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:
- 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.