Monday, March 31, 2008

Better than a Cold Bowl of Cereal (Part 1)

Have you ever wanted to get together regularly with your neighbors, but you just can't seem to find a good time to meet? Evenings are busy, the kids all have different bedtime schedules, and you don't want to take away from weekend plans.

Well, if you don't mind getting up a little early, try hosting a Saturday morning breakfast or burnch once a month! A few less hours of sleep is worth it, trust me.

When we were a CARES Team, this was one of the first regular events we instituted in our complex to get to know our neighbors, and I can testify that it was one of the most well-attended ongoing activities we had. (Of course, we also had folks who came, grabbed a plate of food, and ran off, but all our neighbors weren't so rushed. I'd hope yours would at least want to stay and say hello!) We were also on a limited budget, especially during the winter, and often only had less than $30 to spend to feed at least 25-30 people or more, so we got creative!

The first rule of any good event is to make it inviting. Serve warm, yummy food! Your neighbors will also thank you for offering them the chance to eat something other than cold cereal or a breakfast bar, even if they do grab a plate and go!

If you do plan to make this an ongoing neighborhood event, one way to defray costs is to have everyone bring a favorite breakfast item, even if they just pick up doughnuts from down the street. However, for the first time, you will probably want to provide everything yourself, as an act of hospitality and goodwill towards any new folks you might meet. In the next installment, I will provide inexpensive menu ideas that feed 30 people for less than $1/person.

The easiest way to serve breakfast for a large group is buffet style. We use various dishes, crock pots, casseroles, platters, baskets with a cloth napkin to keep breads warm, really almost anything will do.

As for what to serve on? At most Dollar Stores, you can find brightly colored tablecloths and paper napkins and plates if you are looking for cheap options for easy cleanup for a large group. If you plan to do this often and want to use paper products, the cheapest option is to go to a warehouse store and buy the extra-large quantity paper goods they sell to small businesses. I liven up plain forks, knives and plates with festive napkins.

But, if you are hosting the event in your home and have the space (and the dishes), or if you just want to be more environmentally friendly and economical, feel free to set up a buffet on your kitchen counter with real plates--just make sure you recruit some help with washing the dishes!

Once you have gotten to know your neighbors a little better, and you want to keep the Saturday brunch time going, another option is to rotate the location--and the hosts! Perhaps you'll want to spend one Saturday morning together at the park and serve bagels and cream cheese or bring along some biscuits, butter, and jam. Bring along a cooler with bottled juices or a thermos.

If you know your neighbors REALLY well, why not make it even more casual and relaxing by letting the kids come over in their pajamas? Make it reminiscent of a Saturday morning when you were a kid and had all the time in the world. If you are hosting the brunch in your home, you can put in some DVD's of appropriate children's cartoons, perhaps some classics that even the adults might appreciate.

These are some simple tips for a fabulous, yet frugal, Saturday morning breakfast event. If you decide to do something like this for your neighbors, or have in the past, please tell us about it in the comments or e-mail me with pictures!

In my next installment: More Breakfast Menu Ideas!

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