Making Hospitality Easier

The mere idea of "hospitality" can make us feel overwhelmed, but it doesn't have to be that way. A little bit of planning and a flexible, laid-back attitude makes entertaining a LOT more fun.

Select and cook meals that are meals geared towards groups.
One mistake I made the first few years of our marriage, when having guests over, was that I tried to cook with each individual in mind (thinking "two pork chops per adult, one pork chop per child" or whatever).

One thing I learned when we lived in China was to make several different dishes and cook for the group. For example, in American-meal terms, this might look like a chicken casserole, with garlic green beans, a salad with optional dressings and a french bread loaf. (For some of you, this all may be obvious, but for me this was insightful.) Chinese meals are designed in such a way that if someone eats more than others, it's no big deal. If an unexpected friend drops by and you want them to join you, it's no problem. But if we have pre-proportioned out how many chicken fillets we'll need for the night, then this sort of openness towards variances in a get-together is much more difficult. So instead of thinking "individual portions", I now think in terms of "group cooking" when hosting friends in our home.
PLANNING: Prepare in advance by compiling a couple of tried-and-true menus for hosting guests.It can be overwhelming to just "come up" with an appetizing meal on the spur of the moment, particularly when that might involve several different "courses" and trying to think of something appealing to kids AND adults, and something that will feed an entire group without breaking the bank. Something that helps is to compile a list of several stress-free meals that are good, dependable meals to serve to guests. (It's not usually a good idea to try brand new recipes out on a night when you're having guests!) Here are a few ideas you might not have come across:
  • Mom's No-Peek Chicken: Utterly delicious and easy group meal; this was my favorite meal growing up, and it's now a family favorite around here.
  • Cheesy Chicken Soup: Another great main dish, it's great for cold Fall and Winter nights. Serve with lots of bread!
  • Avocado Dressing: VERY delicious salad dressing... toss with a large bowl of salad
  • Gooey Bar: A wonderfully tasty dessert
If you plan out things in advance and have a few well-tested recipes, having friends over won't be near as big a burden, and you'll be able to enjoy the experience much more.

FLEXIBILITY: Don't put the pressure on yourself to have everything perfect.No one (except maybe the White House) actually has a perfect home, 100% clean and tidy at every moment with flawless meals served in pristine and completely matching dishes. It's OK. Don't strive for perfection- it's unattainable. Instead, focus your energy on having a pleasant attitude and a warm, comfortable spirit in your home. THAT is what your guests will remember most of all... "I really felt welcome and at ease in their home tonight."

It can be fun to serve a delicious meal and have people "ooh" and "aah" over a scrumptious dessert, but what is much more rewarding is to have had another family or several families over and have actually enjoyed the evening. If you can do both, GREAT. But if one has to go, skip the difficult, laborious dessert and enjoy the night with your friends. It's not worth it to stress yourself out over a meal but then not be able to relax. Give yourself the "freedom" to use mis-matched serving bowls, or to have a basic side-dish that's not "gourmet"... enjoy the nights when you have guests over, and you'll begin to find that you're much more willing to extend hospitality more frequently.

One of the hallmarks of the early church was that they shared meals, and they often spent time in each other's homes (see Acts 2 & beyond). Fellowship is a big part of being part of the Body of Christ... and opening up our homes to others enables us to open up our lives to them as well. So for my part, I don't want to stress myself out when trying to live out this aspect of Body life as a believer. I want to enjoy my role as a hostess in our home, and these things help me to have people over to our home with much less stress and much GREATER joy.

Hopefully some of these ideas will help you to live out the scriptural ideas of being hospitable and serving others with joy.


Jaime said...

is that a picture of your table? cause that food looks delicious!!

in all seriousness, though, it took me a while to realize the "cook for the group" mentality as well. that's part of the reason we do lasagna for Christmas now (the rest is that it's easy & done before Christmsas day!).

i've also found that i can do a fairly good job with group appetizers, salads & desserts, but the main dish is not my forte. going to check out some of those recipes you posted!!

Jess said...

Oh, goodness no, Jaime! :)

That's a picture from a meal out we had (it WAS delicious) at a Beijing Duck Restaurant in the town we lived in. Just to illustrate the way food is served in that style... much less individualistic, and much more variable to suit a group!

~ Jess

Anonymous said...

I opened this after I read an email from a friend wanting to know who would want to open their home for our small group meetings. My first thought was, "I'll have to think about it...I'll have to have the house cleaned, lawn mowed, go grocery shopping so I have EVERYTHING I need, etc." Obviously, my thoughts have now It's amazing how the Lord will speak to us. Thanks Jess!

Anna S said...

Jess - thanks for these hospitality tips; the gooey bar recipe looks intriguing. I love having people over, though more often it's just for tea or coffee, not dinner.

Steph VG said...

Thanks for this post, Jess! We often have people in, and especially in our church, it works to have people in as larger groups, rather than just by family, so cooking for the group is a great help - something I had never considered before, but I guess I do it anyway.

I have had to learn that a perfectly-kept home does not affect my standing before God. It may affect people's view of me in either direction...around here, if my home was perfectly clean and tidy all the time, several women in the church would be intimidated and it would make serving them much harder. Thanks for these excellent reminders that hospitality isn't entertaining, it's ministry.

Mrs. Elliott said...

Hi Jess,
This was very insightful for me. Too often I stress our worrying over hospitality issues. Planning like this would make things easier. It also would be easy to keep spur-of-the-moment-company ingredients stocked in the pantry. The no-peek chicken recipe sounds yummy too!

~Mrs. Elliott

Rachel said...

Hey, Jess, do you happen to know how well the soup and the chicken casserole freeze?

I used to cook for my family of ten, and now that I'm married and it's just the two of us, I'm constantly making way too much. :)

Goodlikeamedicine said...

Jess, I LOVE your blog! Whew - thanks! I came from Andrea at Flourishing Mother... so glad I did! I'll be back.

I'm in the same boat with you with kids around the same ages although I'm not pregnant with #4 (yet)!

God bless you!

the blackwells said...

Great post. I had real difficulty with hospitality in Dallas -- I was definitely into that idea that I needed my house and everything to be absolutely perfect. I asked God to work on my heart and attitude about being more hospitable. Whaddayaknow? He decided to move us overseas. I realized when we got here that if we didn't make friends by having them in our home, we wouldn't *survive* our international experience. So, in the past year I have probably had 2 or 3 times the amount of people over for dinner, tea, playdates, whatever than we had in 7 years in Dallas!

Another helpful's good to have at least 1 completely vegetarian meal plan -- I make veggie pasta casserole. We always ask from the start if our guests are vegetarians and then I don't panic about figuring out a meal if they say yes. :)

Mrs. Brigham said...

Thank you for sharing this lovely post, Jess. I shared about my first venture into hospitality on my blog yesterday. We invited a group of single soldiers from my husband's base over for Thanksgiving Dinner and a wonderful time was had by all. Since taking this first "risk", we have made it a point to have others in our home at least once a week, unless something unexpected arises. We have had opportunity to welcome others from different faiths and share the gospel with them; have welcome older couples who have offered such wonderful wisdom; and have also been fortunate to share meals with college students, military members, single mothers, and others we have crossed paths with in life. Not only have we tried our hardest to bless these people, but have also received such blessings from them. Lessons have been taught, stories shared, and friendships forged, and to think, this all might not have occurred if we had not listed to God's leadings several years ago near Thanksgiving!

My dear grandmother has been opening the doors to her home for well over fifty years now, and has taken the opportunity to teach me so much about offering joyful hospitality. Per her suggestion, I have several menus, complete with groceries list, at the ready when an opportunity arises. I also have meals, snacks, & other goodies frozen in the freezer for unexpected guests or to give to people who might be in need of having a meal dropped off. She also advised me of what to purchase to handle larger groups, and we were blessed to find all of her recommendations at thrift and garage sales over the years.

The most important thing she has taught me about hospitality is realizing that when God is in the details bread and butter will serve as a more satisfying meal than the finest gourmet meal ever could without Him. She also had taught me how to laugh at myself when things go wrong. If you drop a casserole, burn a meal, or have any other calamity, relax and laugh, as your guests will, too. And then you can go ahead and order pizza or Chinese :P

Also, such blessings do not always have to given in your own home. Growing up, my family knew several older ladies who were unable to get off too often, so we would pack up a meal or snack to bring by each week, and would spend a few hours talking and sharing with these precious ladies. At Christmas we would come by with cousins and friends to sing carols & help decorate their homes and other such things. Many older people may not be able to get out & about to come to other's homes, so we mustn't forget to bless them with loving hospitality in their own homes! :o)

Apologies for the novel! I did not realize how long this was until I got to the end ;o)

Terry said...

Jess, thanks for the great post. I have been thinking alot lately about ways that we can be a blessing to those outside of our immediate family and you have just helped me out. As a matter of fact, I think I'll link to this post on my blog. Thanks also for the practical tips. I am not the most confident hostess, but you're right-it's no excuse not to extend hospitality.

*~Tamara~* said...

This is a great post, Jess, and an excellent topic to continue digging into. I have several thoughts rattling in my head on this topic, and a few more on paper, and never get around to really completing my thoughts. (That could have something to do with my being frazzled...ha!)

I think hospitality is so crucial (I realize that more as I get older) and yet it seems to be becoming a lost art.

No one (except maybe the White House) actually has a perfect home, 100% clean and tidy at every moment with flawless meals served in pristine and completely matching dishes. It's OK.

This can be SO hard, let me tell ya. Especially when you aren't naturally inclined towards flexibility. It's a personality thing that I don't think you necessarily need to defeat, but you might have to find ways to work with. Flexibility is not my strong suit so I've learned that keeping things simple is the best route if I want things to go smoothly.

PS: Hope you had a great birthday!

sharyn said...

I couldn't agree more, Jess! Until my kids went dairy-free I always had stuffed shells and lasagna in the freezer so we could have 'something' relatively ready to go if people came over. Several times I've had moms come over for playdates and say during the afternoon that they are planning to take their kids for fast food because their hubby was out of town or working late -- we've extended the invitation to stay for dinner and it's always been fun, even if chaotic (6 boys in the house bounding on our couches). I also think that being willing to open your house even if it's not 'perfect' lets others see that fun and fellowship can be had whether the house is perfectly picked up or not. What a gift to give someone -- someone who might then open their house to others also.

I would also say from a practical standpoint that if I know I'm having people over I almost always make something that can be done ahead and then reheated or kept simmering/bubbling on the stove. It keeps the fuss down and more time can be spent visiting. The more you do it, the easier it gets!

Brenda said...

You can be hospitable without serving a meal if it helps you get started! Invite some folks over to watch a movie and just serve popcorn. As you gain confidence, you can go all out. I was not taught hostessing skills and I am in awe of young women who posses them. I HAVE to teach this to my daughters.
And Mrs. Brigham said, "when God is in the details bread and butter will serve as a more satisfying meal than the finest gourmet meal ever could without Him." It made me think of the Proverb...
"Better is a dinner of herbs where love is,Than a fatted calf with hatred." Prov. 15:17

Jess said...

So sorry to just now be getting back to you.

I have no idea if the No-Peek Chicken or the soup freezes well. Neither has ever lasted long enough for me to find out! ;) We end up eating it for every meal until it's gone.

I think what I would do is just halve the recipe and put it in a 8-inch circle baking dish, if I was just going to make it for 2 people. Then you could have enough for one meal, plus maybe one lunch for one of you the next day.

Hope this helps!

precious said...

Hahaha, this is so hilarious. Being a chinese in Malaysia, we always "cook for groups" as shown in your picture.

Since we are pretty close to our neighbors, sometimes a neighbor or two will drop by while we are having a meal so we'll just get out an extra bowl of rice for the unexpected guest to join us.

Last year, I thought I'd try something different so I decided to cook western food for a birthday party. It turned out to be soooo expensive - imagine one appetizer per person, one piece of grilled chicken breast per person... I was shocked at how much it costs to eat "American style"

Amanda Axelby said...

Great post Jess, very encouraging. We are used to cooking in large quantities because we have ten children, but I am thankful for your comment about not counting individual quanties per person; I still do that sometimes and now it will stop. :)
Amanda Axelby