Dinner Party: Cooking for a Group

Plan and cook for a group with these time-tested tips.

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Drew chef duty for a dozen hungry hikers? Planning meals for a group isn’t quite as simple as tripling the ramen supply. Ellie Mulder, kitchen manager at Yamnuska Guide Service in Canmore, British Columbia, has prepared trail meals for hundreds of hikers and mountaineers with the help of a restaurant computer program and a decade’s worth of notes from fellow chefs. Here’s how she does it–plus one of her favorite crowd-pleasing recipes.

Estimating quantities

Use these guidelines to determine how much food and fuel you’ll need (on a day of moderate-intensity backpacking, most people burn 2,500 to 4,000 calories). Mulder recommends upping the serving size by one third to one half for big eaters, on strenuous trips, and in cold weather. You’ll also need more fuel in the winter to prepare extra food, make warm drinks, and melt snow for water.

Planning & Packing

  • Choose quick-cooking, one-pot meals. Avoid anything that’s greasy, complicated, or requires frying; such foods make clean-up harder and can attract animals.
  • Buy in bulk whenever possible. If your grocery store doesn’t have a bulk section, check a natural foods store or buy online (try maryjanesfarm.com or harmonyhousefoods.com).
  • Prep food at home to speed cooking time. For example, chop the first night’s dinner veggies before you leave and pack them in a zip-top bag.
  • Save pack space and minimize the trash you’ll have to pack out by unwrapping store-bought sauces and mixes and consolidating them in one bag.
  • Stay organized (and cook faster) by pre-measuring and pre-mixing ingredients. Pack each meal’s ingredients together in one zip-top bag.


  • Plan on one stove and two cook pots (one for boiling water) for every four people. Using one pot for eight or more people means cooking will take longer–or worse, meals will cook unevenly or burn.
  • Add a special touch. Lightweight extras like dried cilantro or crushed peanut garnishes go a long way toward upping your chef cred.

Easy Pesto Pasta for Eight
32 ounces whole-wheat or rice pasta

8 ounces pesto

16 ounces summer sausage, sliced into chunks

8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

6 ounces pine nuts

At Home

Toast pine nuts in the oven at 350° until browned (about 2 minutes). Let cool and place in a zip-top bag.

In Camp

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Drain, then toss with pesto, sausage, and cheese. Sprinkle with pine nuts and serve.