Office Potlucks

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Office Potlucks

I would like to know how others deal with food events at work that require everyone to bring a dish. Our office sometimes has several potlucks per month, including fundraisers, bake sales and birthday celebrations. It becomes difficult to provide good dishes that the group will like when I am on a tight budget and trying to squeeze every nickel. We are a small team, and it would be very obvious if one person did not participate and was "not a team player." I have dietary restrictions and can't eat many of the party foods, so I must bring my regular lunch in addition to my contribution. It's not always possible to bring inexpensive choices like plates or napkins, and the women are expected to cook, bake or buy from the deli. Whatever I choose, I'm spending much more than I would spend on that meal at home. I would appreciate any suggestions.
Jessie in SD

Bring Homemade Bread

I use my bread machine (worth every one of the many pennies I spent to buy it!) to make either rosemary and onion focaccia or challah. Both are lovely, unique to the spread, and cheap. Focaccia takes less time than challah, but both are delicious and impressive.

As an aside, for those who say they can't afford a bread machine, I figure my whole-wheat bread that is made with half bread flour and half whole wheat flour costs about $1.10 for a two-pound loaf. I also make ciabattas, dinner rolls, pretzels, pizza dough, hamburger and hot dog buns, etc. 36 ounces of white-flour ciabattas are $4.49 at Costco; I figure mine cost about 90 cents. So the bread machine pays for itself pretty quickly.

Plan Ahead

Make a list of simple/frugal recipes that can be doubled or tripled for a potluck. Things like potato salad, pasta salad and deviled eggs are cheap and easy to make in larger batches. Also, keep an eye on the sales flyers for things that you can stock and use for potluck meals. For instance, ground beef on sale can be made into meatballs, baked and frozen. When potluck time rolls around, drop the meatballs into a slow cooker with a jar of grape jelly and a can of chili sauce to make meatballs. Planning ahead can make a big difference in the hit to the wallet for the potlucks.
Arianasilver in Dover, NH

Everyone Loves Deviled Eggs

Make deviled eggs. They are economical. Just serve them attractively by piping the egg yolk filling into the shell carefully. Most people like them, but rarely make them for themselves. There are rarely any leftovers.

It's Time to Speak Up!

Several office potluck occasions a month is very excessive in my opinion. Have you considered telling your coworkers that you will only be able to contribute to one a month? With food costs rising daily, I cannot imagine that others aren't having the same problem you are. I noticed you said that "the women" are expected to cook, bake or buy from the deli. Does that imply that men in your office do not contribute as well? If that's the case, then it's time for these events to be reconsidered. Sometimes these kinds of things just need to be discussed, reconsidered, or abolished completely. But that can't happen if you don't speak up.

Make a Prior Commitment to Yourself

We also have potlucks at work. They are a lot of fun and break up an otherwise dull work routine. We have some folks who don't cook, don't like to cook, etc., so they offer to bring chips, paper plates and napkins, or soft drinks. You don't have to go overboard when volunteering to bring these relatively inexpensive items. Two or three two-quart pop bottles won't cost you much. One or two large bags of chips should be plenty. And, since you don't eat a lot of the other food, nobody will think you are not contributing your share.

What about starting a little exercise routine at lunch that you've made a commitment to yourself not to miss, even if it's a simple as walking for awhile outdoors. If you attend some of the potlucks and duck out of others because of this commitment, nobody should hold it against you.

Create a Signature Dish

I, too, had a similar problem for years. I was expected to bring something fabulous and had little money in the budget to do it with. I came up with a really inexpensive solution. I found a dinner roll recipe that I made up the night before and cooked in the morning. It was very inexpensive to make. They enjoyed the rolls and looked forward to them every time we had a potluck. I never had to sign up either. They just automatically put rolls next to my name every time!
Ruth in ME

Be in Control of the Situation

We just had one at work today. I chose a watermelon. My cost was $4 plus the time to cut it. I have spearheaded healthy eating at my work and stressed the need for good wholesome food and no junk. It has worked well. We had many salad and fresh fruit and vegetable options to choose from today. I know that it's not as cheap as making my own lunch, but I do try to keep the cost low.

I, too, have dietary concerns and I simply say that I cannot eat party foods (we call it garbage foods), and to participate, I need to know that there will be food for me to eat. I turn the table from not feeling like I am part of the group to making sure the group includes me. If I have doubts, I bring an emergency lunch, but I don't make it known that I brought something. If I don't use it, I can have it on another day.
Stephanie in Winnipeg, Manitoba

Bring a Drink

I would start out by explaining to everyone that you have dietary restrictions. What about bringing something to drink? I brought orange juice to an office potluck and there was nothing left over. In the fall, I even made a spiced cider that everyone really enjoyed.
Monica in Illinois

People Love Food Made from Scratch

Develop a short list of delicious recipes and rotate them. Anything made from scratch is a real treat these days, and it is almost always considerably less expensive. Have a few "specialties." A friend of mine always brings chili-cheese grits, which everyone loves. There are many fabulous recipes. Any leftovers are for your next meal at home. Or stock up on cake mix when they go on sale. Name brands frequently go for $1 to $1.29. Make your own frosting (much tastier and cheaper than the cans) or wait for the cans to go on sale.

If your diet allows, I suggest you bring a dish that you can enjoy, too, and bring home for your next meal.

Quick, Easy and Cheap Relish Tray

When asked to contribute to a potluck, I go to a discount grocery store (Aldi's) and buy sweet pickles, dill pickles, olives and a block of cheddar cheese. In no time, I put together a platter with the pickles and olives arranged around the outside of the plate. Next, I slice the cheese and put it in the middle for some color. This quick relish plate is almost always empty (especially if set by the deli meats.)

Honesty Is Always Best

You need to bite the bullet and tell your well meaning co-workers that you can not participate in their office pot lucks. You have several choices:

  1. Just say that you will not participate.
  2. Tell them you have diet restrictions and your health suffers when you participate.
  3. Tell them that you just cannot afford to participate.

You really do not have to tell your co-workers anything other than to politely decline their offer to participate. This is emotional black mail and you should not allow it. If these people are your friends, they will understand. If not, why do you care what they think?

Find Like Minded People

I'd go right to your HR department and ask that a limit be set on how many "events" can be held in a month. If you have no HR, talk to a few co-workers and see if they feel the same. Then go to your boss as a group and nicely say that the demands are straining your time and resources, and also taking you away from work time. Another idea is to suggest substituting a fund raiser for charity rather than a social get-together for staff. If the company feels a get-together is imperative, tell them that the unity of working together for a charity will bring a better team feeling than just eating together.

Stock Up Ingredients When on Sale

I have been there! Identify five different and very easy dishes. Then, start buying the ingredients on sale with coupons. Stock up! I think you should bring something you can eat at least every other time. Cookies, muffins, potato casserole, pasta salad, and brownies made from a mix might be my choices. Do join in and enjoy the fellowship! At my husband's office, a co-worker living in a "no kitchen" situation bought shredded carrots and added crushed pineapple and raisins. It was a delicious salad, and when hubby brought home leftovers, I made muffins. They were great!
Iris in Dallas

Create Cheap, Diet Friendly Dishes

I work for an animal welfare non-profit, so not only do I have a very low income, but many of my co-workers have various dietary restrictions due to their personal beliefs, allergies, weight-loss diets, etc. So, I make cold rice salad with a vinegar dressing when we have potlucks. I always have vinegar and a bag of rice at home, and I alter the recipe according to what vegetables are cheap and/or in season, adding appropriate spices and usually including some kind of beans for protein. I provide a copy of the recipe for those who are interested in the ingredients, and people seem to appreciate that I take special diets into account while providing a substantial contribution to the potluck. I've never had to worry about someone having a problem with gluten or dairy issues, and even the carnivores don't seem to miss meat or cheese in the dish. If you don't have a favorite rice salad recipe on hand, just check some recipe websites or type "rice salad" in a search engine and tweak what you find to suit your taste.
Heather in Detroit, MI

Take a Pot of Beans

One thought I had for a budget dish to take to office potlucks is a pot of homemade pinto beans. It is relatively cheap to buy in bulk and simply takes a few hours of your time to soak overnight and cook several hours. Season with chili powder and garlic powder or add bacon and ham. I've cooked them plain and added salt when I dished them out. Delicious!
Martha in TX

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