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5 Tips for Cooking for a Crowd on a Budget

Cooking for a crowd shouldn't be stressful; it should be fun.
Cooking for a crowd shouldn't be stressful; it should be fun.
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If you're a natural-born host, you probably enjoy almost every aspect of event planning, from the invitations to the lighthearted small talk. Unless you have a Kardashian-sized bank account, however, you're likely not quite so giddy about food costs, which can quickly spiral out of control whenever you're feeding a crowd.

Fortunately for cash-strapped party-throwers, there are many ways to host a fabulous shindig without having to take out a second mortgage on your home. Read on for our helpful tips for keeping your guests full and happy at your next event.

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What's small, cheap and chic? Find out on the next page!

Sometimes all you need for a party is cheese and crackers.
Sometimes all you need for a party is cheese and crackers.
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Rather than go all out with a multicourse feast, opt instead to serve a buffet loaded with hors d'oeuvres and finger foods. This works particularly well if your fête is a late starter. Be sure to indicate the culinary offerings on the invitation so people don't arrive ravenous for a huge meal, only to wind up disappointed with appetizer-style foods.

No large gathering would be complete without the requisite cheese and crackers, but bruschetta, chips and dip, fruits and veggies, chicken tenders and mini-quiches are also all good options. Naturally, you'll want to include some bite-sized desserts among the spread to satisfy everyone's cravings for sweets. Miniature cheesecakes, chocolate fondue with fruit and cream puffs all do nicely in a social setting and are known crowd-pleasers.

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The surest way to make your party the hit of any season is by supplying sweets -- and lots of 'em. Of course, you'll also need to make sure the bar has plenty of dessert friendly selections, like light and fruity cocktails and dessert wines.

You might elect to splurge on one or two fancy-looking baked selections and supplement additional sweets with some easy homemade creations to diversify the options, such as brownies, festively decorated cookies and petit fours. Again, it's important to note the nature of the festivities on the invitation, so guests arrive ready to indulge in sweets rather than an entire meal.

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If you really want to provide an honest-to-goodness meal but lack the budget for a gourmet chef, look no farther than your local discount warehouse, like Costco, Sam's Club or BJ's. The freezer section of these establishments often contains a broad selection of bulk appetizers, casseroles and pastas like lasagna or ravioli. Even better, they're a cinch to heat up and tend to be seriously delicious. Plus, buying them in bulk is much cheaper than picking up multiple packages at the grocery store.

Warehouse stores also sell bulk portions of standard party fare, like olives and every variety of cheese and cracker you can think of. Plus, the wine section isn't too shabby, either!

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Who says party fare has to be fancy for guests to have a great time? All-American favorites like hamburgers and hot dogs are popular, filling and inexpensive to boot. Of course, you'll need to provide a buffet of the necessary garnishes, such as lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and other condiments, but that shouldn't be very costly.

If standard-sized hamburgers bore you, put a twist on the original by serving their miniature brethren: sliders. Sliders are the size of a White Castle or Krystal burger. Every guest is sure to enjoy these tiny delicacies, unless you're hosting a crowd of vegetarians (in which case, we'd nix this whole idea).

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Make sure to provide plenty of crowd-pleasing but inexpensive side items, like baked beans, potato chips and cookies alongside your spread, and provide plenty of cold beverages to wash them down.

There are plenty of reasons to celebrate, especially if your guests bring their own booze to the party.
There are plenty of reasons to celebrate, especially if your guests bring their own booze to the party.
John Howard/Lifesize/Getty Images

Anyone who's ever thrown a party knows that the bar tab is often the priciest portion of the event, especially if your friends enjoy top-shelf liquor or fine wines. Consider providing a larger food spread in exchange for asking people to bring a bottle of their favorite libation or other beverage in return. Many guests will arrive bearing some sort of token gift anyway, and this way you can ensure that the bar will remain fully stocked.

However, it might not be a bad idea to assign a particular beverage to each guest after he or she RSVPs. For example, have your brother bring a bottle of rum, your best friend the makings for sangria and your Uncle Ed a 12-pack of beer. That way, there'll be something to suit everyone's taste buds.

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Sources

  • Chatzky, Jean. "How to Throw a Party on a Budget." Oprah. Jan. 1, 2006. (Nov. 26, 2011) http://www.oprah.com/money/How-to-Throw-a-Party-on-a-Budget
  • Choi, Candice. "Party on a budget: Guy Fieri's 5 Memorial Day Tips." USA Today. May 21, 2011. (Nov. 26, 2011) http://www.usatoday.com/money/perfi/general/2011-05-21-guy-fieri-barbecue-party_n.htm
  • Matthews, Kathryn. "Katie Brown's Luxe-for-less New Year's Eve Party." Epicurious. 2011. (Nov. 26, 2011) http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/entertaining/partiesevents/newyearsevekatiebrown_food

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