I do quite well during the week with my frugal meal planning. But come Shabbat, frugality can fly out the window faster than I can say “Shabbat Shalom!” And if a lot of people are coming over? Fuggitabout!
This is what a typical menu for Shabbat lunch looks like in my oh-no-I-didn’t-make-enough-food mind:
First course = three or four “fancy” salads (you know, with herbs and balsamic vinegar and whatnot) plus home-baked challah. (Courtesy of my husband, the challah baker. Seriously! How awesome is that? And they are gooood!)
Main course = two sources of protein (why? why can’t I JUST serve chicken? or cholent? or brisket? why do I feel compelled to put out two entirely separate entrees?!), two or three starchy side dishes and another vegetable dish or two. And then I panic 72 million times between candle lighting and having people over that there won’t be enough food.
Dessert = something home baked, and if there are two or more families joining us, I usually do TWO somethings home baked. Just in case. Plus cut up fresh fruit, nuts, seeds and/or dried fruit (in honor of our years in Israel).
Let’s summarize. From the above, you can see that I am:
A. Perhaps ever so slightly neurotic when it comes to hosting on Shabbat (and therefore prone to serious pre-hosting anxiety disorder most of the time, causing my husband to declare that, “That’s it! We’re never having people over again!”),
B. Somewhat prone to chronically overestimate the quantity of food that 6 adults and 10 or more kids will be able to consume in one sitting, and
C. Completely likely to blow our entire week’s food budget on one stinking Shabbat lunch
Okay, so now you know. And if you live in Kansas City, I’m sorry if I’ve just completely tainted the next invitation you receive from my family for Shabbat lunch. I really am thrilled that you’re coming. Just ignore the crazed look in my eye if we, G-d forbid, run out of the tomato and basil salad.
A huge part of living within our means is being honest with myself about what I can — and cannot — change. I can change how I shop (on sale, with coupons), where I shop, and, to a certain extent, what I buy. I can not, however, change my genetic coding, which demands that I show people that I care about them by stuffing them so full they want to vomit.
Given that I can’t change the latter, I need to focus on the former. In other words, for me to get the last bastion of our family’s food un-frugality under control, I need to focus on cooking more budget-friendly meals. I haven’t mastered this entirely yet, but here are a few things that I’m working on:
> Making meat a component of a dish, rather than entire dish unto itself – e.g. stir fry, stuffed peppers (or cabbage) with ground beef and rice, or cholent with plenty of potatoes and beans and a little less $10/lb roast. This strategy works better for me on Friday nights, when it’s usually just the five of us, than on Shabbat, when we’re typically hosting other families. I still can’t bring myself to serve guests spaghetti bolognese, but I do now think it’s a perfect respectable meal for my family.
> Serving only one entree per meal – I’ve been experimenting with this lately, and I’ve managed to host two lunches like this without having a nervous breakdown, so I’m optimistic that the trend will continue. When I feel panicky, I remind myself that no one in their right mind would walk into a restaurant and order steak AND chicken, along with 16 side dishes. When that reminder doesn’t work, I think about how much food most people have probably just eaten at the high fructose corn syrup party delightful shul kiddush.
> Choosing less expensive cuts of meat and chicken – I love boneless, skinless chicken breasts. As a former vegetarian, it still totally skeeves me out touch raw meat too much. But last week, when we were having 2 families over for lunch, I challenged myself to work with the whole chicken. Okay, truth be told, I challenged my husband to work with the whole chicken (which involved Googling, “How to Quarter a Chicken” and then watching a very explicit youtube video that featured the word carcass at least 19 times. Ick.). But he quartered it perfectly and I stuffed it with some zucchini from our CSA and it was truly delicious. (Recipe courtesy of the purple Spice & Spirit cookbook.) Instead of buying 4 bags of boneless, skinless breasts at Costco for $10 each, I got three whole chickens (hens?) at Costco for $6.50 – $7 each. Savings: $19-$21.50 on the entree alone.
My attempts at honoring Shabbat while honoring frugality are no doubt a work in progress. These three strategies are some of the ways we are working to save money on our Shabbat meals. What tips and tricks do you have for keeping your budget under control for Shabbat (and yomtov)?