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Entertaining while on a tight budget - potluck? fewer events w budget menu items?

I finally have a living space larger than a shoebox & love entertaining... Lately, I've been maxing out my budget & there seems to be little to no wiggle room. Naturally, one of the things I tell myself I can't afford is hosting go are get togethers/dinner parties! But, I'm wondering if that really needs to be the case!

I typically do not like potluck events (hosting them) but am wondering if those are better than no event at all. Or, the alternative would be fewer and/or between events, with the menu crafted so as not to go crazy budget-wise.

Thoughts from those that have been in a similar situation?

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  1. Something fun to try, if you have the oven space is a "gourmet" pizza evening where your guests can make their own. The dough doesn't cost much, and neither do many toppings and sauces. ( shredded cheese, marinara, pesto, varied veggies that you can roast or sautéed in advance, even sliced chicken sausage or grilled chicken etc... ) Maybe a large salad on the side. And guests could bring additional veggie dishes, dessert and some wine? If you wanted them to.

    It could be fun for guests to create, cook and shmooze and then everyone can sit down and try their creations...

    4 Replies
    1. re: MRS

      Thank you for posting the idea! I think I need to start compiling budget friendly menu plans. I had thought about pizzas, but since I typically try to stay away from flour/pasta (fir weight mgmt reasons), I vetod it... but for a special occasion, I would indulge! (And having my home filled w people certainly IS a special thing!)

      The two budget menus I recently pulled off were:
      1) pulled pork with homemade buns... & homemade ice cream for dessert
      2) Asian spring rolls, veggie curry & homemade sorbet (w/ coconut milk).

      If I can keep the overall food cost to around $20-30... (say for 6 people) I would be in heaven!

      1. re: The Oracle

        As much as I don't care for her (too perky) take a look on the Food Network website for Melissa D-Arabian's (Host of Ten Dollar Dinners) recipes and videos.
        The premise of her show is non-boring, somewhat adventuresome dinner for a family of 4 for less than $10.

        When our 20 something daughter moved into her own apartment after college and had to face the daunting task of actually planning meals and hosting some, she found this a good tool.

      2. re: MRS

        Pizzas was my first thought also. And.... making your own crusts is pennies per. I make my crusts the day before, and let them rise and ferment overnight in a covered large bowl(s) for better flavor. You can also make one large and cut down to individual size, and roll out in advance, or let people roll their own.

        A tomato sauce is also good and relatively cheap to make from a nice can of san marzano tomatoes, and whatever options you like, and people can construct their own, as long as they are okay taking turns in the oven.

        And then, buy whatever toppings you like, a big salad, you can easily pull off a pizza party for $20-$30 for 6.

        When guests ask what they can bring, have them bring the wine...

        1. re: cheesemonger

          great idea...never thought of the pre-prep. even better!

      3. You know, potluck sounds good to me.

        Set a "theme," and let the guests know about it. Do go into some detail, so that there is no confusion. Of course, the coordination will be on you - who wants 6 salads, only? But that should work. Your friends will understand, and will have great fun in your new space.

        Hunt

        4 Replies
        1. re: Bill Hunt

          We used to do Potlucks all the time with a group of friends. Setting a theme is the way to go and it makes the meal come together better. Even more fun, pick a theme and then have people research info on it and discuss it at dinner.

          1. re: MissBubbles

            I was part of a group for several years -- one partner in each house was a real food, so we had ethnic potlucks -- each person took a course, and whomever was hosting chose the cuisine.

            We had some seriously good food, and the total spend for the host was one dish -- everyone brought appropriate beverages for their course.

          2. re: Bill Hunt

            I think it depends upon your friends, but with friends who love eating (and love you!).. potlucks can be a hit.

            I miss the days of graduate school when I shared a house with post-docs from Indian, China, Israel, Bulgaria.... we had the most AMAZING potlucks.

            And sometimes simple is just wonderful. Homemade pizzas on a pizza stone, a big vat of pasta, and often indian food is very cheap to make (but time consuming....). And then your friends can bring the wine!

            1. re: Bill Hunt

              Great advice, as always, Hunt! Now to brainstorm themes & dream up guest lists!

            2. Just keep it simple - big pot of soup, chili, or pasta sauce in the crockpot - when people ask what they can bring, let them fill in the salads, cornbread, or desserts, and BYOB. As long as I'm having a good time with my friends I don't usually care if it's fancy-schmancy food. Or do a house hop - appetizers at person A's house, main course at B, desserts at C, cocktails everywhere. My group does mainly potlucks - the host makes the main dish and everyone else brings the trimmings.

              2 Replies
              1. re: NonnieMuss

                I'm with you on this. For me, having folks BYOB makes all the difference in the cost of the event. A big pot of soup, chili or such--dishes where a little meat goes a long way--can be done on a budget.

                1. re: NonnieMuss

                  I'm adding a chili/cornbread/salad night to the menu ideas!

                2. Not sure if you want to go quite this far, but in college we used to host 'dinner parties.' The host provided ten packs of ramen noodles, and everyone brought something that might go well with the flavor that the host had chosen. It worked out really well in that those of us who were flush that week might bring some mushrooms or ground beef or chicken parts, and no one was ever frowned upon if their contribution that week was a can of mushroom soup or a couple of carrots. We had a friend who showed up one day clutching a handful of wild onions he'd yanked out of the yard...he may have meant to be funny, but we chopped them up and used them. We'd make up two or three recipes with the ingredients we had, and then have dinner together. Strange, I don't remember anyone ever being too broke to buy beer...
                  I do think that your friends will still enjoy themselves over red beans and rice or chili and tortillas...an occasional potluck is fine, too, once in a while, particularly if, as other posters have mentioned, you provide a main and let everyone else bring side dishes.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: tonifi

                    we did this every week as a Friday or Saturday dinner - we called them Stone Soup nights....but the premise was the same -- some weeks it was really, really good, other nights, well, we enjoyed the company. Somewhere amongst the bunch of us, we could usually rustle up enough pocket change for a plastic bottle of rum at Albertson's.

                    chili, Soup and salad, Lasagna , spaghetti night.....lots of ways to entertain on a shoestring.

                  2. If you host events where the focus is not so much on food, then you can get away with the cheaper menus. Instead of the traditional dinner party where you sit around the table and eat and talk, invite people over to play cards, for example. That way, you'll eat but the entertaining will involve more than the food.

                    1 Reply