My family is constantly hosting parties for friends and extended family. Although we absolutely love hosting these events, sometimes the costs can seem out of control.
When I first realized exactly how much these parties were costing, I felt that the only option was to either continue overspending on party food or completely stop hosting parties.
Over time, I have learned simple techniques that help to seriously slash my party budget. I learned that I can still host warm and inviting events for my family and friends that fit into my budget.
For me, it has become a habit to save money while throwing a lovely party at the same time. I will share my favorite 15 cheap party food ideas below. After the recipes, I will let you know money saving tips that you can take advantage of as you prepare for your party.
Best Party Food Ideas for Your Budget
Now, let’s dive into some of my favorite party dishes. Later, I’ll go over all of the baseline tips to start hosting parties on a budget.
Although eating out for brunch is often expensive, hosting a brunch at home can be relatively affordable. For some events, like a bridal shower, a brunch party may be a great time. Some of my favorite (and affordable) brunch recipes include:
1. French Toast
With just a few ingredients and a very filling result, french toast is the perfect brunch food.
- Ground cinnamon
Directions: All you need to do is whip together the eggs and milk. Plus, you can add some cinnamon if you have some for extra flavor. Just dip the bread in the mixture, throw into a greased frying pan, and cook on both sides. The toast is ready when both sides are golden brown.
You can keep the french toast warm on a tray in the oven until it is time to serve your guests. For toppings, you can put out butter, jelly, syrup, whipped cream, or anything else you have on hand.
2. Fruit Salad
Although fruit salad is a great brunch option, you can serve this any time of the day to satisfy your guests. The best part about fruit salad is that you can buy fruits that are on sale to create an affordable dish.
If you aren’t sure where to start, then consider including:
- Banana slices
- Sliced bananas
- Mandarin orange slices
You can put any combination of fruits into the salad. Do not feel that you must provide every single fruit under the sun. Just include what is on sale. A fruit salad of watermelon and blueberries is my simple and affordable go-to party dish.
3. Egg Casserole
A hearty egg casserole is a simple dish to make and always a crowd pleaser.
- 12 eggs, beaten
- 2 cups of cheddar cheese
- 6 slices of white bread, chopped into large pieces
- 1.5- 2 pounds of ground breakfast sausage
Directions: First brown the sausage in a skillet and combine with bread and 1.5 cups of cheese in a bowl. Next, pour the eggs into a greased 9 x 13 baking dish and add the sausage mixture to the dish. Top with a half cup of cheese and bake at 350º F for 15 minutes.
You will be able to whip up this egg casserole fairly quickly. Plus, you can rewarm it in the oven if you want to bake it the night before.
4. Banana Bread
A breakfast staple that will have everyone asking for seconds. It is affordable to make and filling for your guests.
- 1 cup of sugar
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 3 bananas, overripe
- 1 teaspoon of baking soda
- .5 cup of vegetable oil
- 2 cups of flour
Directions: Start by mashing the bananas extremely well. Next, add in the eggs, sugar, baking soda and vegetable oil to the bowl. After mixing those ingredients well, add in the flour slowly. Make sure to mix the flour in well. Split the batter into two greased 8×4 pans or a muffin pan with space for 12 muffins.
Bake the loaves for 40 minutes at 350º F.
If you want to mix it up, then consider adding another ingredient such as chopped nuts or chocolate chips to add to the flavor.
5. Waffle bar
If you have a waffle maker, then this could be a great choice. Your guests will have the option to customize their breakfast while you enjoy the lower cost.
- 2 cups of flour
- .5 cup of vegetable oil
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1.75 cups of milk
- 4 teaspoons of baking powder
- .25 teaspoon of salt
- .5 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon of white sugar
- Toppings like fruit, whipped cream, syrup and more
Directions: Mix together the eggs, flour, milk, vegetable oil, sugar, baking powder, salt and vanilla. Once your batter is completely smooth, then cook on your waffle iron.
Set up a toppings station for your guests to enjoy. Buy fruit that is in season and other toppings that are on sale. If you choose your toppings carefully, then you will have an affordable brunch food for your next party.
Lunch and Dinner Options
Lunch and dinner meals can be more expensive, but you can still find a way to feed your party guests without breaking the bank. Here are some of my favorite options:
6. Baked Potato Bar
Giving your guests the option to choose their toppings is always a good option. Baked potatoes are no different. Here’s what you’ll need for your baked potato bar:
- One baked potato per each guest, plus a few extra for your hungry guests
- Sour cream
- Other toppings like cheese, bacon, vegetables, sauces, etc.
Just set up a buffet style bar for your guests to pick out what they enjoy most.
7. Taco Bar
Almost everyone loves tacos. You can easily provide an affordable taco bar for your guests. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Taco shells, hard and soft
- Cooked, seasoned ground beef
- Sour cream
- Chopped onions
- Shredded cheese
- Anything else you like!
Make sure to buy the ground beef on sale to keep it affordable. Or you can also replace the ground beef with shredded chicken if you can find a better deal on chicken.
8. Pasta Bar
Another filling bar to satisfy your guests is a pasta bar. Here’s what you need:
- 2 or 3 different kinds of pasta
- 2 or 3 different types of sauce
- Parmesan cheese
- Simple salad
You can really serve a crowd on a budget with a pasta bar.
9. Salad Bar
If your party guests prefer veggies, then consider a salad bar. You’ll need to find these toppings for your salad on sale if you want to make this an affordable option.
- Base greens
- Seasonal vegetables
- Several salad dressings (such as vegetable oil and balsamic vinaigrette)
10. Sloppy Joes
If you can find a good deal on beef, then you will be able to make this meal on a budget. Also, make sure to find the buns at a discount store like Aldi.
Here’s what you need to add to each pound of ground meat.
- .3 cups of ketchup
- .25 cups of water
- 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce
- 1 small chopped onion
- 1 teaspoon of salt
Simply brown the beef with the onion and then add the rest of the ingredients. To keep your servings simple, consider keeping it warm in a crockpot for your guests.
11. Million Dollar Pasta Casserole
Although the name suggests otherwise, it is hard to beat the savings of a casserole. If you want a different pasta option than a pasta bar, then this is a great option.
- 2 cups of dry spaghetti
- 1 yellow onion
- 1.5 pounds Italian sausage
- 48 ounces of red sauce
- 1 cup of ricotta cheese
- 1 cup of cream cheese
- .25 cups of sour cream
- 3 cups of mozzarella cheese
- .5 cup of butter
Directions: First, cook your pasta, drain, and add 24 ounces of sauce. Next, cook the sausage with the onion and add 24 ounces of sauce. Combine the cheeses in a separate bowl. Now, spread half of the spaghetti into your buttered baking dish. Add the cheese mix to the dish. Then cover with the remaining pasta. Finally, cover with the meat sauce and top with extra mozzarella. Bake at 350º F for 40 minutes.
You can save a lot of money by only serving appetizers and finger foods to your guests. Let’s take a look at some of the best.
11. Deviled Eggs
They are a popular snack among guests that will not cost you too much.
- Spicy brown mustard
Simply cut hard boiled eggs in half and scoop out the yolk. Mix the yolks with mayonnaise and spicy brown mustard before adding back into your eggs.
12. Dip Bar
You can choose to make dips to go with either chips or vegetables. If you are going to use vegetables, then consider that you need to dedicate a lot of prep time to chopping veggies. Once you cut up the veggies or buy the chips, then place them on pretty platters for your guests to enjoy.
A few good options for this bar include:
- Bell pepper slices
- Cucumber slices
- Cherry tomatoes
- Tortilla chips
- French onion dip, made from inexpensive soup packet
- Ranch dressing
Get creative with this to find the best balance for your guest list.
13. Cream Cheese, Pepper Jelly, and Crackers
If you enjoy simple dishes, then this is for you. All you need to do is buy a package of cream cheese, a jar of pepper jelly and any crackers that are on sale. Simply pour the pepper jelly over the cream cheese and serve with crackers.
It is extremely affordable if you make sure to buy the pepper jelly when it goes on sale. Although I love pepper jelly, you can also choose to do this with other types of jelly.
The best part of a party is the desserts! Although baking can seem expensive, you can make desserts on a budget. Here are two of my favorite choices:
You can buy a box of cake mix for around $1 if you shop the sales. These are extremely easy to whip up and are always a party pleaser.
15. Dessert Bar Options
My favorite things to make are lemon bars and brownies. Luckily, the ingredients for most bars are cheap, and the results are amazing. Try out your favorite bar recipes to find out which ones your guests will love.
Money Saving Party Tips
Now that you have the recipes, let’s take a quick look at ways to save on party food before you head to the grocery store.
Prepare the Guest List Mindfully
The guest list of any party will have the largest impact on your budget. Although you can still host a large crowd of people on a budget, a smaller party will be easier on your wallet.
Be intentional about your guest list. You do not need to keep it tiny, but make sure that you invite the people you actually want there. Do not feel obligated to invite your distant cousins or friends of friends to every gathering.
Be Aware of Your Drink Budget
One of the biggest expenses of a party can be your drink budget. If you are not careful about your drink spending, then it can quickly grow out of control.
A way to limit your drink budget includes not serving alcohol at all by making it a bring-your-own event. Also, you’ll save money by buying soda on sale, only serving beer and wine, and serving soda in large bottles instead of single cans. Plus, you can serve ice water and ice tea (or flavored drink) in glass pitchers.
Each of these tips can help to bring your drink budget to a reasonable level. If you are hosting a smaller event, then your drink budget may not feel like a big deal. However, at large events, these simple tricks can really add up your savings.
Choose the Time Wisely
For many events, you have some control over the time of the event. So unless you center the party around a football game or scheduled ceremony, then you can choose what time of day the party will be.
For example, if you host a party at noon, then the guests will likely expect a full lunch. However, if you move the time to around 2 or 3, then guests will not come with the expectation of a full meal. Instead, you could put out light appetizers and that would be perfectly acceptable.
Of course, you may prefer to host a party around a mealtime. If so, keep reading for more tips.
Think About What Your Guests Want to Eat
Do not pick foods that will not fit the theme of the party. The guests at a Super Bowl watch party will likely expect a hearty meal and plenty of snack food. Whereas the guest of a wedding shower could be pleased with light salads and finger sandwiches.
If you buy foods that do not match the theme of the party, then you will likely end up throwing food away. Avoid wasted food by thinking about what your guests are willing to eat. Otherwise, you may be throwing away money.
Plan Out Your Menu and Shop the Sales
You will likely have several weeks between setting a date for a party and the party itself. Instead of putting off your food planning until the last minute, prepare your menu early. Once you have the menu, start looking for sales.
If you can find food sales that match your party’s menu exactly, that’s great! However, if you come across an unbeatable sale for a similar recipe, then adjust your plans accordingly. The key is watching for sales in the weeks leading up to your party. When the sale happens, be prepared to buy your party essentials.
Of course, remember to keep expiration dates and storage space in mind. You do not want to buy something that will expire before your party. Or purchase a large amount of frozen food that cannot fit into your freezer.
Even if you aren’t planning a specific party, you can jump on great sales if you can store it. Many of us know that we will be hosting parties of some kind in the near future whether or not a date has been set. So use sales to your advantage and cut down on your party costs.
Shop Around Town
Many stores have their particular foods that are sold more cheaply than other stores. You can learn which stores offer the best deals on certain items by pursuing weekly ads and everyday sale prices.
This will help you save on your party budget. Plus, it can help you with your weekly meal planning.
When you go grocery shopping, make sure to come prepared with these money-saving grocery appsfor even more savings.
Ask for Guests to Bring a Dish
Most party guests are happy to bring something to supplement the party’s food. If you feel comfortable asking a few guests to bring a side dish or dessert, that can help to cut costs. Of course, you should still provide the main meal. But with other dishes from guests, you will not be footing the bill for the entire party.
You can even turn the event into a potluck if you can afford to feed everyone. Not only will a potluck help your bottom line, but it can be a fun way for everyone to try something new.
Although it will take creativity, it is entirely possible to feed your party guests on a budget. The key is to plan and take advantage of any sales that happen along the way.
You do not need to blow your budget just to impress your friends. Most will be perfectly happy with your homemade food that fits into your budget.
What is your favorite affordable party dish? Let us know in the comments below.