June Food Stamp Challenge — Day 17, Entertaining on a Budget

by Katy on June 17, 2010 · 17 comments

Today is day seventeen of the June Food Stamp Challenge. It’s been pretty busy here over the past couple days, and I’m happy to say that today should prove itself to be a bit simpler.

Tuesday was the last day of school for my now seventh and ninth grade sons, as well as an eighth grade “promotion” ceremony in the evening. I wanted to prepare a nice dinner for my extended family, and had thought I would prepare platters of sushi, but life got in the way. (Ain’t life like that?!)

I had been waiting for a very important phone call during the day, which meant that I didn’t feel comfortable leaving the house. Which meant . . . that I wasn’t able to go buy the required ingredients for the celebration feast. Knowing that scrambled eggs wouldn’t exactly cut the mustard, I scrambled myself over to Trader Joe’s on my way back from the promotion and bought three bags of frozen, pre-prepared Orange Chicken. This is one one of my son’s favorite meals, although at $5.49 apiece it’s hardly a bargain.

But here’s the important part, it kept us from taking everyone out for dinner.

I put the extra leaf in the dining room table, threw some rice in the rice cooker and assembled a big green salad. A carton of Trader Joe’s chocolate mint ice cream completed the meal, and there were no complaints.

Wednesday also had its own frugal food challenges, as it was my husband’s turn to host the non-profit soccer board meeting at our house. Although it’s not a meal, we do like to put out a spread of sweets and savories; as well as beer and wine for the fifteen or so board members. It can easily add up to a $50 endeavor.

I knew I had a bizarrely huge can of garbanzo beans that someone had left at one of my mother’s guest cottages, so I made hummus, focaccia breads and a large coffee cake. I tried to talk my husband into putting out lemonade and ice water, but he was insistent that beer and wine be made available. He won me over that explaining that the booze was a “business expense” and not to be included in the food stamp challenge.

Fine. Whatever.

It would have been easy to give in to the ease of treating everyone to a restaurant meal for my son, which would have set us back at least $75, or to put out expensive nibbles for the board meeting. Instead I figured out ways to stick within our budget, even though it wasn’t exactly as I would have planned.

I’ll be up in Seattle this weekend, which will both increase and decrease our expenditures. (We’ll be eating with my sister’s family, but will spend around $60 on gas for the pleasure.) Next Wednesday is my father’s 75th birthday, and I’ll be throwing a dinner party in his honor. I’m not sure what I’ll be preparing, although his vegetarian status will help keep it from spiraling out of control.

Have you any entertaining on a budget tips to share? Please share your wisdom in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Angela@MyYearWithoutSpending June 17, 2010 at 9:28 am

I think you found the perfect alternatives that let you treat people and celebrate without either breaking the bank or being miserly. Good for you for keeping up with the challenge and not throwing it out the window, and yet not being a slave to it. And I agree with your husband about the liquor- I don’t include beer and wine in the grocery expense. I guess we didn’t really talk about that yet, did we? A post perhaps?

As far as entertaining on a budget, speaking of beer and wine, a daytime brunch or afternoon party are cheaper because of alcohol not being necessary. Brunch can be elegant and inexpensive with quiche or a veggie scramble, baked scones or croissants (hot from the oven!) and fresh fruit. I also love to serve “one pot” meals like chili, or “picnic” and BBQ: deviled eggs, potato salad, green salad, and grilled tofu and turkey dogs. Easy and fun, and not at all expensive.

Our last-minute go-to is the pizza place a few blocks away- it’s so good that people drive for miles around for the privilege of waiting an hour to get a seat.

And finally, a ping pong table becomes the entertainment and makes any snacks or food just icing on the cake.

I’ll send along a few “special” veggie recipes I make for birthdays and other occasions.


Klara Le Vine June 17, 2010 at 9:02 pm

I like all the suggestions Angela mentioned except for tofu and turkey dogs – they are prepared foods and that is always more expensive. Easier to make patties (burgers?) out of grains, beans & veggies – plenty of recipes abound. If one is willing to put in work, seitan can be made by hand (just needs flour) but it is work intensive – tho can be made in advance.


Laura June 17, 2010 at 10:49 am

Two of my girls are the same age as yours, and we did the graduation party thing too. I let my daughter pick something off my two week menu and saved that meal for her celebration, which turned out to be Vietnamese-Style Salad Rolls. I also made a special dessert (warm peanut butter-brownie pudding cake) that used items in the pantry, and splurged on a 1/2 gallon of vanilla ice cream at WinCo to go with that. We’re having friends over for dinner weekend after next and will do the salad rolls again. They’re fun for everyone to prepare, and the ingredients don’t set us back all that much (and the lettuce, spinach and cilantro come from our garden right now)

We all LOVE that orange chicken as well, but it’s gotten a bit expensive for us these days. Wonderful idea for a treat though. It wasn’t that long ago that it was only $3.49 a bag at Trader Joe’s; I used to buy it regularly for the girls’ lunches. So many of TJ’s items that used to be affordable are now too spendy for our budget.


Karen @ Abundance on a Dime June 18, 2010 at 9:20 am

Laura, would you mind sharing the recipe for that pudding cake? It sounds fantastic and we are chocolate-peanut-butter fiends around here 🙂


Rebecca June 17, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Situations like yours are just the time for those convenient store bought items that are a splurge, but still way cheaper than going out for dinner. They can make special times more special, but still cost effective and then we don’t miss dining out so much.

I like to have some appetizer items that rely on pantry/ freezer staples like hummus, spinach dip, home made focaccia bread (its pizza dough) so I can just add some veggies and cut up fruit and have an easy spread for munchies.


The Prudent Homemaker June 17, 2010 at 1:55 pm

After a year of not being able to go shopping, we decided to participate in our church’s progressive dinner. The appetizers, salads, and main courses were pre-chosen, and we didn’t have the ingredients to make those. At the end, all of the couples were getting together for dessert at one place. I signed up for dessert, and had 46 people over. I served 3 different desserts, all made from items in my pantry. I served water and a fruit punch made with canned fruit juices from my pantry.

When my husband’s family gets together here in town, it’s about 60 people. Everyone always brings something.

If I have lettuce growing in my garden at that time, I make a big salad, with homemade citrus dressing, dried cranberries and canned mandarin oranges. If it’s fall, I bring things like roasted rosemary potatoes, homemade Rice a Roni or a big pot of swiss chard from my garden.

For entertaining at home, I usually make homemade soup and French bread as part of the meal. If I can have soup and salad, I’ll do that. It means less meat is served, which brings the cost down. The soup can be made a day or two ahead of time (as can mashed potatoes). I’m having people over this Sunday, and we’re having a ham, butternut squash soup, bread, and chocolate mousse for dessert (the rest of dinner is still undecided). I’ve even made meatless chicken fried steak for company, but since it is Father’s Day, we’re having ham.


The Saved Quarter June 17, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Since alcohol can’t be purchased with food stamps, buying it certainly doesn’t violate the challenge. If you were actually using SNAP, you might get looks for buying both food with your EBT card and paying for your booze, though! That goes back to the judgments post, I suppose.

We drive up to my parents’ house once a month, a trip that costs about $15 in gas and $8 in tolls. I make sure to hit up their cheap supermarket (Winco) while I’m there. It doesn’t put $23 in my pocket, but I do get a chance to stock up on bulk bin basics cheaper than I can at home. I wrote about that the other day, actually!


tammy June 17, 2010 at 4:31 pm

We’re hosting a Z Car Association of Richmond picnic at our house next weekend. LUCKILY! the veggie garden is coming in so we decided to have kebabs with chicken and kielbasa, squash, zucchini and baby potatoes! We’ll also have a pasta salad with cucumbers and tomatoes, baked beans and french bread. Dessert will be brownies. We’re expecting 20-30 people. It’s BYOB/C- bring your own booze and a chair!
Good luck with everyone’s entertaining. What a great post Kati!


Carla June 17, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Boy, are you ever right about cooking practically anything being cheaper than taking a bunch of people out to eat. You can fix a big pan of lasagna for not all that much, compared to treating them to an Italian restaurant!

If you are interested: I don’t know what Trader Joe’s Orange Chicken is like but I regularly serve a dish called Honey Orange Ginger Chicken to appreciative guests. Basically you grate a little fresh ginger into equal parts of honey and soy sauce. Fresh garlic and orange slices (sliced into rounds with the peel) are put into the chicken cavity or laid on breasts if you had rather just serve them than a whole chicken. Pour honey mix over it all and cover; bake it slowly till your chicken is done. Thicken the juices with cornstarch and either orange juice or sherry. Enjoy with brown rice.


Katy June 17, 2010 at 9:40 pm


I will be trying your Orange Chicken recipe.



Jessica Wolk-Stanley June 18, 2010 at 3:44 am

Me too!


Lene March 5, 2014 at 2:21 pm

Me, three!

I know I’m responding long after the fact, but this sounds tasty.

BTW, I think the TJ’s orange chicken must be the same as (or very similar to) the Mandarin Orange Chicken at Aldi. Our favourite way to make that is to chop a large sweet onion and 2-3 bell peppers of whatever colour you like into bite-sized chunks. Saute them in the wok while the chicken bits are in the oven. When the chicken is done, toss it into the wok with the veggies, add the sauce, and mix. Serve over basmati rice. This is always a treat for us, and adding a substantial amount of veggies not only makes the main dish stretch further, it tastes better. I’ve also stirred in some orange segments cut into bite-sized bits before, which went over well.


Rebecca June 17, 2010 at 7:29 pm

For a main meal I love spaghetti and meatballs. Pre made meatballs can be purchased or made ahead, jarred sauce, pasta, a big salad and home made rolls. Super cheap, filling, and classic. Add in a cheap bottle of wine and some chocolate for dessert and adults and kids are both happy!


Jean June 17, 2010 at 8:13 pm

I work in a country club, and our chef swears that if you spread a plate with cream cheese and layer anything you have in the fridge that can be chopped or drizzled on top and serve it with crackers or melba toast, people will think it’s some exotic recipe. This also works with chopped fruit and vanilla wafers instead of crackers. The same theory also works well with tortilla rollups–make them the day before and chill them before cutting them into appetizer “pinwheels”. A brownie mix baked in a pizza pan and spread with cream cheese (you can sweeten the cheese some if you like) and covered with sliced fruit like strawberries or kiwi , fresh blueberries or canned mandarin oranges also makes a special look out of some pretty plain ingredients. You can melt some chocolate in a ziploc bag, cut off the corner and drizzle it over the top. Fruit on skewers also is more festive than mixed in a bowl. If you have a stash of glass votive cups ( I have acquired mine at about 10 cents each at the thrift stores) you can make appetizer “shooters” with ranch dressing and carrot, celery and red or green pepper strips, and dessert “shooters” with pudding or mousse and fruit, crushed cookies or stale cake crumbs, whipped cream if desired–the possibilities are endless. Presentation is everything! I have also acquired at the thrifts and garage sales quite a lot of cloth napkins, placemats and tablecloths–it amazes me how much people are impressed by them when it’s actually cheaper than paper–more trouble maybe, but it makes people feel special and your table seem more festive. I love to entertain but must mind my budget also–frequently in the winter that means some great soup and crusty bread or sandwiches–it recently occured to me to make that formula work in the summer with garden produce–gazpacho and cucumber sandwiches!


Katy June 17, 2010 at 9:39 pm




Karen @ Abundance on a Dime June 18, 2010 at 9:30 am

Okay, Jean, I just have to say – YOU ROCK 🙂 Those are all awesome ideas – and I totally agree with your cream-cheese-on-a-platter theory. A similar idea I picked up from a friend that everyone goes totally ga-ga over is this: spread an 8 oz package of cream cheese in the bottom of a glass lasagna pan. Cover with a generous layer of chili (you can use canned if you’re in a hurry) then sprinkle a layer of grated cheddar on top. Bake at 350F for about 15 or 20 minutes and serve with tortilla chips for dipping. I bring this lots of places and the dish always comes home empty 🙂


Deb June 19, 2010 at 4:10 pm

*LUH-HUV* that TJoes Orange Chicken, and you’re right, a bargain it ain’t. We stretch it out by cooking up some carrots, broccoli, onion, peppers, etc. and adding them to the cooked orange chicken, then serve with brown rice. It’s still an expensive treat, but a bit more economical and definitely more healthy with all of that veg added.

My entertaining on a budget advice is so boring. I just keep lots of pantry staples available so that I have some options. A box of yellow cake mix, 2 cans of peaches and some instant tapioca, and you’ve got a fab upside down peach cake. I buy goat cheese on sale and freeze it, can be easily dressed up with herbs and sundried tomatoes for a spread. Mescarpone cheese (which can be frozen as well) whipped up with a bit of cream and melted chocolate makes for fab chocolate pots (fling a few thawed berries on top to dress it up). Honestly, having a well stocked pantry and some options in the freezer can be lifesavers!

Good job using up that humongous can of Garbonzos, now that would have been a challenge! :o)


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