Adventures in Frugality

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.

Our Meal Plan and Tips for Cooking 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.

Elements for Success

1. 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.

2. Don’t be afraid to use the crock pot

A crock pot is an amazing device for preparing larger quantities of food in an easy way.

3. 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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