Adventures in Frugality: Preparing Food in Advance for a House Full of People

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foodThe weekend after next, we are expecting eleven houseguests who will be staying for varying periods of time ranging from two days to seven days. This means that on top of the challenges of having two children in diapers, we also need to plan ahead for food for that many guests. Since we’re frugal, that also means that we’re looking for ways to minimize the costs associated with that many guests. Here are our plans.

First, we’re going to prepare as much food in advance as we possibly can. Items that can be made and then frozen will be at a premium, such as pizzas, bread, cinnamon rolls, and other such items. We’re already at work on stocking the freezer with items that can easily be pulled out, put in the oven, and then be ready to go.

This requires some careful planning.

Our first step was to prepare a meal plan for every meal over this period of time, particularly the period with the full complement of guests in our house. We’ve sketched out Friday, Saturday, and Sunday’s suppers, Saturday and Sunday’s breakfasts, and Saturday and Sunday’s lunches in great detail, and other meals in lesser detail.

Our second step was to select meals with the “prepare ahead” perspective in mind. Meals like homemade pizza, cinnamon rolls, soups and stews, bratwursts, and so forth can be prepared partially or fully in advance of guests arriving. These can also be prepared from scratch, making them much easier on the ol’ budget.

Obviously, a very large grocery list follows from here, with all of the items we need for the meals.

For those interested, here’s our full meal plan for the weekend, along with tips for how it can be done in advance.

Friday supper Homemade pizza
There are two routes to go here. The crust can always be made entirely in advance, baked for several minutes on a pizza stone, then frozen. Alternately, one could make the entire pizza (raw) in advance and freeze it. The first option works better, but requires some later work, so I minimize that by browning sausage in advance for the meatier pizza and freezing it and having all other ingredients on hand, so the crust can be pulled out and the pizza assembled pretty quickly. For the vegetables, dicing them in advance and freezing them also works – a quick thawing and spreading them out on the pizza works like a charm.

Saturday breakfast Egg casserole and homemade toast
Two egg casseroles can be prepared entirely in advance, as can two loaves of homemade bread for toast.

Saturday lunch Soup, sandwiches, and relish tray
Most of the elements for the relish tray can be sliced in advance and stored in containers until needed. The sandwiches are very easy to assemble and the soups can also be prepared in advance and frozen in gallon Ziploc bags.

Saturday supper Bratwursts, baked beans, and sauerkraut
This is actually planned to be a party inviting even more people than our houseguests, so we’re going for very simple here. The bratwursts will all be boiled in advance and frozen so they can be pulled from the bag straight to the grill for grilling. The baked beans can be started in a crock pot before the party begins.

Sunday breakfast Homemade cinnamon rolls
These can be frozen for a short period after being rolled up – just unthaw them, slice them, and toss them in the oven to bake. This will be a very busy morning, so lots of coffee and a cinnamon roll to grab will be very convenient.

Sunday lunch Pulled pork sandwiches and homemade potato salad
The pulled pork can be prepared in advance and frozen, as can the potato salad. This will again be a somewhat large crowd, so the meal will be pretty simple.

Sunday supper Red wine beef stew and apple pie
The pie is already made and frozen, while the beef stew can be assembled and cooked in a crock pot pretty easily – it’s a matter of just putting in all of the ingredients and setting it on low.

There you go, an entire weekend of homemade food for a house full of guests. Now, if we only knew how much to buy for beverages…

You’ll notice three key elements for success.

First, we prepare and freeze as much in advance as possible. We do this in the week before the event so there is minimal long-term freezing effect on the food – it comes out quite well.

Second, we rely on the crock pot during several meals. A crock pot is an amazing device for preparing larger quantities of food in an easy way.

Finally, we focus on food that’s simple to eat. This minimizes clean-up time, enabling everyone to kick back and enjoy each other’s company much more than otherwise might happen if we made highly complex meals.

To me, this is frugality in action – homemade food that everyone can enjoy and doesn’t bust one’s budget.

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22 thoughts on “Adventures in Frugality: Preparing Food in Advance for a House Full of People

  1. How do you freeze your pies? I’ve heard some people freeze the filling and crust individually and others freeze the whole thing together. I’ve never frozen a pie before. This sounds like a great idea for Thanksgiving!

  2. You nailed it! Planning ahead and planning easy to prepare and freezable things is so important – to your stress level and your budget. I just implemented this strategy last weekend when my inlaws came for 4 days. Yes it was only the 2 of them with the 6 of us. But when I spent the entire week prior and most of the weekend of their visit very sick, those freezable meals and all that planning paid off in a big way! I have most of my family coming for Christmas and I am already starting to plan.

    Enjoy your weekend!

  3. This is also a plan for weight gain as well. I see nothing but low quality carbs in all these meals. Go for complex carbs and carbs with a low glycemic load. Otherwise, everyone will be tired and fat after your weekend.

  4. While Martha Stewart isn’t usually that concerned about budget ingredients she is the queen of this sort of planning. And almost everything she does is made from scratch. If you notice in her magazines she usually outlines the “prepare ahead” steps on all her recipes and will even tell you to how long certain items will stay “fresh” in the freezer. Her old holiday magazines are a great resource for recipes and ideas for feeding large groups. And best of all you can get them at the library for free.

    If you make as much ahead of time as possible, and you get all your cleaning done early you will have nothing to do but relax and enjoy you guests and the holidays – it takes away the stress and pressure that most people feel during the holidays.

  5. Trent, have you checked out The Best Make Ahead Recipe cookbook from the America’s Test Kitchen? I got it through inter-library loan at my local library a few weeks ago. It’s a great cookbook with really delicious recipes, such as these that I’ve made: spinach-mushroom lasagna, broccoli rabe and sausage lasagna, and pork stew with fennel, prunes and carrots. I copied several recipes before returning it. They have chapters for crockpot, make-and-freeze, and planned leftovers. I may end up buying it as a xmas gift for a family member. I recommend you look for it sometime.

  6. @Tyler:
    Aside from the cinnamon rolls and bratwurst, the menu doesn’t look all that unhealthy. At least not if the bread and pizza crust are whole grain, and the meats and cheese of a low fat variety (they may not be, but it’s not specified either way).

    The rest (beans, eggs, veggies, and stews) are generally pretty good for you.

  7. @Tyler:

    Stop being a food nazi. This is a decently balanced menu. There is no reason to expect they are going to be overindulging themselves and besides its nobody else’s business what an individual chooses to eat.

  8. I’m curious about how you make homemade bread. Maybe a recipe? Your plan sounds great by the way. The dishes are very different from the ones we eat in our family (we are vegetarian anyway, so that rules out a lot of your ingredients right there); I love being able to glance through a “window” into other people’s fridges and kitchens!

  9. Trent, I can tell that you’re a Midwestern boy by that menu!

    Seriously, though, when I stay at someone else’s house, I generally buy some groceries and/or pay for a meal out. To me that’s part of being a good guest.

  10. Great planning Trent!

    You inspire me!!

    Can you post the recipes for the cinnamon rolls and egg casserole, please

    …Lisa

  11. You can freeze potato salad? I assume yours doesn’t include mayonnaise, then. Mayo separates after being thawed.

  12. “…just unthaw them, slice them, and toss them in the oven to bake.”

    “Unthaw” means “freeze.” :-)

    Great tips, though!

  13. Trent,

    I love your daily comments. Really starts my day thinking about ways I can save money for my family. Thanks for all the great tips. Now, how about giving us some recipes?

  14. My opinion is that anyone who stays in you home from 3 to 7 days should be contributing to the grocery budget as well. They should purchase some milk, bread, coffee, and the ingredients to cook at least one meal while in your home. Those that stay the 7 days should at least treat you and your family out to dinner one night. I always do this when visiting family, but they never do it when coming to my home, guess they don’t pick up on the hint very well!

  15. We just did this same thing when we had 10 guests for a weekend bus tour. I didn’t freeze the food, but I did use my 2 crock pots to cook the food while we did other things, and had everything prepared before time. the other bonus of this is that you spend time with your guests, instead of being in the kitchen the whole time.

    Some things worked, some didn’t, so I’m making some notes to use for next time I have a big group.

  16. I have a fast stand by and kids love it even more than pizza and it’s a lot cheaper. A friend of mine taught me to make easy baked ziti. Cook a package of ziti al dente. Mix with a jar of tomato sauce in a deep pyrex baking dish and put a package of the grated mozzarella cheese you buy in the dairy section on top. Cover and back 1/2 hour, serve with salad and a green vegetable. It is very filling.

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