6 Ways to Make Hosting Shabbat Meals More Affordable

6 Ways to Make Hosting Shabbat Meals More Affordable

Over the weekend, I received a great question about how to budget for the expense of hosting Shabbat meals.

I recently started reviewing your blog and I’m totally inspired. My husband and I are hitting rough times at the moment and when we sat down to figure out our spending we discovered that the majority of our spending has been towards food. It’s been practically a second rent for us. The question I have is how much do you calculate Shabbat into your budget? Do you have a separate weekday budget vs. Shabbat budget? Or is it each week you plan to spend a set amount on food and that also includes Shabbat? How does this work?

Thanks for your email! I’m reading between the lines here, but it sounds like you really have two questions:

1. How does one account for Shabbat within their budgeting? (Which is more of an accounting question.)


2. How does one afford the expense of entertaining on Shabbat? (Which is more of a personal finance question.)

So, I’ll give you my thoughts on both questions.

How Do We Budget for Shabbat? (The Accounting Question)

As far as what we do with regard to our budgeting, we have one budget for all of our groceries, including Shabbat and the rest of the week.  In fact, this budget also includes non-food items, such as household cleaning supplies and personal care items.

Basically, anything that I’d buy at the grocery store, drug store, Costco or Target (with the exception of clothing and prescription medication) gets included in this number.

The reason we do it this way is to keep our accounting lives a little bit simpler. I used to have multiple categories for these types of items within my budget, but that made it a real pain to figure out which part of our receipt was food, which was household items, which was personal care, etc.

The same idea would apply to your Shabbat food expenses. If you divided it out, how do you handle left-overs? I mean, technically, that part of your budget would need to be re-allocated to weekday spending. See what I mean? Too complicated. Keep it simple!

How Do We Make Hosting Shabbat Meals More Affordable? (The Personal Finance Question)

#1. Be realistic

If money is tight right now, then huge meals with expensive cuts of meats and a dozen different side dishes is just not realistic. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad hostess. It just means that right now you can’t afford to entertain in a particular style. And you know what? That’s just fine. You can still perform the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim beautifully without running up credit card debt. (In fact, you just might find that when your finances turn around, you still don’t want to spend $100+ on a single meal!)

#2.  Set a budget and stick to it

Once you and your husband have realistically evaluated where you’re at, pick an appropriate amount of money to spend on food, write that number down, and promise to each other that you will not spend more. Nomatterwhat. If you find yourself going over budget week in and week out, try cash budgeting. Take out your allocated amount, put it into an envelope and carry it with you to the grocery store. When that envelope is depleted, stop shopping for the week.

#3. Use savvy shopping strategies

Keep a price book. Menu plan. Consider couponing and/or bulk shopping thru a coop to reduce your grocery bill. Take advantage of Subscribe & Save deals thru Amazon to create margin in your budget. When you get a screaming good deal on toilet paper, you gain a bit of wiggle room in your budget. Apply those savings to the more costly items on your grocery list, which don’t often go on sale (for example, kosher chicken and beef).

#4. Make simpler meals

One is not obligated to serve brisket and cholent and chicken breasts at every meal. Choice is wonderful. Except for when it become gluttonous. I know I might be ruffling feathers here, but the hosting bar that has been set in some communities is just not healthy, financially nor dietarily. There’s nothing wrong with moderation — even on Shabbat.

#5. Invite fewer guests

As someone who is a bit of an introvert, I actually prefer “smaller” meals (i.e. one other family at a time) since that way I can really talk to our guests, rather than playing cruise ship director for the whole meal. But even if you’re more of an extroverted hostess, I certainly think it’s okay to say to yourself, “This is the time in our lives for more intimate – and budget-friendly — meals. In a while, when our finances turn around, we can go back to having huge meals.”

#6. Potluck

The most important thing about sharing Shabbat meals with friends and family is just that — “sharing”. Splitting a meal with another family or two is a great way to keep the costs down for everyone. And incidentally, it’s a lot less stressful and time-consuming. I love potlucked meals!

If you’re looking for more information on this subject, here are few others posts that I’ve written over the years about Shabbat and frugality:

Be sure to read the comments on all four of these – they are excellent!

I’d love to hear from all you. How do you make hosting Shabbat meals more affordable? Do you have any budgeting techniques that you use to keep your accounting in check? 


  1. #7 Go vegetarian/dairy. Making a large tray of baked ziti, noodle pudding, or coosa jibn is a lot cheaper than meat.

  2. #4 is hard. I’ve been making an effort to simplify shabbat meals. I usually try for an app, main and 2 sides (usually starch and veggie) and dessert. Sometimes I (gasp) skip the app.
    Depending on who we have over, we do split meals as well.

    I’ve been working on my price book, but getting the prices (esp when I lose receipts) has been difficult. I have to make some “price book” trips to the stores I use most. I think once that’s done it will be easier.


  3. It’s also a good idea to chose recipes that don’t involve buying a lot of new ingredients! Try cooking with foods that are easily available and in season. Great post!

  4. I count out the pieces of chicken for Friday night according to who eats which piece of chicken.(i.e. mommy-breast, kid1-drumstick, daddy-thigh and drumstick, etc) I have no leftovers anymore!

    When I started economizing, a Kollel wife taught me to look in the garbage after every meal, shabbos and weekdays, and then cut back by that much. I hardly ever throw away food anymore after meals.

  5. One thing I’ve started doing is no longer serving family style. People eat with their eyes and a lot ends up trashed. At first I was afraid my guests would mind me making their plates for them but I actually found that they don’t (just ask what they want like when you ask if they want veggies in chicken soup) and it is fun for me to do fancy plating like the pics in cookbooks! I’ve had significantly less waste this way.

  6. Thank you for #4 especially. It seems like overeating is a big part of frum life and it’s extremely hard to change. I once dared to utter the phrase, “Do we really need this much food?” at our shul and you should have seen the looks I got lol.

    The biggest problem I’ve seen with changing Shabbat meals is that people will say that certain dishes are minhag and they have to serve them. It’s almost always the most expensive item – usually fish or beef.

  7. This is great! Thank you. I started the excel shopping tracker this year just to gauge the amount I’m spending on food. Mara- I have no idea how you spent only $50/week on groceries – I’m amazed! I’m too intrigriued by sales and some I just can’t give up.
    I now make my own challah and calculated it costs me less than 1 challah for 6-8 challah using a 5 pound bag. That’s helpful! I also greeE any leftover chicken or kugel for when it’s just us on shabboa for a Fri night/Shabbos lunch. I too will only make a brisket or cholent (in addition to chicken) and buy meat/chicken in bulk when it’s an amazing sale. Sometimes the meat/chicken can last me for 3-5 months in my deep freezer.

  8. Awesome post and comments! Here in Memphis we serve buffet style and I know that leads to more waste. I don’t think I could plate for my guests other than fish, salad and soup but I should definitely cut down on the number of choices on the buffet. One thing that really makes me livid is the amount of food that young children waste, especially when they are allowed to take from the buffet by themselves. I don’t have too many young guests anymore because my kids are much older but when I do I think I will start asking the parents to please make their children’s plates. That way the parents will think twice too about how much they take for their kids and themselves! Thanks Mara and your KOAB fans.

  9. Glen Holman says

    Limit grocery shopping to only once per week and go with a list. It requires that you be organized but you will save upwards of 25% on your monthly food shopping bill. Every time you make a visit, you pick up many extra things. That’s how you beat the system so to speak.

  10. Awesome post! Question for Elisa: What is coosa jibn? Thanks!

  11. http://m.allrecipes.com/recipe/231372/lebanese-stuffed-zucchini-coosakoosa

    I found this recipe – but it is with meat. Maybe just switch the meat for cheese

  12. I agree with #4. Keeping meals simple. I’ve said it before many times myself. Serving so many proteins like brisket AND chicken AND chulent is just totally unnecessary. People don’t need that much extra food of you are making side dishes, salads or starting with soup or fish! Starting with Soup AND fish is also too much(fri night). I personally can’t even eat this much in one meal. I feel so full cuz i feel i have to try a little of everything cuz its being served. ..It’s not like every weeknight meal consists of so much food so why should shabbos be so gluttonous? People are wasting money on shabbos food cuz they think they HAVE to or guests will look at them funny or even more ridiculous is that they think they r not observing the right way. Don’t even get me started on spending a ton on a lulav & etrog when most r just fine lol. You have your fish & your meat so everything else is just what everyone has gotten used to but not necessary to observe shabbos or enjoy the company of family & friends.

  13. I think there are a lot of ways you can stretch ground meat. For example, I make a ground meat pie that serves 4-6, and uses just a pound of ground beef–you could make 3 pies for less than the cost of 2 chickens. We only usually do one animal protein a meal–I’ll do a mostly vegetarian meal (vegetables and legumes, mostly), plus a meat main. I make a blended vegetable soup—I make a lot and freeze the leftovers for later. A shabbat meal is about the care that went into planning it, so it feels special and brings together a spirit not found the rest of the week. You can do that with spices, good ingredients, and care–not in making more than you need and serving 3 kinds of meat. And like Mara, I assume Shabbat leftovers cover at least one other meal a week.

  14. I started reverse meal planning. Shop from my pantry and deep freeze, then view sale ads, then shop at grocery for the week. I do shop at several stores always checking the marked down areas first, then fill in the gaps from the regular aisles.

    Our grocery budget for a family of 6 is $600 /month (food, toiletries, cleaning and personal care) which includes 2 adults, 2 ravenous carnivore teens, 1 adult portioned eating 10yob, and 1 petite 12 yo daughter.

  15. Many years ago, my husband was part of a massive layoff. We had been hosting every other Shabbos one or both meals. We just stopped. It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary. When times got better, we started to host again. Nowadays, people always ask what they can bring. I usually say a side or salad. That saves money and time. One of the things I do now is that I cook with leftovers in mind. Make two chickens, use the leftovers for Brunswick stew. Schnitzel is dinner and lunches through out the week. Salads and veg that hold up in the fridge vs lettuce salads. Having containers that travel well is important.

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