Stay for lunch! Everyone pitches in for church meals

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Add labels to your dishes to help your guests decide what to eat.
Add labels to your dishes to help your guests decide what to eat.
Lisa Boykin Batts | Times

I love having lunch at church following the morning service.

There’s nothing like walking from the sanctuary to the fellowship hall to a table laden with some good home cooking!

Although it’s a lot of fun for members who walk in to eat, it does require a fair amount of work for the hosting group.

We have several lunches each year at our church — Marsh Swamp Free Will Baptist — including some that are hosted by the women’s group Shepherd’s Daughters. We do a soup and sandwiches lunch in January, followed soon after with a lunch of Italian-inspired dishes.

These two lunches are fundraisers for projects we support. We place a basket at the entrance to the fellowship hall, and church members drop in a donation as they walk in.

If you’ve never hosted a meal like this, we have a few tips for you.

• Member Kristie Bass says planning ahead is very important. Kristie sends out emails to those of us in the group and asks what we would be able to take to the lunch.

“I kept a spreadsheet of what people volunteered to bring, and then I sent updates out about every three or so days to ensure everyone was on the same page and everything was covered,” she said.

• “You have to also ensure you have people available to help the day of the event with set-up and clean-up — this is very important,” Bass said.

On the day of the event, several of us stay in the fellowship hall during the morning worship service to get things prepared, from warming up food to setting out plates, napkins and eating utensils and making sure each dish has a serving spoon or fork.

For our Italian dinner, we cook big pots of spaghetti to serve with homemade spaghetti sauce made by our members.

• Not everyone in our group cooks, but that’s OK; they can still do their part. There’s always something we need, such as lettuce, tomatoes, croutons and salad dressing when we do our Italian dinner.

Member Nancy Boykin, who’s also my cousin, doesn’t do a lot of cooking, but she is a master at grilled cheese sandwiches. Every time we have a lunch, Nancy takes bread, cheese and buttery spread and makes a huge tray of grilled cheese sandwiches right before the dinner begins.

• At our last soup lunch, we had about a dozen slow cookers and pots filled with a variety of soups. When you’re walking down the serving line, it’s not always obvious what kind of soup is in each pot. When we can, we put labels in front of each pot to mark chili, turkey soup and chicken soups. It’s especially helpful when we can note that a recipe is vegetarian or dairy free, for instance. We also mark which cups of tea are sweet, unsweet and decaffeinated. When we have sandwiches, we note which ones have mustard or mayonnaise and which ones have neither. That’s especially helpful for parents choosing their child’s meal.

• We love our desserts at church covered-dish meals. I especially love the homemade layer cakes! It’s sometimes intimidating to cut someone else’s cake — especially if it’s the first slice — so we try to do it for them. It’s often my job at church to cut a few slices into the cakes and pies so it’s easier for our guests to get a serving and move on!

• After everyone has eaten, if there are leftovers we encourage people to make a plate to take home. Don’t want to waste anything!

I look forward to our lunches for more than one reason. Sure, I love the food. But I love visiting with my friends as we set up a meal and lingering a little longer after church to get caught up with other church members.

Potato Soup

I went back for seconds of Sandy’s delicious soup!

32 ounces chicken broth

32 ounces diced frozen potato hash browns

1 to 1 1/2 cans of cream of chicken soup (I use 1 1/2)

1 to 1 1/2 8-ounce blocks of cream cheese (I use 1 1/2)

1/2 bag of bacon bits (use Oscar Meyer 3-ounce bag) or cooked bacon, crumbled

Cheese for garnish

Mix broth, hash brown potatoes, bacon bits and cream of chicken soup and heat. Once cooked and mixed together cut cream cheese in small cubes and add into soup. Cream cheese will melt and mix in.

Transfer to slow cooker and cook on low for 4 to 6 hours.

You can also cook on low on the stove, for an hour to hour and a half.

If you make ahead and let sit, soup blends well together.

Add cheese and extra bacon bits when served in bowl, if desired.

Sandy Barnes

Taco Soup

Taco soup is always a favorite at our lunches.

1 1/2 pounds ground beef, cooked

1 envelope of dry Ranch dressing

1 envelope of taco seasoning

1 15-ounce can of corn, undrained

3 15-ounce cans of black beans, undrained

2 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes (or Rotel)

1 16-ounce can tomato sauce

Mix all ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on low about 4 hours. Can also cook on stovetop.

Elizabeth Willoughby

Hamburger Vegetable Soup

Beth says this is how her dad and grandmother used to make soup.

1 pound ground beef

2 beef bouillon cubes

1 cabbage, cut up

3 carrots, diced

1 large onion, diced

1 large bag of mixed frozen vegetables

3 stalks celery, diced

3 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes

Salt and pepper to taste

Cook ground beef. Add to soup pot and fill about halfway with water. Let cool in refrigerator overnight. Skim fat from the top. Use the water for the base of the soup. Mix remaining ingredients, adding salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer until vegetables are cooked.

Beth Wood

Chili and Beans

Ray is our pastor. His chili was very popular at our soup lunch!

2 pounds ground beef (can also use ground chicken or ground turkey)

3 14- to 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes

2 12-ounce cans tomato paste

1 15-ounce can dark kidney beans

1 15-ounce can light kidney beans

1 tablespoon Lowry’s seasoning salt

Texas Pete to taste

Cheese, onions, sour cream for topping, if desired

Brown hamburger. Drain grease. Add diced tomatoes, tomato paste, kidney beans, seasoning salt and Texas Pete to a Dutch oven. (I use a cast iron Dutch oven.) Cook on low for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with cheese, onions and sour cream.

The Rev. Ray Wells