Real Food Hospitality {On a Budget}

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ost food revolution, we tend to eat things like good quality meats and oils, lots of fresh produce, nuts and seeds, and some grains here and there.  Which all sounds fabulous until you look at the monthly grocery bill.

Over the last year, I have learned much about eating “real food” on a budget.  For me, the most helpful tools for eating this way without spending a fortune have been meal planning and strategically buying in bulk.  And raising my monthly allotment for groceries a bit.

So, I’m finally getting to the point where I’m relatively comfortable with both the quality of food we buy and the amount we spend.

Until I start throwing parties.

Opening my home simply brings me joy; I love the planning, cooking, sprucing up with some seasonal décor, and anticipation of the event.  I love the idea of making my home a haven for others and the opening of hearts and lives that happens over a meal.

I will host just about anything except a sporting event party–unless there’s a few people present with as little interest in the event as me.   Or unless there are really great snacks.

But there in lies the rub: making all these extra snacks and meals on a grocery budget that doesn’t have a lot of margin.

Unwilling to sacrifice the practice of hospitality or the serving of real food, I set out to resolve my dilemma. I won’t say I’ve arrived at a perfect plan (or that one even exists), but here are some ideas that have helped me so far.

Entertaining with Real Food (Frugally)

1.)  Plan Ahead

While some opportunities to host friends for meals come up spontaneously, most of the time, penciling in “hospitality nights” on the calender each month helps me strategically meal-plan and grocery shop.

For example, because good quality meat is one of our larger grocery expenses, I might plan more vegetarian dishes during the week I know I’m cooking a big dinner for company on Saturday. You could also watch for sales and make Saturday’s dinner using whatever’s less expensive that week.

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Photo by Rohan Anderson

2.)  Be Strategic

When you having a family of 6 coming to stay for the weekend (true story and it was awesome) it’s probably not the best time to grill organic, grass-fed beef burgers for everyone. Unless you have a grocery budget that’s much larger than mine, in which case bring on the meat.

Instead, plan to make main dishes that are more veggie or legume-heavy, with meat as more of a supplement than a main feature (think casseroles, taco salad with beans and lentils as fillers, hearty soups or chili, etc.).

3.)  Say Yes to Help

Accepting people’s offers to bring a dish is just generally good practice (I always say yes to help!), but it’s also especially helpful if your grocery budget is tight.

chocolate pie2

4.)  Do Dessert Instead of Dinner

If it’s the end of the month and the grocery envelope is almost empty (we don’t use a physical envelope system, but the point stands) don’t offer dinner. Instead, invite people over later in the evening for dessert and coffee.

This is one also works for hosting girls’-nights-in or when there’s lots of kids in the picture and having sit-down dinner with 5 toddlers feels overwhelming (though we’ve done that too).  If it’s not too late, the kids come already fed and happy.  Then, you can share a dessert while the wee ones play.

5.)  Do Snacks Instead of a Main Meal

When hosting a birthday party on a budget, it’s helpful to schedule during a window of time when people won’t expect a main meal—just after lunch, before dinner, or even brunch-ish time.  That way, you can reasonably serve something light and snacky, which also ends up being more frugal.

For Buckaroo’s simple and stress-free first birthday party, I just served an assortment of homemade, real-food, kid-friendly snacks.


6.)  Lower Your Standards

Even if you’re thoroughly convinced of the benefits of a real food diet, when cooking for large groups you may have to cut yourself a little slack.

If you can’t afford the $8 bags of non-GMO corn tortilla chips and that you need for the taco salad for 10, buy the regular chips (if you’re a Bible-reader, I’ll direct you to Mark 16:18 and suggest you claim the part about the poison ;)).  Go for the conventional veggies over the organic–at least it’s produce.

I try to remind myself of the 80/20 rule: I do my best with the 80% of our food consumption that’s reasonably within my control and try not to worry about the other 20%.

7.) Don’t Let the Budget Be the Bottom Line

It’s easy to look at my budget and think: we’re eating a pretty frugal whole-foods diet as it is, how can I afford to entertain?

But honestly, with a little flexibility (I might borrow from other budget categories if I’m hosting a party one month) and creativity (see #2, 4, 5, and 6) I’ve found that I’m able to both feed others and not scare Hubs (much) with my grocery receipts.

8.) And Finally: You Can Hang Out Without Snacks

Gasp. I know, it’s not nearly as fun. But it is possible.

I’m not saying I do it much–because I like to feed other people almost as much as I enjoy food–but if there’s nothing in the pantry and Hubby suggests having friends over, don’t let lack of munchies inhibit hospitality.  Offer drinks and nice conversation or a fun game and you’re set.

Hospitality is about welcoming others into our homes and lives.

While serving crème brûlée is a nice bonus, it is by no means required.

Do you have any frugal/real food hospitality tips? Please share!


About Jenn

Jenn is a mommy of three and wife to her best friend. She enjoys good books, dinner guests, elevenses, and proper apostrophe use.

  • Danielle

    I just love your blog – blessed every time I visit.

  • alexsudan

    great post, jenn! makes me miss coming over to your house!

  • Jamie Hadady

    This has been a huge conversation topic between the hubs and I the past few months as we have just not been able to stay within budget! Thanks for the real and practical ideas. You are going to be my official go-to when I have questions of this sort!

    • Jamie, we’ve had many of those convos too :). Not my favs, but necessary as we try to find a realistic budget. I’ve found some local co-ops to be super helpful and would be happy to share info if you’re interested!

  • Danielle @More Than Four Walls

    I love this! We will soon be in our new home and I’m sure we’ll be doing lots of entertaining. I needed your reminders to keep me in check so we don’t blow our budget, especially since I just got laid off!

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  • Anne

    Love this post. Our grocery bill is always where I go over budget— it’s kind of a problem, as we love to eat quality, whole foods too. I need to spend some time this summer finding more recipes that are wholesome but budget friendly! I couldn’t find the paleo shepherd’s pie that you linked to on your most recent post? Would love to try it, and any other recipes you share!

    • Anne, you mean the nature walk link wasn’t helpful? 😉 Sorry about that! I fixed it. It’s a good recipe–but then I haven’t found a bad on on Elana’s Pantry yet!

      And I hear you on the grocery budget–it definitely takes a little strategy to eat quality food without crazy spending :).

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  • Jaime Garrigus

    Jenn – I was looking here for your delicious chocolate chip cookie recipe – which I love! If you get a moment, would you please send to me?