Holidays, anniversaries and birthdays roll around every year, but life's great milestones, joyous occasions and special little moments deserve to be celebrated, too, even when money's tight. If the party planning is in your hands, you don't have to scrimp on festive food to stick to your budget. Here are 10 ideas for tasty party food that's kind to your wallet.
Instead of just slicing nature's bounty and spreading it around a platter, transform fresh fruit and vegetables into miniature works of art that can double as table décor. Some simple ideas include:
- Wrap thin slices of deli meats around scallions (also known as green onions and spring onions) to make flower buds. Use a little dab of cheese spread or guacamole to hold the buds in place.
- Make apple blossoms. Core and cut an apple in half lengthwise. Don't peel. Use a very sharp knife or mandolin to cut very thin slices running from cored edge to peel. Keeping the peel to the outside, roll the slices into a rosette. Layer on more slices for a larger rosette. Secure edges with toothpicks.
- Cut bell peppers in half horizontally and scrape out the seeds and membrane. Fill the halves with dip for a natural serving vessel -- no bowl needed!
If your celebration calls for cake, you'll save a bundle if you make it yourself. Store-bought cakes are expensive, and they don't usually taste better than cakes made at home from scratch or from a mix. What you're really paying for is fancy decorations. Pastry bags and special frosting tips -- often sold right beside the cake mixes in the grocery store -- make it easy to add frills and a personal message to your cake.
To get gourmet taste from your homemade layer cake, spread lemon curd or raspberry preserves -- instead of frosting -- between the layers. Frost the top and sides as usual.
If you're feeding a large crowd, skip the stacks and make a sheet cake. It's easier to decorate, and you'll be able to get more servings out it than a layered cake.
When shopping for beer, wine or liquor, opt for the big packages. In most cases, you'll pay less per ounce for a case of beer (and even less for a keg) than for a six- or 12-pack. Larger containers of spirits and wine are also less expensive per ounce. Boxed wines are the best bargain. If you don't like the idea of serving wine in boxes, put it in simple glass carafes for guests to help themselves, or use your slow cooker to make mulled wine.
Be prepared to pay cash for your libation supply: Most liquor stores give a discount for cash purchases, as well as if you buy wine by the case.
Imagine a platter of chewy cookies. Now add little rounds of red velvet cake with puffs of cream cheese frosting. Ring it all about with chocolate-coated strawberries and pineapple chunks. Are you drooling yet?
Miniature desserts have a special allure. And by offering just a taste, you can stretch a single dessert or two into abundance. With a few tools you probably already have, you can turn your favorite recipes into tiny treats that your guests will find charming and satisfying. Use mini muffin tins to bake bite-size brownies, cakes and sweet muffins, and a small ice cream scoop gets a lot of cookies from a single batch of dough. Add a dollop of frosting with a pastry or plastic bag and decorative tip for a simple but festive flourish. If you want to serve fruit for dessert, making your own chocolate-dipped fruit is easy, fun, cheaper and fresher than buying it already prepared.
Keep those cookie cutters and knives handy for the next idea.
Just like miniature desserts, small sandwiches are a budget-stretching party offering that let guests sample a variety of foods without breaking your bank. Use inexpensive, homemade spreads like chicken salad, cream cheese and olive spread and pimento cheese. You can also use sliced apples and cheddar cheese or cucumbers sprinkled with fresh dill. Make your sandwiches interesting by using an assortment of breads with different colors, textures and flavors, and cut them into fun shapes with cookie cutters. Mix up the flavors in a single sandwich, using a different type of bread for the top and bottom, or leave some as open-face and top with a sprig of fresh herbs or finely chopped chives. You can also dip cut the edges of your sandwiches in chopped nuts or cracker crumbs to add a savory crunch.
Dips are easy and popular party fare, so save money by making your own rather than purchasing the ready-made. Start with a basic hummus, guacamole or creamy fruit dip. Then add your personal touch with unique seasonings and eye-catching presentations.
A cheese ball isn't quite a dip, but it's easy to make, delicious to eat and pretty to look at. Plus, it holds its shape, so you can sculpt it to go along with your party theme. And if you have leftovers, it can be reshaped and served again -- trust us, no one will know.
Serve your creations with fresh fruit and veggie slices, chips and crackers. In fact, now that you have your dips, the next page will tell you how to make your own chips and crackers.
Instead of dropping big bucks on bags of chips and boxes of flavored crackers, take a trip to the discount bakery store and turn stale flour tortillas and pita rounds into fantastic -- and budget friendly -- gourmet chips and crackers.
To make your own tortilla chips, cut round corn or flour tortillas into triangles. Coat them with olive oil or cooking spray and seasonings, then bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes until lightly browned. For tasty, toasty crackers, split day-old mini pita rounds into top and bottom halves, then season and bake as you would with the tortilla chips. Once these homemade snacks are cool, you can store them for several days in plastic bags -- perfect to make ahead for your party!
Some celebrations aren't complete without cocktails, so let your guests raise their glasses with something special: a drink created just for the party. A themed concoction adds interest to the occasion: Don't tell guests what's in the custom mixture; let them keep guessing your secret recipe. A party-specific beverage does something else, too, that nobody needs to know about: It lets you control your alcohol budget. When you offer a cocktail specifically for your celebratory occasion, you don't need to stock a full bar. You only need to buy the ingredients for your libation. And for even more portion and cost control, have the drink already set out for guests as they arrive and then dispense refills yourself.
Presentation is a big part of party flair. With this simple idea, you can offer guests tasty nibbles presented so elegantly that it doesn't look like you're pinching pennies. Start with a small selection of bite-sized pieces of fruit, fresh veggies, cheeses, herbs and other morsels. Plan your selections around foods that are in season; they're cheaper then. You'll also need a bag of small plastic or bamboo skewers. Slide three to four morsels onto the pointy end. For example, you could spear a cube of toasted French bread, a sliver of mozzarella cheese, a basil leaf and half a cherry tomato. On the fruity side, use a bite-sized apple slice, a nugget of cheddar cheese and a grape. Don't slide the bites too far up the skewer. They should be easy to nibble off without getting poked. Arrange the skewers on a platter, or place the sharp points into a melon or decorated Styrofoam ball to make an edible centerpiece.
When you're shopping for budget-friendly foods, don't overlook eggs. They're a bargain and are incredibly versatile. Turn hard-boiled eggs into edible decorations, or use them for a platter of deviled eggs or egg salad for the small sandwiches we mentioned earlier. Bake them up in mini muffin pans for a simple crustless quiche, or make a yummy vegetable frittata served in slim wedges; both these options are great for using up the leftover ingredients you have on hand, which is good for keeping your food budget in check.
Parties let friends and family celebrate special events and express joy and hope for the future, but keep in mind, there's no rule that says you have to serve a big, elaborate spread at parties. Use these tips and the info on the next page to host a memorable bash, even if you're on a shoestring budget.
Are you looking for some salad recipes that save you money? Check out this article and get 5 salad recipes that save you money.
- Braker, Flo. "Sweet Miniatures: The Art of Making Bite-Size Desserts." Williamm Morrow and Company. 1991.
- Hendrickson, Kim. "Tastefully Small Finger Sandwiches: Easy Party Sandwiches for All Occasions." Atlantic Publishing Group. 2008.
- Larousse, David Paul. "More Edible Art: 75 Fresh Ideas for Garnishing." John Wiley & Sons. 2000.