I love the holidays. I love having people over for meals. I love to share that time with others. But, I was reminded yesterday in two conversations of times when I had to be extremely tight with our food budget. It was very difficult to have people over at those times because I worried about having enough food and the cost. It wasn't because I didn't want to have them over or because I didn't want to be generous--it was just hard for me.
I found that there were a few meals that I served regularly and another way that I found I could be generous with my time and skills (which I had) rather than financially (which I didn't have).
The meal I began making was a Meatball Soup from the More With Less Cookbook. The premise of that cookbook is to make "more" with "less" of the world's food resources. Most of the recipes are very inexpensive to make and flavorful.
Here's my version of their meatball soup:
Combine 4-5 cups cubed potatoes (peel on)
1 lg or 2 small onions cut in quarters
1/4-1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or 1-2 Tbsp. dried
2-3 carrots peeled and chopped or sliced
4 cups water
2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
Bring to a boil, then add meatballs (see below).
I make the meatballs while the soup is coming to a boil because they're quick and easy to make.
In a mixing bowl, combine
1 lb. ground beef
1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup milk
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper.
Form into small meatballs and set aside.
Cover and Cook for 25-30 minutes in a pan at a simmer or low boil.
Add 1 cup milk and 4 tsp. (1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp.) white vinegar.
Skim fat off top--the higher fat content of the ground beef, the more fat there will be. The last time I made this with 90% lean ground beef, I didn't need to skim off any fat.
I will warn you that this soup has a strange smell (the vinegar) when it's leftovers. But, then you heat it up, and eat with a piece of bread and it always tastes wonderful.
The other meal I make is tacos with refried beans. I posted the refried bean recipe a while back and you can find it here: http://makingthingsstretch.blogspot.com/2010/02/refried-beans-and-bean-flautas.html
Refried bean tacos and flautas are both inexpensive dishes.
One of the other ideas I discovered was to have people over for dessert and games rather than for dinner. It is much less expensive to make part of the meal than the whole meal. I also learned to take people up on their offers (and to offer myself) to bring a dish when having company or being company.
I once ran into a lady at BJs who was lamenting having visitors come see them. The reason? Everyone who came to visit wanted to have crabs, which is a meal you order out to take home and eat rather than eating in--so the cost falls to the host more often than it is split with the guests. Her guests had no idea how much crabs cost or what they were asking (when they came with large grown children who had big appetites) and she didn't to be rude or seem stingy. I have found a way around this one and a way to get less expensive crabs, but I am very aware of what an expensive meal it can be to have crabs with guests. It can be hard.
The way I found that I could help with meals at church, please forgive me if I've written this before, is to join with somebody to share making the meal. We lived far away from most people in our church until recently so it was difficult to deliver food on a weekday. So, I would make a batch of homemade rolls, some cookies, and some muffins (all of which could be frozen by the recipient) for when they needed them. More than the cost of the food, I was giving my time. Typically, I also make snickerdoodles. They are quite yummy and less expensive than other cookies to make. I recently discovered another positive aspect of them--they are food allergy friendly since they do not have chocolate (can trigger migraines and other things) and peanut butter (the most common food allergy I hear about).
I love having people over and if you are my friends and I invite you over--please come! I hope that you read this blog post and understand that this is something I've sorted out with the Lord. I am thankful that I can be more generous right now in what I fix for company, but I am ever mindful of being wise with the resources we have so that we can be generous with them more frequently rather than infrequently.