Serving a group breakfast is a staple of many large events, from fundraisers to church gatherings to large family get-togethers.
But if it’s your first time hosting such an event, then preparing breakfast or brunch for a few dozen people probably seems next to impossible.
Even worse, cooking for a large group often means that event organizers will revert to frozen ingredients and less-than-healthy food options that are easy to prepare.
So is it possible to cook a healthy breakfast that guests will also enjoy, despite whatever dietary restrictions they might bring with them?
We posed this question to Sven Gadzimski, a private chef and pastry chef who studied at an elite culinary school in Germany and has shared his talents with a number of high-end clients, including the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.
Gadzimski came up with continental breakfast ideas for a crowd that use fresh, healthy ingredients, including many that will suit vegetarian and vegan guests.
Below you’ll find a rundown of proteins, sides, beverages, and desserts that are easy to make in large quantities without breaking the bank.
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Whether you’re a meat-eater or not, a protein of some kind will always be at the center of a meal.
Before getting started on the protein dish for your continental breakfast, you’ll need to know how many of your guests prefer meat and how many would prefer to stay away from meat and animal products in general.
For vegetarians, the easy answer to your breakfast woes will be eggs, as Gadzimski explained:
“Eggs in all shapes and forms are the perfect breakfast-time protein. Make an omelet with spinach and tomatoes scrambled with low-fat cheese or poached on top of a whole-wheat avocado toast. Eggs have a ton of protein, they are low in fat, they fill you up and taste great.”
If you do feel the need to provide some bona fide meat options at your breakfast, there are a few that work well within a breakfast setting.
“As far as breakfast ‘meat proteins’ I’d go with chicken-apple sausage, lean steak, lean bacon, salmon, or sliced turkey. Each of these can also be used as part of a breakfast sandwich.”
Lastly, if a significant number of your guests are vegan, Gadzimski recommends tofu as a substitute for eggs. Best of all, it doesn’t take any special skills to make tasty tofu dishes.
“You can treat tofu like eggs and scramble it with vegetables, etc. Great for vegans.”
Sides are a great way to round out a meal and provide a contrast to the protein(s) on offer.
More traditional breakfast sides tend to be fatty and full of carbs and starch (I’m looking at you, potatoes).
This also means that making your sides a bit more healthy will make the whole meal lighter and more enjoyable for your guests.
Let’s take a look at three different suggestions from Gadzimski for healthy and tasty side dishes.
Cottage cheese with low-fat yogurt and berries
The first side dish is incredibly easy to make, as long as you have all the components ready to go.
“This easy dish provides protein and probiotics, especially if you decide to use Greek yogurt. Berries provide a high amount of energy, vitamins, and antioxidants.”
The cottage cheese and yogurt will have to be store-bought, of course, but you should take a careful look at the different options available.
Organic cottage cheese, for example, could really enhance the overall dish and is sure to keep your guests happy from the very first bite.
To make your berry mix even more nutritious and flavorful, try finding a local farmer’s market in your area a few days before the event. Keep them stored in the refrigerator, not the freezer, and they should hold up just fine until you need them.
Cheerios aren’t the only oats option for breakfast. Fresh oats can be the perfect snack or side dish for any breakfast.
Gadzimski goes out of his way to have oats on a regular basis, pairing them with many other healthy ingredients.
“I love oats in all shapes and forms. I usually add dried fruits and berries to them or have them as granola. No extra sugar, though. The berries are sugary enough.”
If you’ll be serving your breakfast in stages, it’s never a bad idea to have oats and a few add-ons set out as an appetizer.
Oats are also yet another dish that won’t cause problems for vegetarians and vegans.
Quinoa and farro salads
Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) has received a lot of attention over the last few years, and for good reason. This one small ingredient can make a whole meal more nutritious, and thanks to its rise in popularity, it’s available at just about every major supermarket.
“These salads go with anything, sweet or savory, roasted veggies or dried fruits. They’re a great source of flavor, fiber, and nutrition.”
What you use for the greens and veggies in the salad is entirely up to you. This is another area where knowing your guests’ needs and preferences will be a huge help.
If you want, you could even get creative with this side and make a lettuce wrap bar so that guests can choose the ingredients they want. This will also save you some prep time.
Ahh, breakfast beverages. Who doesn’t enjoy a sweet, tasty drink to complement a savory meal?
Luckily, there are plenty of different beverage options that are perfect for a large group breakfast, and let’s not forget that every one of these drinks can easily be spiked if your guests are over 21.
Just keep in mind that citrus flavors tend to pair best with clear liquors. If all else fails, pair some champagne or another variety of sparkling white wine with orange juice for a classic mimosa.
Fruit and Protein Smoothies
Smoothies are a bit time-consuming to make, but if you have a large blender, you can create a large pitcher at a time, only making more if you run out.
Gadzimski had a few tips to take your own breakfast smoothies to the next level:
“I love the combination of yogurt, berries, and fruits inside a smoothie. Smoothies have lots of protein, vitamins, flavor, and antioxidants if made right. Don’t add any additional sugar since fruits and berries already have plenty of natural sugar. Use low-fat milk and add half an avocado for extra creamy-ness and nutrition.”
If you have several helping hands in the kitchen, you may even want to take orders for smoothies based on what each guest would like. This will slow down production, but your guests will feel like they’re at a fancy cafe while also avoiding allergies.
Fresh-pressed fruit and vegetable juices
On the simpler side of things, fresh juices, on their own, are a staple of a healthy breakfast or brunch.
When it comes to fruit juices, try to stick to oranges and grapefruits. As Gadzimski explained, these fruits pack a punch of nutrition and flavor alike:
“Lots of vitamin C and antioxidants in both. Try these with half sparkling water and half juice. It still gives you the flavor and nutrition, but it cuts the sugar in half and gives extra hydration, which is important, especially in the morning.
The healthier option, however, would be to create some vegetable juices as well. You’ll probably need a juicer to do this quickly, but the good news is that many different types of vegetables can be combined to add extra flavor and nutrition.
“Celery, cucumber, parsley, ginger, green apple, red beets, carrots, turmeric are all great items for vegetable juices. You can even try a few combinations ahead of time to see which you like best.”
If you just don’t have enough time to make these juices yourself, you could also try visiting your local supermarket the morning of the breakfast and ask for fresh juices. Some stores make fruit and vegetable juices in-house, but they’ll likely be expensive, so watch your budget carefully.
At long last, we’ve come to the desserts and pastries, everyone’s favorite part of any great breakfast.
As you might have guessed, it’s tough to settle on desserts that are both delicious and nutritious.
Gadzimski explained how making small tweaks to classic desserts can leave your guests feeling light and healthy.
Quiche is a classic breakfast choice across many cultures, especially here in the West. While some traditional quiches might be a bit heavy, you can decide exactly which elements you’d like to have in yours, and which to exclude.
“Quiches in all varieties, with vegetables, cheese, bacon, or sausage, taste great and are a great source of nutrition. If you’d like to cut down on the fats, you can cut out the cheese and meats. Reduced-fat quiches can still taste wonderful.”
If you fancy yourself a baker and decided not to include oats as a side course, then making your own granola bars can be an easy way to offer a healthy dessert that guests can take with them.
A simple recipe like this one avoids the added sugars and preservatives that a lot of store-bought granola bars contain.
Gadzimski urges readers to keep it simple: “Made of oats and dried fruits these breakfast bars are full of flavor and nutrition. You can also make them the night before if you’re pressed for time.”
Zucchini bread with oats
For Gadzimski, zucchini bread with oats is an excellent source of fiber while also serving up a healthy helping of vegetables.
Like many other dishes on our list, this one can easily be changed to suit your needs.
Since this can be a carb-heavy dish, make sure you offer alternatives for guests who are doing their best to avoid bread products.
Happy and healthy
That just about does it for our guide to making your continental breakfast a bit more healthy.
Before you get started on actually preparing the meal, just make sure that you have plenty of help. Ask members of your family or organization to tackle a specific dish that they can bring on the morning of the breakfast.
Share this article with them so they know which ingredients to include and which to avoid.
Creating a healthy meal for others is a special experience. Even though it may be stressful at times, try to enjoy the process and the smiles of your guests.