We’re “starting fresh” this January, completing 22 mini-challenges in 22 days for a cleaner, fresher and healthier kitchen and grocery budget. Just joining us? Read about the what’s and why’s on the mini-challenges, as well as the previous days tasks, and jump right on in!
If you don’t know what to make for dinner when it’s you and your family, adding company to the mix certainly doesn’t make it any easier. (Be sure to enter the giveaway if you’re needing help in the meal planning area!)
We have people over at our house often and it’s tough sometimes to balance our frugal real food lifestyle with friends who may not be on the same journey as us. We often eat meatless meals and thoroughly enjoy simple rice and vegetable dishes (just recently tried Lemongrass Vegetables with coconut rice – YUMMY!). But many of our friends and family prefer meat and potatoes type meals, like meat and potatoes!
Making whatever you want, without giving your company’s tastes and preferences a second thought, isn’t exactly screaming hospitality. How would you feel if you and your family were invited to someone’s house for dinner and they served a chicken peanut thai dish, fully knowing that your child is deathly allergic to peanuts and you don’t eat meat?
My point exactly.
So we want to be hospitable to our guests, make them feel comfortable in our homes and create an atmosphere that welcomes good fellowship and conversation. Balance this with our personal pledges to eat high nutrition food within a designated grocery budget can be tricky. Enter today’s challenge.
Day 11 – Create a Signature Company Dish
Why I didn’t do this sooner than last month, I have no idea. Thinking of all the time Mr. Crumbs and I have spent pondering questions such as “what can we make that both the Jones’ and us will enjoy?” over these past few years kinda makes me want to throw a book at the wall, but that will just leave me with a mark on the wall and a book with crinkled pages. Neither of which will make me smile.
So instead, I offer suggestions to help you create your own signature dishes and hope that you no longer waste time on that dreaded question above. Knowing that those minutes can be repurposed for something far more meaningful does make me smile.
1. Choose a dish that’s easy to make.
There’s ALWAYS something to do around the house to prepare for company. Clean a toilet, change a towel, vacuum the floor, take out the trash, set the table, brush the kids’ hair, brush your OWN hair… choosing a dinner that requires hours of preparation, including the time leading right up to dinner, is just plain silly. Let the kids be silly – you be smart. Easy to make can be defined in a few ways:
a) can be prepared ahead of time (hours or days)
b) doesn’t require constant monitoring of the stove
c) is well within your level of cooking experience
d) requires one or two pans to prepare
e) has only two steps: “dump” and “bake”
Define what “easy” means to you (and feel free to share with everyone in the comments) and choose a dish that IS your easy.
2. Choose a dish that is palate pleasing.
This should be a given, but the night company comes over for dinner is not a prime opportunity to test out your first attempt at using curry. Company dishes should taste good – hands down. This means that it passes the kid test, the picky test, the spicy test and the strange-ingredient test (i.e. the ingredients should be well known, not strange). If your dish doesn’t pass these tests, save it for another night when you aren’t hosting company.
3. Choose a dish that makes clean-up easy.
When you’re cleaning up after dinner, what is it that makes the task difficult? The quantity of dishes? The type of dishes? The food that won’t come off the dishes? Take these things into consideration when hosting dinner. You want to be able to spend the post-meal time with your company, not with the kitchen sink and dish scrubber.
4. Choose a dish that can be made frugally.
We often look at individual prices to gauge whether something is frugal or not. In addition to this, take a look at the big picture. Consider the following meal and related thought process: bbq baked chicken, coconut rice, steamed broccoli and Asian salad.
- $1.99 for organic drumsticks is a good deal, so I pick up a package of 5 at Trader Joe’s for $7.50, plus bbq sauce (without the icky chemicals) for $2.99.
- There’s plenty of rice in the pantry (bought in bulk at Costco), but I need one can of coconut milk from Trader Joe’s for 99¢.
- Broccoli is on sale at Savemart for $1.27/lb so I pick up two crowns.
- A pre-mixed bag of Asian salad is advertised for $3 at Safeway and includes the dressing.
Looked at individually, we’ve paid decent prices for everything listed. Looking at the meal we have planned as a whole, we’ve spent over $15 for one dinner. While much better than dining out, it will still only feed a maximum of 5 people, which means for the average family, company is not invited. This is also not the path we want to take for our monthly budget. $15 per dinner for 4 weeks puts us at $420 – and we haven’t even addressed breakfast or lunches!
5. Choose a dish that allows ingredients to be interchanged according to the produce in season and sales on meats.
Shredded meat goes further than whole pieces and adding a vegetable or beans to the meat will stretch it even more. Bulk prices are more up front, but are less per serving and will therefore last well beyond the one dinner. Skip the pre-packaged items and sauces whenever you can. Chop up produce you already have on hand and spend $1 on a head of lettuce. Top with homemade dressing and bbq sauce!
6. Choose a dish that’s made with real ingredients.
It’s easy to whip up a casserole with a can-of-this and a can-of-that, but you’ll be missing out on a lot more than nutrition. Preparing a meal consisting of real food for a family that may not know much beyond cans and boxes could be a life-changing evening. Think of how great it would be to share your personal story of trying to eat healthy and improving your health with food! (Plus don’t forget, that can-of-mystery is YOUR dinner too. )
Your challenge is to spend a few minutes today jotting down some ideas that fit into each of the categories above. See if a particular dish is mentioned repeatedly, and if so, that could be your winner! The goal is to come up with one dish, but the more the merrier. Having a few options available allows for greater flexibility with your budget and your own family meals. Plus if you end up having company over twice, they’ll get to have some variety too!
Day 10 Update
I started cleaning out the cabinets yesterday without taking a picture beforehand, so my “before” is really a “10 minutes into” picture. My apologies!!
These two cabinets were not so pretty at the start. The left cabinet is primarily cookbooks, vitamins, medicines, etc. with things we don’t use super often (bubbles, large serving pitchers, some extra coffee mugs) on the top two shelves. I can barely reach the second shelf and need a stool to reach the back of THAT, so for practical purposes, the top shelves become storage of sorts.
The right cabinet is a food cabinet. We just got our bulk shipment of Cento tomatoes and there’s some remnants of cereal from my couponing days. It hasn’t expired and doesn’t have trans fat or high-fructose corn syrup, so it’ll get blended up in our Blendtec and become breadcrumbs. The granola bars passed the test too, but will be replaced with homemade once they’re gone.
The left cabinet is also for food and in this case, the right cabinet has been reserved for everything sweet. As you can see I wasn’t using shelf space very efficiently and other than all the sweets being in one cabinet, it didn’t really make much sense.
My official pantry. The shelves are deep so there a few items you can’t see, but not too much junk. This needed to be organized more than anything.
After going through all the cabinets (including the spices), this is what I ended up tossing. Yes, that would be 6 empty spice bottles on the counter. Would you believe that each of those had duplicates?! So that would be 2 separate containers for 6 different spices. Yikes! Those got married and the empty bottles were tossed. The lone can of grape soda is gone (now that the whole family is on the anti-high-fructose corn syrup train) as is the cranberry sauce and terriyaki sauce. The canned soups were old and knowing that Mr. Crumbs no longer cares for Campbell’s and that I can make cream-of-whatever on my own, there was no need for them. The marshmallows were very stale. VERY stale. The candy is being donated to the Awana program at church.
The results of my effort:
No more food on the left side, the right side dedicated to cookies, crackers and snack items (all verified for the gross stuff and in all honesty, the cookies will more than likely become crusts for cheesecake using the 1 1/2 pounds in the fridge leftover from Christmas!)
No more food on the right side. It’s non-food residents include candles, batteries, cloth napkins and markers/crayons. The left is canned good storage, tea/hot cocoa, some pantry staples (i.e. coconut milk for coconut rice), pasta and sauces. Also took down the paper towel holder (that’s been empty now a few months, lol).
Organized all paper goods so that they’re on the two highest shelves (that I can barely reach WITH a stool), refilled flours and put them on the shelf, combined two olive oils into one and straightened up pantry staples.