IT WAS A TYPICAL, FRENZIED FRIDAY afternoon as I prepared a special meal for Sabbath. I was planning to invite a few guests for lunch after church and had prepared accordingly. As I sat in the service the next day, my gaze swept the congregation and rested on an older couple and two single women. I’ll invite them! I decided. They graciously accepted my invitation, and as I bustled out the door I whispered to my husband, who was greeting parishioners, that we were having guests. He often got caught up in conversations with members, so I expected he’d be home a bit later.
My children and I raced home (across the church driveway) to finish preparing the meal, and our visitors arrived a few moments later. When the food was ready and the table set, I texted my husband to come home. Imagine my surprise when he walked in the door with two additional guests! Thankfully, I’ve learned the power of flexibility, and it was easy to set out a few extra plates. My only concern was the amount of food I had. Would it stretch? The Lord expanded our “loaves and fishes,” and everyone had plenty.
If I’ve learned anything in my years as a pastor’s wife it’s this: when preparing food for guests, always plan more than you need! You never know when your group of two will expand to six! This can be difficult on a ministry budget. So, here are some helpful tips and menu ideas for feeding a crowd while still pinching your pennies.
1. Potluck. Invite friends to meet at your home and plan a potluck-style meal. Some fun themes for food could be international (representing your country of origin), breakfast for lunch, or a baked potato bar with guests providing their favorite toppings.
2. Plan ahead. When you are making a casserole, patties, vegetarian meatballs, or soup, prepare extra to freeze. Then when you are short on time, you can just pull the dish out and heat as usual. Rice can be precooked and frozen, then defrosted when ready to use.
3. Serve simple food. Pasta is inexpensive and feeds a crowd. Almost everyone I know loves haystacks, a build-your-own dish of chips or rice, beans, lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, salsa, sour cream, and olives. You can create your own rice or noodle bowls, too, with favorite toppings from your region. Soup (or stew) is inexpensive and easy to prepare, and you often have all the ingredients on hand. Serve it over rice or with cornbread to complete the meal.
4. Buy bulk if you can. I shop at a wholesale food store quite often. I’m able to buy large quantities of ingredients for less money than at a regular grocery store. I stock up on tortilla chips, fruit, rice, flour, sugar, and fresh or canned vegetables. Watch for sales on items that you know you will use for entertaining, or buy them on clearance.
Keep your hospitality simple. One of my friends recently told me, “I’m not coming over to inspect your house. I’m coming over to spend time with you.” Fellowship is more important than an elaborate spread of food and the finest china.
INEXPENSIVE CROWD-PLEASING RECIPES
Green Bean and Tomato Stew
1 large canned green beans
1 large can diced tomatoes, in juice (or two 15-oz cans)
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 -1 tsp salt
Lebanese Baharat or Middle East Mixed Spices (optional)
In a large stockpot, sauté onion in a small amount of olive oil over medium heat. When semi-clarified, add minced garlic and sauté a moment more. Add green beans and tomatoes. Cook for about 3-4 minutes, add a pinch or two of sugar (to neutralize the acid), about 1/4 - 1/2 tsp. of the spice mix, and salt to taste. Continue to cook for about 5 minutes more, or until all ingredients are fully incorporated and stew is bub-bling nicely. Taste and adjust seasonings. Enjoy hot over white or brown rice.
In a crockpot or slow cooker, place:
3 cups dried beans, rinsed
8 cups water
Allow to cook for 2-3 hours on high. Add the following seasonings, and continue to cook until beans are completely soft:
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried onion, OR
½ a fresh onion, peeled and diced 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon salt