I have a spring and summer filled with guests coming into town. I am looking for easy and healthy go-to recipes to serve that won’t break my grocery budget. I’d love to serve pasta everyday, but I know that isn’t an option! I need help from those that host a lot of people or are good at hospitality to chime in!
Hi, Sheila! Great question, and I have to tell you that I am so excited for you and all the time you will get to spend visiting with friends and family. I love it when people come to visit us and the big way I show people love is to cook them food so your question got me excited!
To keep the budget in check when serving a lot of people, I like to serve several side dishes along with the meat – for instance, serve a salad, corn on the cob, macaroni and cheese, and watermelon along with hamburgers. (Yes, this is more work, but no one said keeping the budget low would be effortless.)
I also typically put the meat at the end of the buffet line to encourage people to fill up on the cheaper side dishes rather than stuff themselves with meat. And, many kids would just as soon eat a hot dog as a hamburger so don’t discount having cheaper options for the young ones. Rolls or other types of bread are great cheap fillers for many meals.
Here’s another post with a lot of similar tips: save big by preventing food waste at picnics and parties.
When we have guests coming into town, I usually spend the week before cooking up a storm. I love to cook and spoil my guests with delicious food, but if I don’t get it done ahead of time, I’ll spend all the time my guests are there in the kitchen and that is usually quite uncomfortable for everyone involved. If you do things ahead of time – even simple things like forming hamburger patties – getting meals on the table will be a cinch and clean up will be much faster, and you’ll be able to relax and enjoy time with your guests!
A challenge to this, at least for me, is refrigerator and freezer space – my refrigerator usually ends up looking like the one above. You kind of have to be strategic about the types of things you prepare and the containers you put them in or you might run out of room. :/
One of the things that I like to do when we have guests coming into town is freeze cookie dough ahead of time and then you can bake it when you are ready for it. You can also bake cookies ahead of time and freeze them; I just like to have cookies fresh from the oven! You can also freeze muffin batter ahead of time and it makes it easy to have fresh muffins for breakfast. My granola bars recipe is also really good to make ahead and freeze the bars (we actually prefer these from the refrigerator or freezer).
If your guests offer to help with the food, do take them up on the offer but do it strategically. Obviously, this is going to vary depending on who your guests are, how they are traveling, and their own budget. I find that it’s usually easiest to have your guests provide all the food for one meal than to try to have them contribute to various meals. This usually ends up being easier for both of you because you don’t have to coordinate who’s doing what, and it leaves your guests free to just order pizza for everyone if that’s what’s easiest for them.
I usually prefer to use glass dishes (yeah, even outside – I’m weird) but when we will have guests that will be eating several meals with us, I buy paper plates for ease of cleanup, and sometimes will buy disposable pans, too. You don’t want your guests or yourself to be stuck in the kitchen loading the dishwasher and washing dishes, so it’s a good idea to stock up on paper goods even if you don’t normally use them much.
I hope you have a great time with your guests, Sheila! Please, everyone else, share your tips on feeding guests easily and inexpensively!