When readying yourself to hit the grocer’s aisles, this preprinted list will have you already halfway home. Simply add any ingredients in the blank spaces for new dishes you will try that are not part of your regular inventory. If you hit more than one supermarket, accentuate the items that you will get at one store with a brightly colored highlighter. This way you can buy your meats and other ingredients where they are at the best price. Simply consult the store’s circular before heading off on your shopping excursion.

If you like to post your menu on your fridge or write it down in your planner, when you eat a meal, cross it off, but circle any items you did not use. For example, let’s say you planned a meal with steamed broccoli as a side, but you never got around to making it. Well, rather than letting it go bad, circle the word broccoli on your menu to remind you that you need to make soup out of that bunch or cut it up and serve it with dip for an afternoon snack. A great resource for using up these leftover and unused items is The Use it Up Cookbook by Catherine Kitcho. It lists recipes by grouping them according to single ingredients. Stuck with some leftover tomato? You’ll find multiple recipes to make with it. Stumped with what to do with that surplus of garden veggies? You’ll discover dozens of dishes here. This book is worth the price simply by virtue of the money you’ll cease wasting by cooking from it!

Cooking for a Crowd

Let’s face it, if you want to be well practiced in the area of offering hospitality to larger groups of people, you are just going to have to learn to cook for a crowd. Here’s how:

First, make friends with your Crock-Pot or slow cooker. Go buy one if you don’t have one. This is the single most important tool for making large and easy meals. I actually own three. I can make our main dish in one, peeled cooked potatoes in the second, and a dessert in the third.

Invest in some quality cookware: large roasters, cookie sheets, and jelly roll pans, a few good 9-by-13 pans, a couple large stock pots and soup kettles, etc. I prefer stainless steel or enamelware. Nonstick ones don’t last very long. And as with most things, you get what you pay for.

Forget the fine china. Invest in a nice set of Corelle dishes instead. They are inexpensive and lightweight, take up much less space than traditional stoneware, and come in many pretty patterns. Or try plain white so you can decorate your table around them no matter the season. My friend Carmen actually bought some clear dinner plates from the local dollar store to use for company. For added fun, she can place fall leaves, photographs, and other items underneath them to show through, adding to the décor.

Learn to make simple food, but plenty of it. Many gals in my survey stressed that fancy food was not important. But having delicious, simple food and enough of it to go around was.

Get kid-friendly. Find some recipes that will be hits with kids. Or if you insist on some fun, fancy fare for the adults, make sure you supplement it with something children will enjoy.

Think in themes. Theme dinners are usually a hit. Hold a Mexican night or serve Chinese. Cook several shapes of pasta and serve them with an assortment of sauces, a tossed saladl and bread hot from the oven. Give guests small plates to pour on olive oil, fresh grated garlic, and a little basil or oregano for dipping. Or have a 1950s night with burgers, fries, and malts or soda pop. Get creative!

Next time: Family First

Excerpted from A Life That Says Welcome (Revell) by Karen Ehman. © 2006 by Karen Ehman. Used with permission from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. All rights reserved.

Karen Ehman is a speaker for Hearts at Home and the coathor of the popular Homespun Gifts from the Heart and Homespun Memories for the Heart.