Why does Shabbos lunch have to have so many courses?! I have guests often and I want to just serve one course but I feel pressured to serve an appetizer. Not only that, but what if my guests don’t like the appetizer? I always feel like I need to have another option or two (or more), and then something for the picky kids, and don’t forget about the allergies! I really enjoy entertaining, but it is so overwhelming.
Sister, I hear you. It seems that in our community, the norm is for people to serve a fish/salad/appetizer course, hot food (cholent, chicken, deli roll, kugel, and more), and dessert. Not to mention that many women make their own challah, which is a project in and of itself. And what always gets me is that if I have guests for Shabbos lunch, my family still expects me to serve them an elaborate meal on Friday night. The nerve! (Note: My husband says he does not expect an elaborate meal Friday night. I would venture to guess that my children disagree.)
There are two issues here: the food and the company. Over the years, I have come to realize that most people are glad to be invited out and don’t care all that much about the food you are serving them. Since I personally do not enjoy cooking, the system that has worked for me is to make basically the same menu each Shabbos that I entertain. Of course, I switch things up a bit, but I created a loose-leaf binder with dividers for fish, salad, main, dessert, and have my basic go-to recipes there. I shove in slips of paper with all manner of recipes, from my friend’s salad I really liked last Shabbos to the Mishpacha magazine recipes that are in the “Easy” category, and dig through those if I need inspiration. I also make a list on Wednesday or Thursday with my menus and write next to each thing when I plan to make it. I try to split it up between Thursday and Friday so it doesn’t seem too overwhelming. This is especially important in the winter, when we HAVE to make food on Thursday or are doomed.
And guess what? Those prepared food counters at our local kosher groceries are there for a reason. I have friends (okay, me too) who serve some from the counter and some from the kitchen. Don’t even try to hide it. There is no shame in this. Remember, it’s not all about the food.
All that being said, my favorite Shabbos lunch recently was at a house whose hostess made a delicious soup for first course, and then nice meat, chicken, vegetables, and grain dish. The guests brought salads, fruit, and dessert. Not a kugel, muffin, or elaborate appetizer in sight. Hallelujah! This is another important lesson: When your guests ask what they can bring, DO NOT tell them, “Oh, it’s fine, don’t worry about it,” because they will bring something regardless, so it may as well be something you would like to serve (and that means you have to make one less dish).
Overall, the most important thing to consider in this whole thing is the guests. At this recent meal, I had the best time because I liked the people so much. We had great conversation, we laughed, we talked about how awesome Kol HaBirah is (that always gets me on your good side), and generally had fun. Don’t get me wrong, the food was delicious, but we didn’t need 15 different dishes to make everyone happy. The most important element of a successful Shabbos meal is enjoying your guests.
If you love to cook, kol hakavod! If not, simplify your system and focus on the guests. Most of the pressure we feel is actually the pressure we put on ourselves. Now, inviting people and planning for guests are a whole other kettle of fish. But that’s a topic for another time.
Good Shabbos and good luck!
All the best,