Hosting a holiday meal doesn’t have to be budget killer. You can be the gracious host and keep the food budget low while wowing your guests with amazing food. Chickabug offers a number of tips for staging an entire event on a budget, including some meal planning options, but if you’re looking for food specific tips for your budget friendly event, take advantage of these ideas:
#1: Plan Ahead
Think about your table. Consider how many guests will be served. Put out platters for each side, rolls, the main course. Imagine in advance how everything will look. How many sides will you need? How far does your main course need to go? Will you need more than one turkey?
Deciding in advance what you will serve can help you make sure you don’t end up with too many sides and not enough dessert – or even worse, not enough of the main course to go around.
#2: Keep Your Options Open
Now that you have a plan in place, be flexible. Shop the sales. Is there an incredible sale on ham that makes it half as expensive as the turkey? Consider swapping out recipes if a big sale comes along to make it amazingly economical.
#3: Need vs. Want
You may want to serve that luxe-looking crown rib roast or that decadent pastry from the fancy shop downtown – but it just isn’t budget-friendly. Go ahead and table those options for a later date and consider what you need to provide for your guests at your holiday meal: a strong main course, healthy sides, a couple of interesting appetizers, and a tasty dessert as well as beverages are all the main “need” list.
#4: Borrow What You Can
Do you have a great Indian dish you’d like to put on the table but you can’t justify the high cost of saffron? Is there another high dollar ingredient that you only need a small amount of? If you can’t buy exactly what you need from bulk bins and local grocery stores, consider asking around to see who has extra of what you’re looking for. You can even offer to split the cost if someone you know is making a similar recipe. And don’t forget to ask your neighbors with the apple tree or your gardening friends if they have any extras that they won’t be able to use – free ingredients are the most budget friendly of all!
#5: Potluck Option
You may not want to make it fully a potluck event, but if guests ask what they can bring, assign them something – a couple of baguettes, their famous pumpkin cheesecake, et cetera – or ask them if they have a “specialty” item they’d like to add to the table. Just make sure you know who’s bringing what in advance in order to avoid redundancy or “holes” in your menu.
#6: Emphasize Appetizers
Guests often arrive hungry, so don’t make them wait ravenously until the first courses are served. Something almost always takes longer than planned, so make sure to set out a lots of appetizers. These don’t have to be expensive. Rather than a fancy crab dip, opt instead for a big bowl of tortilla chips and freshly made pico de gallo or a big plate of bruschetta (toasted baguette slices with fresh tomatoes, basil, and olive oil). Chop a vegetable or fruit plate with produce that is on sale and put a bowl of homemade ranch dressing in the middle. Choose appetizers that augment the theme of your dinner or pick a few items that will fill up the table.
#7: Experiment with Less Expensive Recipes
There are a number of sites online that have articles or whole sites dedicated to helping you cook on the cheap, no matter what the occasion. Peruse these in advance (for example, Betty Crocker offers a number of low cost seasonal ideas) but don’t put it on the menu until you’ve had the opportunity to try it out yourself.
#8: Have a Tasting Party
Do you have three recipes for mashed potatoes, two versions of pumpkin pie and three cranberry sides but are unsure which are the best options? It’s not uncommon for first time hosts to be a little wobbly in the menu planning area, so if your guests live close by, have an informal tasting party and invite whomever can come, asking them to vote for their favorites. If they aren’t available, invite some friends who live nearby and if it’s clear that one recipe is a hit or another is a total flop, plan accordingly.
#9: BYOB and Beverage Options
Alcohol is expensive, but a bottle of wine or two or a bowl of rum punch can help everyone to relax. You can mitigate the cost by asking everyone to bring a bottle of wine or a six pack, or you can opt for a bulk amount of a low cost wine. Often, the prices get better on wine and beer when you buy by the case, so check the sale pages and see what’s available.
Don’t forget to provide nonalcoholic beverages, though. You can keep the budget low by making sure there are a couple pitchers of water available, each with chopped oranges, lemons, limes, pineapple, cucumbers, or other light refreshing fruit to keep it interesting. Add a pitcher of iced tea – also inexpensive – and/ or a bowl of festive cider; float some cinnamon sticks on top to bring out the holiday flavors.
#10: Keep Dessert Simple and Fun
No need to bake a dozen cakes and pies for your guests to choose from. Instead, pick a base dessert and let everyone top it themselves. For example, you can offer two kinds of ice cream, set out a stash of bowls and spoons, then give them a wide array of toppings to choose from. Or you can make a few simple angel food cakes and provide different syrups and fruit toppings so that your guests can customize as they like.
Remember, above all: keep it simple! The more streamlined your process, the less likely it is that you will go over budget and the more time you can spend with your guests.