How to Host a Meal for 5 without Breaking the Bank

By: Linda C. Brinson

In these tough times, it's nice to know that a dinner party doesn't have to break the bank. See some easy weeknight meals pictures.
In these tough times, it's nice to know that a dinner party doesn't have to break the bank. See some easy weeknight meals pictures.
Shelby Ross/Getty Images

Let's face it: Times are tough. You want to have friends over for a meal, but the cost of throwing a dinner party seems daunting.

Take heart. A meal for guests doesn't have to wreck your budget. You can entertain inexpensively and still send your guests home satisfied and happy. They might even be raving about your delicious food.

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You can, of course, ask the guests to chip in. One way to hold down the cost of a meal is to throw a potluck, with everyone bringing a dish or two to share. Or you can plan to fire up the grill, prepare side dishes and ask guests to bring whatever meat they want to cook. It's also fine to ask guests to contribute a specific dish such as a dessert, side dish or bread. Except in the case of a formal dinner party, guests shouldn't think it's odd or bad manners to be asked to help.

But if you'd rather spring for the entire meal yourself, the smart cook can provide a nice spread without having to max out the credit card or take out a loan. Find some inexpensive meal ideas on the next page.

Inexpensive Meal Ideas for 5

Here are some tips from Michael Hastings, food editor of the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina, for determining if you'll have enough to feed five people:

For meat or fish, plan for about ¼ pound (113 grams) of boneless meat per person. If the meat has bones, plan on ½ pound (227 grams) per person. Figure on at least ½ cup (119 milliliters) per side dish per person. For salads or soups, have at least 1 cup (237 milliliters) per person. Make sure you add enough extra portions for big appetites.

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For affordable appetizers, you can't go wrong with chips and salsa, or dip. Cheese and crackers also work well. Roll luncheon meats and skewer with toothpicks. Pickles can round out the spread. Veggies and dip can be inexpensive if you go with what's seasonal -- in your garden or at the market.

A salad is an inexpensive side dish, if you stick with plentiful ingredients such as lettuce or spinach, seasonal tomatoes, carrots, hard-boiled eggs and canned chickpeas. Other good sides can be concocted from seasonal vegetables.

Dessert can be as simple as seasonal fruit and/or cookies, homemade or purchased with an eye to affordability. Coffee adds the finishing touch.

But you may not need all those extra dishes. One great way to throw an inexpensive party is to have a one-dish meal. Add bread if desired, maybe a light dessert, and you're good to go.

  • Pasta. Lasagna. Spaghetti. Macaroni and cheese casseroles, with extra ingredients. Ground beef, less expensive than other cuts, can add heft and protein.
  • Chicken dishes. Chicken casseroles, with vegetables, rice or noodles, sauces and toppings (bread or cracker crumbs, or stuffing mixes) are tasty and affordable. Buying whole chickens on sale to cook and bone saves money.
  • Hearty soups or stews. Chili, chicken soups, bean soups with a little ham or sausage, potato soup -- soups and stews can make satisfying meal. Even a beef stew can be economical if you buy an inexpensive cut, cook it until it's tender and stretch it with potatoes and other vegetables.
  • Vegetarian dishes. Vegetarian dishes such as ratatouille, eggplant Parmesan or casseroles can save money. But avoid pricey ingredients such as exotic mushrooms and vegetables that are out of season.

Keep reading for other ways to keep your meal costs low.

Tips for Hosting an Inexpensive Meal for 5

Believe it or not, you can host your friends without blowing your budget.
Believe it or not, you can host your friends without blowing your budget.
Kane Skennar/Getty Images

Choosing a low-cost menu, whether it's a one-dish meal or a tad more elaborate, is one key to hosting a meal without running up a huge bill. Keep in mind that one-dish meals are win-win: Not only do they save money; they also save the cook because they can usually be made ahead and require less effort. You'll have more time to savor your meal and enjoy your guests.

Other things to keep in mind:

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  • You don't have to throw a dinner party. Lunch is almost always an option.
  • Choose recipes that add lots of starches and vegetables in proportion to a little meat.
  • Shop ahead. Buy and freeze inexpensive meats.
  • Use what's in season from the garden, the farmers' market or the supermarket's produce aisle.
  • Substitute less expensive cuts of meat for pricier ones. Ground beef is cheaper than most cuts of beef. Tougher cuts of beef or pork can cost less and be tenderized with marinades and/or slow cooking. Whole chickens are less expensive than cut-up parts, especially cheaper than boneless, skinless parts.
  • Unless you live near the coast, fish may be more expensive per serving than other meats. Less-common meats such as lamb and duck also cost more. Sausage provides a lot of flavor for a little price, but it is usually high in fat.
  • If serving alcohol, choose a good but inexpensive wine. Ask guests to bring drinks of choice.
  • If your recipe calls for a lot of ingredients you don't have on hand and may never use again, you're not saving money.

If you're creative, hosting a meal for five doesn't have to be expensive. Even better, the meal can be tasty, filling and fun for you as well as your guests.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Bluestein, Adam. "Handbook for Hosts: A Practical Guide to Party Planning and Gracious Entertaining." Hearst Books. 2006.
  • Hastings, Michael. Food editor, the Winston-Salem Journal, Winston-Salem, NC. Personal interview via e-mail. Nov. 7, 2011.
  • Lee, Sandra. "Sandra's Money Saving Meals." (Nov. 6, 2011.) http://www.foodnetwork.com/sandras-money-saving-meals/index.html
  • MyRecipes.com. "5 Recipes under $1." MyRecipes.com. (Nov. 8, 2011) http://www.myrecipes.com/how-to/5-to-try/1-dinners-10000001966775/
  • Raiswell, James. "Cheap Ways to Host a Dinner Party." (Nov. 7, 2011) http://www.askmen.com/fine_living/wine_dine_archive_150/153_wine_dine.html
  • Slow Food USA. "$5 Tips & Tricks & Challenges" (Nov. 7, 2011) http://5challenge.tumblr.com/