Sunday, August 31, 2014

Frugal Entertaining ... the Labor Day Edition

Cherry pie baked in a cast iron skillet.

Ah, Labor Day, the three day weekend that marks the end of summer (but not really for us in terms of the heat) and the return to lessons, practices, etc.

When I think of Labor Day I think of picnics and BBQs. Sometimes I stop and think of how my dad would spend a fortune making a big BBQ serving everyone huge steaks and giant baked potatoes; the cost of the meat alone might feed a small, very frugal family for a month. But it's his money and I don't begrudge him offering his hospitality in the way that brings him pleasure. (This tradition started well after I left home.)

Still, there has to be a way to have a Labor Day celebration without breaking the bank. Here are some of my ideas.

Have a potluck or picnic! I think a lot of people do this, but I think it bears repeating.

If you eat plant based, bake your own burger buns and either make your own veggie burgers or go ahead an splurge on the brand that your family likes. $1 for each veggie burger patty isn't going to blow the budget, and having occasions where you really do it up can make them feel special. (If we ate veggie burgers every week then it wouldn't feel special.)

Make baked beans from scratch.

Round out your meal with simple salads. If I haven't made beans I like to make a basic potato salad with the inexpensive reduced fat (plant based) mayonnaise from Trader Joe's, or even better, homemade mayonnaise. Potatoes, celery, and green onions are generally very low cost. (If I have made beans I find that having a substantial salad such as potato really isn't necessary unless I am feeding a lot of people).

Another option is a grain based salad. Quinoa is nice, but rice works as well. Add some chopped vegetables (carrots plus red and green onions are inexpensive) and some small cooked beans and perhaps sliced black olives. If I use red quinoa it is nice to add chickpeas. Dress with a homemade citrus and olive oil dressing.

Cabbage is the bang for you buck salad green. Slice it thinly and dress with olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

Watermelon is often on sale for Labor Day; that makes it the perfect frugal fruit to serve.

For dessert I like to make homemade brownies as they are very inexpensive to make whether you eat eggs or not. I adapt this low cost brownie recipe to be plant based (using flax seed) and leave off the chocolate chips on top as they aren't necessary and only add to the cost. I'll also admit that when making several pans of these for a crowd I will use white flour and sugar, to bring down the costs. For my immediate family I use freshly ground soft white wheat flour and sucanat.

Pie is another great Labor Day dessert -- bake it in individual pie tins if you are headed to the park or beach.

This year the guys participated in a bike ride to the beach on Saturday; it was about 80 miles and took around 5 hours to complete. I ran support and provided transportation back home. I packed a cooler for our meal at the beach, along with an Igloo full of ice water. The cost of this activity was the gas to and from the beach as well as the parking fee, but I think it was worth it to give my guys the opportunity to challenge themselves this way. Plus we got to spend a Labor Day weekend afternoon at the beach with friends!

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