Monday, March 31, 2014

"Ask Sara":Entertaining on a Budget

"We often host my extended family for dinner, which we really enjoy, but I'm looking for inexpensive meal ideas to feed a crowd."

Thanks for your question, Maria! What a wonderful and meaningful tradition to have your family over to spend time together for dinner. Those are memories you will treasure for a lifetime!

I also understand the need to stay within your budget, and especially while entertaining a group of people, expenses can add up quickly!

You can read some of my favorite ways to stretch meat here, but there are many satisfying, healthy, and flavorful meals you can make without spending a ton. Here are some ideas:

1. Make-Your-Own Bars are fun and inexpensive. By shredding meat for tacos or sandwiches, or making your meat stretch in a chili or soup, you can feed a group on the cheap. Put out some toppings, and let everyone get creative.
I recently had a get-together where I made a chili bar. Including all the toppings and the chili, (serving 12), I spent less than $30 total. 
-Chili  -(cheese, corn chips, sour cream, green onions, white onions, hot sauce, cornbread)

-Tacos/Burritos- (Chicken, Pork, or Beef) (cheese, lettuce, sour cream, avocado, salsa, hot sauce, rice, beans)

-Baked Potatoes- (cheese sauce, chili, bacon, green onions, cheese, sour cream)

-BBQ Sandwiches (Chicken, Pork, or Beef)-(coleslaw, mustard, onions, BBQ sauce, mayonnaise, cheese, pickles)

-Pasta-set out different pasta shapes (spaghetti, rotini, farfalle, etc) along with various types of sauce (marinara, alfredo, pesto, etc.) It's fun to mix different sauces together too...Pesto Alfredo is delicious! Set out with cheese and bread. Don't forget my tip on heating pasta in a snap.

-Nachos-(cheese or cheese sauce, jalapenos, sour cream, chili, cilantro, onions, olives, beans (refried or black/pinto), rice, meat such as chicken, beef, or pork)

-Salad-Set out lettuce, several types of dressings, and chopped salad toppers (carrots, celery, hard boiled eggs, strawberries, bacon, avocado, olives, bell peppers, cheese, croutons, mushrooms, shredded chicken, pickles, red onion) Since all the ingredients are chopped and stretch pretty far, you get a lot of bang for your buck.
2. Casseroles
Making up a simple lasagna (while cheese can be expensive, you can get a lot of servings out of one dish), or Tex-Mex Casserole can save you time and money in feeding a crowd.

3. Soups and Stews
You can stretch soups and stews to feed every last person in your family. Try something hearty like a beef stew or a ham and split pea soup. $10 worth of meat can feed 12 people. Serve with biscuits or rolls.

4. Potluck 
Another option would be to turn the extended family get-togethers into potlucks. People enjoy contributing food, and this could also mean more time enjoying your family, and less time cooking! If you aren't quite ready to make it a total potluck, provide the main dish and have your guests provide the sides or toppings.

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