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Suggestions for low-budget holiday party food?

Our residential building will be hosting its first holiday party this year. Unfortunately, we seem to have a very low budget for party food. Any suggestions on crowd pleasing food while on a budget? We thought about asking residents to prepare food, but would rather look and see what we can come up with. Our objective is to provide something simple and tasty, not a meal.

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  1. Crostinis (or my bastardized version of them) are always easy to prepare (unless you don't have an oven) and fairly cheap. Slice up a baguette and top with whatever you like. For a quick appetizer, I make a quick bruschetta with tomatoes (usually Roma), garlic, basil, olive oil, and salt/pepper. Make sure everything's fresh and that goes well with toasted baguette slices.

    Also, look for things like pre-made tapanades, spreads, pesto, etc. If you're near a Trader Joe's, they have a good variety of things you can put on the toasts.

    2 Replies
    1. re: geekyfoodie

      Thanks geekyfoodie! Those are great ideas that will please the carnivore as well as the vegetarian. If we were to include a plate of cold meat, what would you suggest?

      1. re: sandrina

        I'm a fan of ham... black forest, honey, pepper... you name it. If anything, I'd do a cold cut platter a variety of interesting cheeses, and handful of different crackers, and two really good meats. That's just me, though, as I'm a big cheese fan. For protein, beans and nuts are cheaper than meat, so dips and bowls of nuts are just as filling.

        A fun twist on baguette slices would be to do "ham-n-cheese", where you put a slice of freshly sliced ham with a cheese like Gruyeres and maybe a sliver of onion, then toast it until the cheese is melted. You could also do mozzarella or goat cheese on top of a tomato slice and a leaf of basil and it'd be pizza-esque.

        I also love to do quesadillas as an app. Fill them with whatever combination of cheese and meat that you can come up with. They're easy to make in large quantities. A friend of mine had a quesadilla party... she had flavors like pesto chicken, four cheese, etc.

        Another great easy-in-bulk crowd-pleaser would be soup. I found a great roasted red pepper/tomato soup (box of 6 cartons) at Costco. At home, we'd throw corn, noodles, and meatballs into it for a quick meal. You can doll it up a little or leave it completely alone and heat it up. Serve it in cute cups and put a dab/drizzle of creme fraiche/sour cream/cream on top (choose the one that compliments the soup best). It looks great that way.

        I read the rest of the thread and there are fantastic suggestions. Sounds like you're going to have a fabulous party! Good luck!

    2. Search your local deli. Sometimes they have very inexpensive party packages. Nothing fancy a simple cold cut platter might be nice. You might even be able to work out some sort of deal with them if your building gives them a "corporate account."

      1. You said cheap, I thought bean...therefore hummus! Maybe even cheaper, deviled eggs!

        1. fruit/veggie platters?
          Crackers, cheese, cold cuts?
          Tzatziki and hummus w/cut up fresh sour dough?

          1. chicken wings-- especially if you cut them into three pieces at the joint-- they can be marinaded with practically anything, baked and then finger food.

            1. Tortilla roll ups

              Tortilla's about $2.00
              Cream cheese $1.00-$2.00 (our local brand is usually cheaper)
              sm can of green chilies $.89
              sm can of black olives $.79 (of course these are prices in the Phx area)

              Makes a lot for around $5.00

              and you can add really anything you like to them depending on budget.

              1. We've done these for some neighborhood organizations and charities with next to no money. Tough but you can do it, even giving the appearance of a bit of luxury as long as you're disciplined.
                Remember that events like this are very different from what you would host in your own home. No, it doesn't look cheap not to have a huge and wide assortment of trendy, interesting foods that people will talk about for weeks. It actually looks bad to have too many things, especially if it appears disjointed. People will cruise through for only an "obligatory" few minutes in most cases so the food isn't really the point. It can still be good and you can be proud of it.

                First, have only a very few important things and nothing that requires assembly. No heating, placing of toppings, etc. Have something large like a baked ham with accompaniments. A huge plate of cookies. If you have a cheese tray, keep it to three large familiar cheeses, with crackers and bread. A large tray of raw vegetables. A big punch bowl, a coffee urn, pitchers of water rather than bottled. Replace and refresh those large items as needed.
                Second, no plates. This encourages people to take many items and make a meal of the buffet. Put out napkins and they'll take things one or two at a time and mingle.

                If you decide to serve beer and wine, you might include a cash bar. Check local liquor regulations.
                Decorations for the party can be potted Christmas plants with an envelope on them saying that they are for sale after the event. The money can go back to the building association fund. Nope, not chintzy. We do it all the time and no one has ever raised an eyebrow.
                If you are doing this for a couple of hundred people, you'll obviously have to have more than one table and more food items than above, but you can still keep it very basic.

                1. I went to a party hosted by a friend of mine just last night. He is still a student therefore budget was EXTREMELY limited. He had the standard crudite, variety of pickles, olives etc. The standout though was a table where he had taken flatbread, or pitas, and topped them with basically everything under the sun. There was a greekish flatbread with hummus, sliced olives, and herbs. Another with very finely shredded lettuce, feta, diced tomato, and a drizzle of OO and vinegar. A few warm flatbreads were also served, a standout being one with garlic, melted cheese, and caramelized onions. There were also several sweet varieties, my favorite being the simplest with butter, cinnamon, and sugar. All of these were cut into 8 slices like a pizza, and VERY easy to eat off of a napkin. His presentation was also interesting, everything atop a lovely tablecloth, but at all different levels. I asked him later how he had done this and he had simply stacked books to varying heights on the table before covering with a cloth. Ah, the ingenuity of the broke, haha.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ArikaDawn

                    What a wonderfully simple theme! Definitely sticking this up my sleeve for the holiday season. The flatbread and pita service sounds delicious, and so versitile. I'm generally a big fan of dips (I know, but easy and pleasing to most), but this makes me rethink them as "spreads" along with some grilling/broiling/melting, etc. Thanks!

                  2. If you're on a budget it's all about jazzing up normal/economical foods

                    -Buy some peanuts (or mixed nuts if you want to splurge) season them and roast in the toaster oven
                    -Take whole wheat pitas brush with butter or oil sprinkle with different seasonings (herbs, cinnamon/sugar, garlic/onion), cut into wedges and bake

                    -Melt some chocolate, buy store made nilla wafers, oreos, marshmellows or whatever is on sale, and dip half in the chocolate, cool (if you have some leftover peanuts, crush them and dip chocolate side in nuts)

                    -take a large bag of baby carrots, sprinkle with some brown sugar and roast them, let cool

                    -pasta, mix with veggies (can get from frozen section), and some type of italian dressing or marinade.

                    1. quiches/frittatas are cheaply made with eggs and whatever veggies or ham/meat is on sale

                      spanokopita is cheap too, and agree with hummus suggestion with pita

                      less appetizer-y, but chili is very cheap to make, and can be thickened with TVP instead of meat, or just with extra beans

                      also not necessarily finger food, but a small baked potato bar is cheap and fun for people to design their own

                      mini bean/cheese/rice burritos -- a mexican theme in generally is easy to do on a budget

                      concur with the idea of roasted vegetables (buy in bulk from costco/sam's/etc.)

                      shortbread is cheap and easy to make, and jazz it up by dipping in melted chocolate and/or nuts/candies

                      brownies, cookies, sweets always go over well...

                      1. I second hummous or other bean mash/dip things. Very cheap and delicious.

                        Also, chicken liver pate, or chopped liver. Makes impressive crostini yet cheap. Use no-knead bread for your crostini and it will cost almost nothing!

                        1. popcorn, maybe homemade caramel corn?

                          1. Mexican is easy, cheap, and can be vegan or vegetarian if necessary. I say black refried beans in the crockpot for tostada bar. Fun, festive and delish.