When I was challenged to shop at Smart & Final and make an Easter Dinner for under $50.00 I said, “where is the challenge in that”? I knew that my Smart & Final has a great produce section stocked with inexpensive vegetables that I could use in my side dishes and dessert.
I was positive that I could make Easter Dinner for less than $50.00 and told them I planned on donating the unused portion to a local food bank. Then I set a new challenge for myself: Create an early Easter dinner for $30.00 for my retired neighbors who regularly serve as my “official taste testers”. I decided to serve Ham with Mustard Sauce, Peas with Basil and Green Onions, Glazed Carrots, Twice Baked Potatoes and a Carrot Bundt Cake for dessert.
I chose recipes that primarily used whole foods. To make the glazed carrots, peas, and potatoes I only needed to add butter and a few spices that I already had in my pantry. The mustard sauce and carrot cake used standard pantry items. If my pantry wasn’t already stocked with baking ingredients, it would have been more cost-effective to buy a cake mix or perhaps a pre-made dessert rather than buy everything from scratch. My total came to $30.67*, so I missed my goal by .67 cents, but I came in under the Smart & Final Challenge and am donating $20.00 to the Reno-Sparks Gospel Mission.
Frugal Dinner Party Tips:
- Plan recipes around items that you already have in your pantry.
- Plan a little extra in case you have a last-minute addition, but resist the urge to over-buy.
- If you are serving your guests lots of delicious side dishes, you don’t need to serve bread and salad too.
- Cook food you like! Don’t waste food and money creating “traditional” holiday recipes that you don’t like.
- Make use of linens and decorations that you already own or borrow them.
- Pick flowers from your yard or buy cut flowers and arrange them yourself.
- If you serve wine, research good, inexpensive wines. They do exist. I drink sparkling cider. It tastes way better than wine and costs ~ $2.00 a bottle.
The ham was the most expensive item I purchased. When buying a ham with a bone in it, you should plan on buying about a 1/2 pound per person. I bought the smallest ham available which was a little over 7 pounds. More than enough for the 8 guests at our dinner party, plus extra so I could send our single neighbors home with leftovers. Ham serving tip: Don’t put out all of the ham. Cut enough for your guests, but keep the rest covered so it doesn’t dry out. You can put more ham out as needed.
I have listed all of the recipes below. The ham, peas, carrots, and trifle recipes will all serve 10 – 12 people. The twice-baked potatoes can easily be adjusted to serve more guests.
Create an Easter feast for $30.00 shopping at Smart & Final:
I bought a spiral-sliced ham that included a spice packet. If your ham doesn’t have a spice packet, you can use this recipe to make a Honey Glazed Ham. If you are short on oven space you can cook your ham in a slow cooker, but make sure your ham fits prior to Easter day!
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon flour (or 1½ teaspoon corn starch)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 1 cup milk
- 3 tablespoons Mustard (or gluten-free mustard)
- Cook ham according to package directions.
- Melt butter; stir in flour, salt, and pepper.
- Cook over low heat until mixture is smooth and bubbly.
- Remove from heat; stir in milk. Reheat to boiling, stirring constantly.
- Stir in mustard.
- Spoon mustard sauce over pork chops.
Twice baked Potatoes can be made the day before to reduce your workload on the day of the party. If you make these the day before your dinner, you can place your potatoes in a baking dish, cover it, and refrigerate them overnight. You will need to add a few minutes to the baking time.
- 8 medium potatoes
- ½ cup butter, melted
- ½ cup milk
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pierce the potatoes with a fork or insert a potato baking nail.
- Bake for one hour or until potatoes are soft.
- Cut an oval into the top of the potato. Pull off the top and scoop out the inside of the potato.
- Mash the potatoes with a masher or rice them.
- Add butter, milk, and a few dashes of salt and pepper to the potatoes and whip the ingredients with a mixer. (This will create a very light and fluffy filling for the potatoes. Since the potatoes will be baked again, you want the potatoes to be on the moist side, so if they seem dry and a little more milk.)
- Spoon the potato mixture back into the medium potatoes. Put enough in that it mounds and protrudes from the potato skin.
- Sprinkle the potatoes with paprika. Bake at 400 degrees for 18 – 22 minutes or until the insides are warm and the tops are slightly browned.
You can make Peas with Basil with fresh peas or frozen peas. There was a great sale on frozen peas, so I decided that it was not only the more frugal decision but also the easier decision. To quickly thaw frozen peas, place them in a colander and run hot water over them. Pat them dry and use them as called for in the recipe. If you use fresh peas, steam them for 2 minutes before using them in the recipe.
- 2 - 2½ lbs. frozen peas, thawed
- 2 Tablespoon butter
- 1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced - use the tops too!
- 1 tablespoons parsley
- 2 teaspoons basil
- Melt butter; add green onions; cook until tender but not brown.
- Stir in peas, parsley, and basil.
- Cook covered over medium-low heat for 5 minutes or until tender.
Glazed Carrots are popular with kids and adults. I strongly urge you to buy your carrots unpeeled and unprocessed. Yes, they are more frugal, but more importantly, they are much more flavorful! So take the time to peel the carrots and cut them into “coins”.
- 2 - 2½ pounds carrots
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons parsley (optional)
- pinch of salt
- Cut carrots into ½ inch thick pieces.
- Melt butter and glaze sugar in it.
- Pour approximately ½ cup of water of enough to completely dissolve sugar. Add carrots and cook over a medium flame.
- Add salt and a little water as necessary, constantly stirring carrots. The liquid should always be at a minimum and should be completely dissolved when carrots are “al dente”.
- To finish, add parsley.
Everything was going according to my plan, but I had a cake disaster. My daughter convinced me to use white chips in place of walnuts in the carrot cake recipe. I thought that was a brilliant idea, but the white chips stuck to the cake pan and the cake came out in chucks. I didn’t have enough time to make another cake, so I grabbed a few things from my pantry and the cake disaster became the most awesome trifle we have ever had. The trifle was so good that my daughter asked me to ruin more cakes. 🙂
- 1½ cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 3 eggs
- 2 cups all-purpose flour ( or gluten-free flour )
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2½ cups grated carrots
- 1 cup walnuts, cranberries, or white chocolate chips (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 13 x 9 pan.
- In a large bowl, blend sugar, oil, and eggs using a whisk or mixer on low.
- Add flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Mix on high for 2 minutes.
- Add in grated carrots and optional ingredients. Stir in by hand until fully incorporated.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
- Set on rack to cool.
- Cut carrot cake into 1 inch pieces.
- Spread ⅓ third of the cake pieces across the bottom of the trifle bowl.
- Spoon half of the pudding over the cake pieces.
- Sprinkle ⅓ cup cranberries, ⅓ cup white chocolate chips, and ⅓ cup nuts over the pudding.
- Drizzle ½ cup caramel sauce over the cranberries and nuts.
- Repeat steps 2 - 5.
- Spread the remaining cake pieces over the caramel layer.
- Sprinkle ⅓ cup cranberries, ⅓ cup white chocolate chips, and ⅓ cup nuts over the cake layer.
- Top with the whipped cream.
- Drizzle remaining caramel sauce over the whipped cream.
- Keep chilled until it can be served. Serve it as soon as possible.
Successful Dinner Party Tips:
1. The most important element is interacting with your friends and family, so keep table decorations low. I put my tall flower arrangement behind the food on the buffet instead of on the table. Table decorations do not need to be expensive! I just used figurines that I picked up a Dollar Tree years ago, because I thought the kids would enjoy them.
2. Plan ahead.
- Clean the house a couple of days ahead of time, so you aren’t trying to clean and cook.
- Shop ahead of time and double-check that you have everything you need the day before.
- Set the table the night before and pull out your serving dishes.
- Prep ingredients ahead of time or make a dish or two in advance.
3. Prep your kitchen before you cook. Unload the dishwasher before you start cooking, then you can place dirty dishes in as you dirty them rather than letting them accumulate in the sink.
4. Don’t stress! A relaxed hostess is essential to a successful dinner party. Put on fun music while you cook, chat with guests, laugh, and improvise when disasters happen.
*Hams will be on sale the week before Easter, so you can now make this meal for less than $30.00!