Budget-Friendly Sunday DinnerSunday dinner is sort of a thing in our house.

It’s not a tablecloth-and-wedding-china kind of thing, though years ago when J. and I were first married, I did make an effort to bring out the nicer stuff once a week just so all those pretty wedding gifts could see the light of day for a change. Having kids sort of changed that particular rhythm, but still, I try to stick to the principle that a Sunday dinner is a slightly different animal than its six siblings. Gathering for a meal on the last night of the precious weekend is my chance to transition us all well from the fun (and often hectic) “days off” we’ve had, back into the weekday routines of school and work. It’s the meal I have usually had the most time to prepare, the one where I can offer myself the luxury of a lengthy braise or a multi-step recipe. It’s the one that sets the tone for the week ahead.

For us, it’s generally a positive experience – this gathering around the worn oak table with the prospect of early wake-up times and homework folders and work deadlines looming in the back of our minds while we try to ignore all those realities and cling to the last precious moments of the weekend. But it may not be so for every family. For some people I know, the mere words “Sunday dinner” conjure sweaty palms. Sunday dinner feels, to them, like a lot of PRESSURE. Dinner that just happens to be on Sunday? No big thing. SUNDAY DINNER? Panic. The images that come to mind are often elaborate, multi-course meals, lots of family, starched tablecloths, big roasts. It can all seem so unattainable, so hard.

And yet Sunday dinner doesn’t have to be that way. It can just be a re-settling, a moment of calm before the storm of the week. It doesn’t have to be fancy; any old thing your family likes to eat is fine. But if, like me, you want to serve something a little more “traditionally” Sunday-ish, it also doesn’t have to be incredibly gourmet or incredibly expensive. As much as I loved my grandmother’s crown roast of pork when I was a kid at her Sunday table, I’m not serving crown roast on the average day to my family!

Fortunately, it’s easier than you might think to make a budget-friendly Sunday dinner with those special, homey touches that help it to stand out from the regular weekday fare. The extra time many of us have on the weekends means we can roast meats on the bone, tenderize cheaper cuts with long cooking times, give casseroles and baked dishes their lingering due in the oven, or devote some patience and attention to layering flavors step-by-step in a proper stew. You can even, on a Sunday, use a typically “weeknight” ingredient like cost-effective ground meat to make something with a little extra flair.

That’s what this menu is all about: Taking ground meat and the most humble of basic vegetables – potatoes and carrots – and making them into a dinner that’s worthy of a special place in the meal rotation. This riff on the classic Salisbury steak and potatoes is a homey throwback to the old idyllic family dinner, with just a few updates to keep it from feeling full-on 1950s. The concept is family-friendly, while the flavors have just enough pizazz to be appropriate for guests, too. And since the whole meal is naturally gluten-and-nut-free, it’s a safe choice for many with food allergies, too.

The menu:
“Salisbury” Lamb Patties with Balsamic Gravy
Crispy Parmesan Smashed Potatoes
Glazed Carrots