It’s summertime, and the… kitchen is HOT! This month’s Eat Well, Spend Less theme is Summer Eating, and we’re writing on a variety of topics having to do with eating well during the hectic summer months.
My chosen topic is how to eat well and spend less while entertaining weekend guests. I love having out-of-town visitors, but I’ll admit that my desire to serve them amazing food has sometimes caused more stress than was necessary. I’m learning, though, and I think I’ve finally figured out some ways to make serving great food and spending time relaxing with our guests realistic.
Here’s my tips for entertaining weekend guests without driving yourself – or them – crazy:
Help your guests relax by using disposables.
As a general rule, we use very few disposables at our house. Even meals out on our picnic table are eating on glass plates, because they’re cheaper and, well, food is just nicer on real plates.
But when you’re feeding a crowd, there will be plenty of dishes to clean up just from the serving dishes, and often your guests will want to help clean up. For me, loading lots of plates and cups into the dishwasher isn’t a big deal, but it can cause stress for your guests who would really prefer to be relaxing but want to help you clean up the delicious meal you served them.
So, for their sake, use disposable plates and cups if possible. For anything other than a simple picnic, I use Chinet plates because it’s the closest thing to a “real” plate. More expensive, but worth it to the girl who would really prefer to use glass! We use plastic cups so that we can write each person’s name on their cup, and typically would re-use the same cups over the course of the visit.
Cook for a week, rest on the weekend.
I love having great food ready for my guests, and spending hours in the kitchen doesn’t bother me on a normal day. But when we have out-of-town guests, I really want to be touring our beautiful state or playing board games with them, not cooking in a hot kitchen.
There are so many things that you can do ahead of time to help you get amazing food on the table with little effort. Starting as much as two weeks ahead of time (depending on the task), you can:
- Make cookie dough and freeze into balls (just place the frozen dough balls on a cookie sheet and cook a few minutes longer)
- Wash lettuce for salads and sandwiches
- Make salad dressings and other condiments
- Wash and cut fruit (use this trick to keep berries fresh)
- Make pasta or potato salad
- Form hamburger patties
- Make ice cream
- Make baked beans
- Make streusel topping for berry crisps
- Make and freeze cinnamon rolls (freeze before the final rise, then allow them to thaw, rise, and bake as usual)
True, something like forming hamburger patties doesn’t take that long in and of itself, but it’s so nice to know that you can come home after a day of hiking with your guests and they’re ready to throw on the grill.
I did a bunch of tasks like this before my family visited recently and it made mealtime so easy!
Accept offers of help, strategically.
I’m not going to lie – when you have out of town guests that want to help by bringing their own food, it’s sometimes more stress than cooking it all yourself. If your guests want to help, see if there’s a way you can delegate an entire meal to them rather than having them bring “something to go with ______”. It’s hard to plan meals when you don’t know what your guests are bringing (two potato salads at the same meal might not be ideal) but it’s also hard to pressure them to tell you exactly what they’ll bring.
If you think it would be stressful for your guests to plan to bring (or purchase once they get to your city) an entire meal, dessert is a nice thing to delegate that doesn’t have to “go” with anything else.
During a recent visit, my family offered to send money ahead of time so that I could purchase food for all lunches and dinners, rather than them bringing their own sandwich stuff for lunches. I resisted at first, because I really wanted to treat them, but when they insisted, and I finally accepted, I’ll admit that it was really nice to be able to have all the meals planned, without knowing if people were going to need this or that to go with the lunch stuff they brought.
I also purchased some canned pop (a very rare thing at our house) with the money they sent since I knew that would make my family feel at home. :)
Accomodate your guests’ preferences if you can.
Remember that your guests may be used to a different style of food, and try to accomodate it, reasonably. Indeed, your guests should be gracious, but it’s not a whole lot of fun for a guest to have to eat a meal of spicy Indian food when they prefer a simple meat-and-potatoes style. It can also be uncomfortable for you, as the host, to have to watch your guests endure, rather than enjoy a meal.
When my family visited recently, I made lasagna for the first night they were here. Made with fresh pasta and homemade ricotta, and resevering the red sauce as a topping rather than a filling, my lasagna is pretty unique and non-traditional – my husband and kids think it’s awesome, but I knew that the more picky eaters (ahem, my dad) in my family would probably not enjoy it.
So, rather than having to watch them pick at (and waste) a meal that they wouldn’t enjoy, I just fixed spaghetti for those who didn’t want the lasagna. I even bought a jar of store brand pasta sauce and didn’t do a thing to it because I knew that was what my dad was used to and would enjoy. It was so nice to not feel bad that they didn’t like my lasagna!
Don’t feel like you have to create a separate meal for those who might not be used to your style of cooking, but try to have a couple of parts of the meal that will help to ensure everyone’s tummy is pleasurably filled.
Eating well and spending less with guests
I’m learning that it really is totally possible to spoil my guests with delicious food without spending all the time they’re here in the kitchen. I hope we have more guests soon so I can practice some more! :)
What things do you do to help make out-of-town guests feel spoiled in your kitchen?
Be sure to check out the rest of the Eat Well, Spend Less bloggers for more summer cooking inspiration: