Shabbat on a Budget: Struggling Toward Frugality

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 andΒ  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)?


  1. The chicken thing used to skeeve me too. I have found one of the easiest ways to deal with whole chicken is to leave it that way πŸ˜‰ I found an awesome recipe on Pioneer Woman’s site for Roasted Whole Chicken – she did 6 at a time. I have a small family and we don’t host shabbat dinner for more than a few people now and then (we are not shomer shabbos though we have friday night shabbos dinner with our immediate family).

    But then I found a recipe for whole chicken in the crockpot (you can use a timer so it will turn off and you don’t have to worry about it on all night). And then when it is done have the hubby carve it up πŸ˜‰ So delicious and easy. One is in the crockpot for tonight’s dinner right now. I’ve done two at a time in a larger crockpot and still yummy!

    Whole Chicken Crock Pot
    SERVES 4

    4 teaspoons salt
    2 teaspoons paprika
    1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    1 teaspoon onion powder
    1 teaspoon thyme
    1 teaspoon white pepper
    1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
    1/2 teaspoon black pepper
    1 large roasting chicken
    1 cup onion, chopped (optional)

    In a small bowl, combine the spices.

    Remove any giblets from chicken and clean chicken.

    Rub spice mixture onto the chicken. (Close your eyes for this and it is over fast).

    Place in resealable plastic bag and refrigerate overnight. (I usually skip this step because I’m always in a hurry).

    When ready to cook, put chopped onion in bottom of crock pot.

    Add chicken. No liquid is needed, the chicken will make it’s own juices.

    Cook on low 4-8 hours.

    Note: My crock pot cooks this recipe in 4-5 hours. Times may vary. I recommend a mid-week attempt at this so you know how long your crock pot will cook it.

    ending the hijacking of your blog now πŸ˜‰

    • @Amanda – YUM! Thank you. I love the crock pot, b/c it doesn’t heat up my house like the oven does. Plus, it’s the ideal method for a slightly lazy cooker like myself! See my comment to WG about a recipe exchange… I’m thinking of the best format, but I can tell you’ll have great ones to share!

  2. Mara, I have to tell you how amazing your blog is. Truly. I have many of the same struggles with meals. For years I made meals where I served cholent, chicken, AND brisket. No more. One nice summer entree I have that uses less meat is chinese chicken salad. Really nice and light, and everyone always loves it. I have much more to say, but I also have a deadline, so it’ll have to wait till next week! Shabbat Shalom!

    • @WG — Thank you! Your made my day πŸ™‚ And I’m gonna want the chicken salad recipe. My good friend in JM used to make a delic chinese chicken salad, I wonder if it’s the same one. All these recipes gives me an idea for a little recipe exchange next week… stay tuned if I can get it together! Shabbat Shalom!

  3. Dana Horesh says

    We only use whole chickens from Costco. It seems the best deal around. David is a whiz quartering and de-boning.

  4. That picture is not of my challot.
    I am offended!

  5. Mara…I also make my own challah and would love to swap challah recipes! It has been so hot recently though I have resorted to store bought and my family is beginning to revolt! πŸ™‚ Count me in on a recipe swap!

  6. mara, just read this looking for some frugal shabbat tips.

    i have recently been skipping the first course on shabbat lunch, b/c i know we like finishing lunch in time to rest, and it has worked very well, b/c two salads added to cholent, kugel, and one other thing seems like a ton when all served together.

    also, have you considered a simple plate of gefilta fish (co-op) order for 1st course and then you can save $25 on salads that somehow end up so expensive. also, if you add marrow bones (probably ordered inexpensively from the co-op) AND/OR beef bullions (sp?) to cholent and/or parve kishka then it give it a great flavor, all much more expensive than meat and then just add a few pieces of meet for those fleisig lovers.

    also, when we had our favorite vegitarian over recently we made an AWESOME parve cholent, so good, binyomin said let’s go parve every week.

    also, the cheapest winter fruit platters that are still beautiful and elegant, seem to be kiwi, orange pieces, and purple grapes!

  7. Touching raw chicken (and all meat, and sometimes fish…. to be honest) skeeves me out too. So my solution is those latex gloves that you can buy in bulk at cvs, target or home depot (something like 100 for 8 or 9 dollars.) Not a bad trade-off, in my opinion!

    • Funny – for me, even with the gloves, I can feel that sinewy feel and … ich. For some reason chicken is far worse than meat as far as I’m concerned.

  8. I’ve purchased meat from the OU Cattleman’s before and was highly impressed with their prices, shipping and quality of meat! I’ve tried to order more meat but the server is down? It has been down since late 2010 and I wonder if it will be up again? Does any one know if they will e up and running again? Or is there a new website to find them? I’ve left messages but no one has returned any answers.

  9. For some reason most of my guests at Shabbat lunch are a generation older than I am, and they have very modest expectations for it. They also have very conservative tastes in food.

    Soup from the crockpot in winter, or gefilte fish in summer, a vegetable salad (often marinated cooked vegetables), and tuna salad or egg salad would be all that anyone would expect. (You would think everyone would be tired of tuna and egg salad since they are ubiquitous at the shul, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.) The local custom requires a cake even though no one really wants to eat it.

    None of my likely guests for Shabbat lunch likes cholent. Most do like kugel, but I’m lactose-intolerant and rarely make it.

    I tend to do more adventurous cooking for Friday night, with guests closer to my own age.

    • Wow, that is a pretty simple meal. I agree that egg/tuna would send me over the edge after kiddush, but hey – if your guests like it, I think that’s great!

      • To be clear, I don’t actually serve egg/tuna salad – maybe cold baked salmon, if the starter is soup, perhaps with ratatouille and a rice or bulgur salad. But it is a lot easier when brisket, chicken, or cholent won’t be on the menu, especially not all three at the same time.

  10. Last year I was running the week on $200 for a fam of 5–this year, I am working and life is different–my husband shops more, something he never did before, and I am doing less–cooking and baking from scratch–everything is just cut back, and to tell the truth, as long as I have the basic things that each person needs (like bread, cheese, milk, eggs, Cheerios, and dinner which can be leftover lunch) no one seems to miss all the stuff I would throw out anyway.

    I will be getting back to my high plan/low budget now, although I really kept a lid on the spending for Passover, and I do not like to store food items from year to year mostly because I don’t like to take up the space, spices go bad and matzah is good all year round, or at least until you use it up. I just pre-bought a ton of stuff, and that worked out fine.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

  11. What we do for Shabbat is usually something like this:
    salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce)
    some kind of protein (fish OR chicken OR ground meat made into something) in the evening
    some kind of dip – chumus/techina/olive spread/schug
    in the day – instead of the night’s protein, we have a parve cholent
    sometimes we have a dessert
    for seuda shlishit we have leftovers (but not from the protein, because you don’t need animal protein 2 days in a row, and not from the cholent, because it’s cold)

    the cholent and protein become lunches and dinners during the week – say, total of 6 weekday meals (3 each).
    not too cheap but considering how many weekday meals we have ready-made – it’s not too bad, either.

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