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My son turned five this week (I can’t believe it!) and although we decided to forgo the party this year in favor of a trip to Legoland, we did have a little family celebration and it got me thinking about party food. With Memorial Day weekend and barbecue season right around the corner, I thought I’d share a few ideas.
Popcorn. Why not skip the expensive chips and dips and instead set out several bowls of freshly popped corn? It’s easy to make and dirt-cheap. You can buy the corn for around $1 a pound in bulk or by the bag at many grocery stores. It can be popped in a regular saucepan or you can pick up a Whirley-Pop for around $20. Either way the only thing you’ll need is a splash of plain oil (canola or grapeseed work nicely, and I’ve heard coconut tastes the most like movie popcorn). Skip the butter topping and go for the healthier, cheaper alternative of just sprinkling with salt and seasoning. Try Old Bay, Paprika, or any spice blend you love. Alternately, go heart-friendly and skip the salt in favor of just seasoning…or try mixing in raisins for a sweet snack.
Veggies. Party trays are usually fairly inexpensive, or for a little extra time you could save a few extra dollars and chop your own veggies. And that way, you get to choose your favorites! An example: a pound of organic carrots is under a dollar, and it only takes a few minutes to chop them up. A bag of baby carrots costs 2-3 times as much, and they are mostly made from the watery center part of the carrot and not as tasty as using the whole thing!
Burgers. If you need a main course, burgers are one of the most economical ways to go. The condiments are the main cost, so be sure to shop for those on sale or at a warehouse store! Alternatives to burgers include hot dogs, tacos (see my buffet dinner post for ideas), or pre-made sandwiches. And of course, you can always order pizza. If possible, though, skip the main course to save money and time! It’s no fun being stuck at the stove of grill for the whole party.
Beverages. If you like beer, go for a keg (or a half-keg or mini-keg, depending on the size of your party) instead of bottles or cans. It’s a lot cheaper and you won’t have to haul as many bottles to recycling. If a keg’s not an option, cans are always cheaper than bottles. For cocktails, choose a signature drink and make a pitcher, rather than stocking a full bar. Non-alcoholic options include juice from frozen concentrate and DIY iced tea. For super-easy sun tea, put a couple bags of your favorite in a large pitcher, cover it, and set outside for 4-6 hours. Refrigerate or add ice to cool. And don’t forget to offer water!
Dessert. Make your own cake or cupcakes instead of buying them from the store. My son’s birthday cake took me 20 minutes to prepare (plus 40 minutes to bake). It was tastier than box mix and much more frugal a $40+ bakery cake. I used a Nigella recipe and it was super-easy! For a party, I would double the recipe and bake them in my muffin tin with cupcake papers for easy serving.
Do you have any money saving party food ideas? Please share them! My birthday is coming up…
Annika Barranti is a writer living in Los Angeles and blogging for the Savings.com personal finance blog as well as her personal blog, Through the Looking Glass. She and her husband are raising two children and trying to eat well on a tiny budget.