This month, the Eat Well, Spend Less series turns from feeding just our own families well without breaking the bank to opening up our homes to nourish other families without going broke!
We love having people in our home for a meal – it is so much easier to connect with people in a home setting, rather than in a noisy foyer at church or a busy restaurant with the kids running wild. But, it also gets expensive to double or triple the amount of food you make to feed others, and it can also be a lot of work. Not only do you have to prepare twice as much food, you have to make sure your house is clean, too!
Here’s some simple ways to invite people into your home without hassle and too much extra expense. To be honest, there are probably not any earth-shattering tips in this post – but I hope that it will give you permission to relax and just do it – just have people in your home without stress and major expense.
Keep it simple.
Yes, really! You don’t have to serve a six-course meal to your dinner guests. In fact, I’ve found that while people usually enjoy it, it can also intimidate them and prevent them from inviting you over because they think they have to reciprocate with an equally elaborate meal!
I used to make a lot of meals for guests that required constant attention as mealtime approached. I was always tied up to some labor-intensive process in the kitchen when my guests arrived and I could rarely greet them with more than a quick “come on in”!
As I’ve relaxed about entertaining and realized we have people over to build a relationship, not impress with fancy food, I’ve learned to make simple meals that allow me to actually enjoy the time we have with our guests!
Now, I’m often still in the kitchen when they arrive and have things to do, but it’s typically something where I can still carry on a conversation and make them feel welcome.
A simple meal for me would mean something like soup, salad, and bread. In leaner times, when our budget was extremely tight, I would skip the salad and it would just be soup and bread.
Meals that have to be baked (enchiladas, lasagna, etc) for 30 minutes or so are great, because you can get it in the oven and then tie up the loose ends, rather than trying to fry fiften pieces of chicken at the last minute so it’s piping hot and fresh.
Ask for help.
I used to be somewhat of a control freak about entertaining. I wanted everything to go together, so I made everything myself so I wouldn’t be surprised by a guest bringing a Jell-O “salad” when I meant to ask for a green salad.
Perhaps the fact that I was worried about someone bringing something that didn’t “go” should have been a sign that I was stressing about the things that didn’t matter. I finally realized that I could really use some help in preparing the meal, and now usually request that the guests bring a dessert.
I’m not a big dessert maker, so that’s something that’s easy for me to delegate. And does dessert really have to match the rest of the meal?!
Sometimes I also ask for a side dish, and to prevent duplicates or something that is just really unexpected, I usually mention what we’re having and ask them to bring “something that would go with this”.
If you are on a tight budget and simply can’t afford to fix twice as much food as you normally would, I don’t think there’s a problem with asking people to bring even two side dishes, especially if they understand your situation. Most people are thrilled to be invited somewhere and would be happy to bring anything you ask!
(I don’t always ask people to bring something, especially if I just want to have them over to minister to them in a time of need, but often people want to contribute, and if they do, let them!)
Another great way to have people into your home without spending to much or putting forth hours of effort is to have people over for just dessert. The timing of this can be tricky, especially if you’re dealing with kids’ bedtimes, but it’s the perfect solution for many situations. If there’s a family that you’d like to have over, but can’t ever seem to make it work out, dessert at 7 PM might be something that works well!
My one caution on doing “just desserts” is to make sure it’s clear what you are inviting them over for so that they don’t arrive expecting a meal, and instead just receive chocolate cake!
Don’t forget about lunch.
Another way to be hospitable with less stress is to have someone over for lunch. This often works well for moms – even if you can’t or don’t want to invite whole families over, having a friend (and her children, if applicable) over during lunch can be an easy way to open up your home.
Lunch is rarely a fancy meal for anyone, so a simple set of sandwiches or a salad is often just fine, not to mention cheap and easy!
Take it to the park.
This summer, I’ve discovered that my kids think popcorn and watermelon is a great lunch – if we eat if at the park! There’s something about a change of venue and the plethora of things to do at the park that makes such a simple lunch so satisfying.
So, why not have another mom meet at the park with a few snacks? I suppose it’s not opening up your home, but again, the important thing is building relationships, not impressing with your fancy cooking skills and fashionable home.
Pizza is OK.
The picture above is actually a kid eating pizza at the park. The image caption said they took leftover pizza, wrapped it in foil, and let the sun warm it – great idea!
I am all about the homemade, people. But if you just don’t have time to make a meal and actually relax with your guests, there is absolutely wrong with ordering pizza or take-out! It’s not the cheapest option (though sometimes you can snag an amazing deal on pizza!) but sometimes the relief of not having to cook much is worth a little extra cost.
And, it doesn’t even have to be hot pizza – you can get a take-and-bake at a variety of stores now, usually for less than you’d get at a pizza joint. If you’re so inclined, add a homemade salad and you’re set.
Feed the kids first.
A strategy we sometimes employ is to let the kids eat first and then get them settled in to playing so the adults can enjoy the meal. It can also work out well from an expense standpoint, as you can fix something that’s a little more kid-friendly (usually cheaper) for the kids and make something a little more fancy (usually more expensive) for the adult.
Be strategically hospitable.
Now, you might think this is crazy, but I’ve learned a lesson: do not try to have too many people over to your home at once. I love having people over, and really enjoy having multiple families over at once.
But, as our family has grown, it’s become more apparent that it’s not a good idea for us to invite two other families with four kids each over all at once (for a total of 18 people) – our house just isn’t big enough!
We usually try to have one family with children and another couple without children over at the same time if we’re inviting multiple people over. This usually works out pretty well, as kids from two families can usually get along well, but sometimes the dynamics of three families can be a challenge. (I’m just being honest!)
Don’t shy away from having people with lots of kids over – we love it, and invitations for dinner are often rare for bigger families – but make sure you’re not setting yourself up for an evening of settling kid fights and fancy diagrams to figure out where everyone will sit.
Don’t discount leftovers.
Oh, I know, some of you may be thinking this post was pretty good until now. Serve guests leftovers?!
Normally, I wouldn’t invite someone over as a planned thing and serve them leftovers. However, we’ve had times where I fixed an awesome Sunday lunch, we just happened to have a good amount of leftovers, and we had friends over after Sunday night church for the lunch leftovers.
Some of those impromptu gatherings are the best ever! No one feels any pressure to perform on any level, because after all, you’re serving them your leftovers. Maybe not something I’d do as a course of habit, but I don’t think many people who are true friends would care – they just want to hang out with you!
And finally, breakfast. Most people don’t eat homemade pancakes terribly often, and they’re so simple to make and usually pretty cheap, too! (I like Alton Brown’s recipe.)
Serving them with real maple syrup can get pricey, so I usually make a berry sauce and serve that instead of syrup. Just about everyone loves it!
What are your tips for hassle-free entertaining?
I would love to hear how you’ve managed to make entertaining easier on your stress level and on your budget! Do you feel stressed by having people into your home, or invigorated?