A lot of you related to my dilemma of what healthy meals to serve to a crowd when on a budget . It CAN be hard, especially when on a budget. So today I thought I would share some of my ideas and tips, and I would love for you to share yours as well!
When feeding a crowd, I find it better to serve dishes that have wide appeal. Dislikes and likes are as varied as people are, but still, there are certain dishes that have a wider appeal and popularity. Secondly, of course is budget concerns. Many people may like a nice grilled steak, but it can be pretty darn expensive to serve to a crowd. And last, I don’t like to throw my nourishing ideas out the window when having guests. Certainly some of them could care less how healthy the food is, but not only does my family have to eat the food, but I wouldn’t feel right stuffing my guests full of food I thought was bad for them!
That doesn’t mean that I don’t make some compromises. It can be fun to serve a fresh baguette from a local bakery with your meal, for example. I am fine with that (and you thought I was some extremist, didn’t you?). Compromises I will make include serving some white flour bread or using some in a tart or pie crust. When coupled with a nourishing meal, I feel like it’s a small compromise.
Anyhow, let’s get to the meal ideas. There are many great meals for the winter and fall (such as soups), but since it’s summertime, I thought I would share ideas more appropriate to summer.
Main Dish Salads
Nothing is more refreshing on a hot day than large main dish salads topped with plenty of protein and a homemade dressing. And I’ve found that most people enjoy a nice salad. It also stretches out more expensive ingredients, like organic chicken. Grill some chicken breast or thighs, and thinly slice, or thinly slice a grilled sirloin steak or two. To add more protein, add flavor and to stretch the meat, add toasted nuts, chopped boiled eggs, or cooked and cooled beans (my current favorite is black beans). Add vegetables such as cucumber, shredded carrots, and diced tomatoes. Toss with a homemade dressing (perhaps my everyday salad dressing, sweetened a bit to tame the tang). Serve with generously buttered bread.
Waffles and Pancakes
Okay, so this is a meal that doesn’t work just in the summertime, but it still great in the summer. Everyone (or at least almost everyone) loves pancakes and waffles. I’ve also found that my soaked pancake version is very light and fluffy, so that people don’t mind that it’s whole wheat-even people who generally only like white flour pancakes. I’ve also used that recipe to make waffles with excellent results. Or you could try the sourdough version.
The expensive problem with this meal is not the pancakes as they are very frugal, but the topping. During the winter you can make an apple topping, but in the summer it’s the perfect time to top with a berry sauce. In the height of the berry season, it shouldn’t be expensive. You can keep them fresh and serve with whipped cream, or make a sweet sauce with the berries (simply cook down with a bit of water and sweetener of choice-thicken if desired with arrowroot powder). I’ve found this much less expensive than maple syrup on it’s own. Plus berries are full of so many antioxidants and summer cheer. To beef the meal up, you can serve with fried or scrambled eggs, and/or bacon and eggs.
Added bonus? You don’t need to serve dessert!
Burritos and tacos are always appreciated and a favorite. Taco salad is an absolute favorite in the summertime around here. Take washed and thinly sliced romaine lettuce, and top with all of your favorite toppings for tacos: taco meat, cheese, olives, black beans, avocados, etc. Then dress with a Mexican themed dressing (my husband grew up with a simple dressing of sour cream mixed with salsa in equal parts-it’s delicious). You can allow everyone to make his or her own salad or you can make up a large quantity and serve. Just make sure you top with crumbled corn chips (organic, to avoid GMO’s, and homemade is even better!).
More Grill Uses
Around here when corn is really at the height, it can be very cheap to buy large bags of corn at the farmer’s market. When grilled, it’s fantastic. Throw it on the grill with some all natural beef hotdogs for a fun meal. Or, you can make a grilled vegetable salad. I think one summer we made this at least once a week. It’s that good.
Fabulous Summery Sides
I love making cold salads beyond green salads. Everyday Rice salad is a favorite, as is Basil Potato Salad, and both are quite frugal to make. While quinoa is new to many people, Mexican quinoa salad is a tasty way to introduce them to it. Two more favorite salads are Simple Lentil Salad and Cucumber and Red Onion Salad. I love deviled eggs and they are a frugal protein source too! These are all great sides that are frugal too. Perhaps you could serve them with the following rib recipe? Or with my Lemon Garlic Drumsticks (a very frugal meat option).
Sweet and Sour Ribs
Ribs are a lovely summer meal. I have never done ribs on the grill before, but that would be nice to prevent heating up the stove. My family’s sweet and sour ribs have wide appeal and are delicious (even if I do heat up the oven to serve.) Unfortunately, ribs can be expensive to buy grassfed, though I’ve snagged some great deals ($.99 a pound). So, if you can find them at that price, they actually are quite the frugal, but special meal.
Once again, this dish is completely appropriate for other seasons. But even in the Summer, it’s popular easy, and frugal. I serve my Slow Cooker Spaghetti recipe with brown rice noodles.
My best weapon is definitely the Brownie Pudding Cake. It’s sweet, it’s chocolate, it’s special, and it’s sooooo cheap to make. But in the summertime, it’s also nice to take advantage of all of the fruit. Berries with a drizzle of cream, sliced watermelon, peaches topped with whipped cream. You get the idea. Try to find fruit when it is at it’s peak and cheapest. I find it helpful to make a tart out of some of the more expensive fruits(using unbleached white flour or sprouted flour). You only use a small amount of fruit, and it’s elegant and pretty too.
When I serve homemade ice cream, I serve it in small ice cream bowls that I found at goodwill. It keeps the portions small, and looks nice too. Sometimes the best way to save money on dessert is to serve small portions!
So those are some of the ideas I had. But I am sure I am missing many great ones. Please share yours!