up the din din for a hungry hoard of folks.


  21. Hi Nena,

    You brought me back to the days where I had to feed hungry teens. Going with a pasta dish is wise! I remember I had to feed the football team of very large 17 year old boys. My house wasn’t big then but we managed. The only problem I had was getting those guys to eat their salad!


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