Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Fabulous Frugal Fourth of July Menus

From the Weight Watchers Website- Great article and tips for WW budget friendly 4th of July. Too great of an article not to share..

Whether you host a July 4th gathering every year or are planning a spur-of-the-moment party, we’ve got the expert lowdown on how to maximize your budget with tips to keep costs down and flavor up. Plus get ideas for a simple, healthy and delicious menu for under $10 per person.
Hosting a festive get-together can be tons of fun. Sticking to a tight budget? Well…not so much. Here’s how you can save without scrimping on flavor, fun and style. Strategies for saving. One obvious way to reduce your own expenses is to take people up on their offer when they ask “What can I bring?” Even if you didn’t intend to have a potluck, don’t turn down a friend who says she’ll bring her signature dessert or something to drink. Just remember to send a thank-you note after the party.

Another money trap people fall into is over-buying ingredients and supplies. It’s fine to have leftovers — if you’ll eat them yourself. But don’t grab extra food off the store shelves “just in case” you might need it. Figure out in advance exactly how much you’ll need per person and stick to that game plan. Consider how you’ll serve. One way to encourage caloric frugality among your guests — even those who aren’t watching their weight — is to serve food buffet-style in one area, and set up seating in another spot far from the food table so people aren’t constantly tempted, says nutritionist Ellie Krieger, MS, RD, author of The Food You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life (Taunton). “This helps people manage their portions while staying satisfied — and helps keep costs down, too.”

Another tactic for a smaller party? Avoid buffets and family-style set-ups altogether and dole out the food yourself by making everyone a plate, says Krieger. Hunt for bargains. One of the easiest ways to get the most bang for your buck is to use ingredients that are seasonal and fresh, says Krieger. They’ll be cheaper and taste better, too. Scour farmer’s markets and pick up whatever looks the best — and has the lowest price. Also think of ways you can use farmer’s market ingredients in multiple courses if they’re an especially good deal. For instance, strawberries can play a supporting role in salads (they’re delicious with spinach tossed with olive oil, a little red wine vinegar and a touch of sugar) as well as feature in berry parfaits for dessert. When you’re shopping, “be flexible with your plan,” says Weight nutritionist and recipes editor Leslie Fink, MS, RD. “If you see a great sale item that you didn’t think about serving, change your menu to include it — the savings will be worth the last-minute shifting.” Don’t forget other common-sense strategies like checking circulars for deals, even if it means going to more than one store — especially for savings on big-ticket items like meat.

Hit up warehouse clubs for bulk savings. Most offer free sample one-day memberships if you don’t already have one, or rope in a friend who’s a member to shop with. The bonus here is that you can split agreed-upon bulk items so you don’t end up with way more than you need. Bulk up with veggies. Most people come to party expecting some sort of meat main course, and there’s no reason to disappoint your guests even if you’re on a budget. The trick is to keep portions small and round them out with tasty veggies. For instance, thread just two or three small pieces of chicken on a kabob among four slices of pepper, onions, zucchini or mushrooms. Serve tacos with a homemade cabbage slaw and cucumber salsa on the side. Kick off the meal with a huge salad tossed with an irresistible vinaigrette.

Forgo bottled beverages. Go gourmet — and cheap! — by serving beverages in pitchers and dispensers you already own, and providing guests with whatever cups and glasses are in your cupboards. Spike iced water with some fruit slices (lemon, orange, melon) or berries. Brew homemade iced tea, suggests Krieger — you could even mix in crushed peaches or other fruit from your farmer's market loot. Get a couple of cheap bottles of seltzer to give guests the option to fizz-ify their drinks. If you want to serve alcohol, make a fruity sangria with boxed wine — much cheaper than individual bottles of beer for a crowd.

Mix-and-Match Menu

Here are some healthy, crowd-pleasing food ideas courtesy of Ellie Krieger. Use them as a starting point for your own menu. All these recipes serve 4, but can be multiplied for a crowd.

Garlic white bean dip and whole-wheat pita chips: 71¢ per serving* Purée drained and rinsed canned white beans (from a 15oz can) with a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil, the juice of half a fresh lemon and a few cloves of roasted garlic; season with salt and pepper. (To roast garlic: Cut the tops off a bulb of garlic, toss with a little olive oil and bake cut-side up in a 350° oven for 25-30 minutes or until soft). Serve with homemade whole-wheat pita chips: Split 4 whole-wheat pita breads and cut each into 6 wedges. Brush with olive oil and bake in a 350° oven for 10 minutes until golden brown.

Grilled pizzas: $2.38 per serving These can work as a starter or main dish. Buy refrigerated fresh pizza dough (1lb) at the supermarket and top with whatever you want: tomato sauce, extra grilled veggies, herbs and just a little bit of cheese. Cook until the crusts puff and start to brown.

Grilled zucchini roll-ups: $1.52 per serving Cut 3 medium zucchini lengthwise into thin strips. Brush with oil and grill until tender. Meanwhile, mix together 1 1/2 ounces goat cheese, a tablespoon or two of minced fresh parsley or basil, and season with salt and pepper. Spread each slice with a teaspoon of the cheese mixture, top with a basil leaf or two, and roll up.

Steak tacos with all the fixings: $4.30 per serving Rub 1 1/4 lb top sirloin with a mix of chili powder, cinnamon, garlic, cayenne pepper and salt (or other spices you have on hand). Grill to desired doneness. Slice thin on the bias and serve with flour tortillas (2 per person), shredded cabbage, chopped tomatoes and red onion and light sour cream. On the side, serve a homemade avocado salsa. Toss together chunks of an avocado and seeded cucumber, the juice of a lime, a small diced red onion, chopped jalapeños to taste and a couple of teaspoons of chopped cilantro; season with salt and pepper.

Grilled skinless chicken thighs: $3 per serving (half that if you already have the rub ingredients) Rub 2lb skinless chicken thighs with a mix of grainy mustard and honey before cooking (spray the grill with cooking spray or rub with a little oil to prevent sticking). Cook on a moderate part of the grill to avoid charring the outside before the inside is cooked.

Pesto potato salad: $2.32 per serving Boil 1lb small red potatoes and toss with 1/3 cup of your favorite light homemade or store-bought pesto and a diced bell pepper or a few ribs of celery.

Grilled fruit: $1.40 per serving Bananas (unpeeled and sliced lengthwise) are great on the grill, as are halved stone fruits like peaches, plums and apricots. Top them with a drizzle of honey and serve with a small scoop of light ice cream.

Menu suggestions:

Bean dip and chips, steak tacos with avocado salsa, potato salad, grilled fruit: $8.73/person

Grilled pizzas, chicken thighs, potato salad, grilled fruit: $9.10/person

Bean dip and chips, zucchini roll-ups, grilled pizzas, potato salad, grilled fruit: $8.33/person (vegetarian option, too)

*Prices reflect the average cost of cheapest product options from, and

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