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.
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.