Throwing a get-together at home or away? Feeding a lot of hungry mouths isn’t always cheap, but it is possible to cater to a crowd even on a tight budget. All it takes is a little shrewd thinking and some handy hacks.
At PAK'nSAVE, we want to help you eat well and pay less, so we’ve put together a collection of affordable recipes that can easily be multiplied to feed any number of guests. Let’s talk about entertaining on a budget.
How to budget for feeding a crowd
The first step to entertaining on a budget is, of course, to set your budget. You can easily spend far more than you want to if you don’t have a plan in place. Below, we run through a few basic steps to get your party budget sorted.
1. Plan your guest list
Who’s coming around for the game? Putting together a guest list is easy as, even if it’s an open invitation. Think about everyone you expect will come. If you’re allowing people to bring extras, just make sure you leave a little wiggle room and plan to feed a few extra mouths.
2. Choose how you’ll eat
Will your guests be coming around for tea? Or are you planning a finger food affair? Decide early whether you’re catering a full meal, or just serving nibbles.
Nibbles are often the cheapest way to feed a crowd, because you don’t have to be too particular with numbers. Guests will eat as much or as little as they like, and it’s not on you to make sure you’ve got even portions.
That said, you can make super economical meals for a dinner party by cooking a one-pot meal in bulk. Think of foods like nachos, spaghetti bolognese or even salads with grains like quinoa or couscous. These can easily be cooked before your guests arrive and kept warm until serving. You only have to manage one pot, and it’s easy to incorporate cheap ingredients to make the meal go further.
3. Estimate a budget
It’s time to set a realistic budget. This can vary depending on how many guests you’ll have and what kind of food you plan to serve.
The easiest way to think about your budget is on a “per person” basis.
For example, if you’re having a total of 10 hungry mouths (including anyone in your household), and you plan to spend no more than $50, that’s a $5 per person budget. This could be very manageable for a dinner party!
When we worked with Kathrine Lynch from Busy Happy Kids to develop a range of easy slow cooker meals, she managed to feed four hungry adults on just $15, or $3.75 per person. Lots of these recipes can be scaled up easily to feed a full party.
If you’re planning finger foods, you can also think about the cost per item. Let’s use our easy sticky soy & garlic chicken nibbles as an example. We can roughly estimate the total cost of the ingredients using prices from Pak ‘N Save’s online shopping and dividing them by the quantity needed.
- 1kg chicken nibbles - $7.99
- 6 garlic cloves - $0.99 (or less)
- ½ cup soy sauce - $0.75
- ¼ cup brown sugar - $0.11
That’s approximately $9.84 for one batch of nibbles. Assuming one kilogram of nibbles contains around 15 individual portions, that’s just $0.65 per nibble.
Then, if you know you have 10 guests coming around to watch the game, and you expect everyone to eat about five nibbles each, you can just multiply the cost per nibble by the number of nibbles you need. In this case, that’s 50 nibbles, or $32.50!
When you know how much you expect to spend, it becomes a lot easier to adjust your shop and stay on budget every time.
5 tips for entertaining on a budget
Budgeting is the big ticket to an affordable party feed, but there are a few extra tips and tricks we want to share to help you save more.
Drinks can be one of the most expensive parts of catering even a small event, especially if wine and beer are on the cards.
You can save on drinks by providing just water and juice, and asking anyone who wants something else to bring their own. This way you also don’t have to worry about what everyone likes!
2. Host a potluck dinner
As a host, it can fall on you to provide the central part of a meal, such as a nice big roast. But all the sides that make a meal whole can just be added stressors and budget-busters.
When planning your event, you can agree to spend your budget providing some basic drinks and the main protein of the night - whether that’s a roast, a slow cooked stew, or a meatless centrepiece. Then let guests know what they can bring to make the meal complete, such as roast vegetables, salad options, breads or even whole desserts!
Not only does this make your event cheaper to run, you and your guests can all be delightfully surprised by what others decide to cook. Sharing recipes can also be a great conversation starter.
3. Create a seasonal platter
Chips and sweet treats are a popular go-to for snacks at a party, but they can be just as unhealthy as they are expensive. Trade in chips and sweets for seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Grapes, apple slices and mandarin segments are a healthy alternative to lollies and can be very affordable when they’re in season. Just about any fruit can be served up this way, just make sure it’s cut into bite sized pieces.
Meanwhile, carrot, celery, capscium and even cucumber can be cut into batons and served with your favourite dips as a healthy, cheap alternative to chips.
4. Use canned or frozen ingredients
When your favourite produce isn’t in season, you can make a great variety of cooked nibbles for all your guests using canned or frozen ingredients.
Preserved ingredients are often cheaper than fresh, but just as good. You’ll usually find that canned or frozen vegetables are as healthy as fresh, and require a lot less preparation to be ready to eat.
Learn more about substituting fresh, canned and frozen ingredients.
5. Shop smart and buy in bulk
When you have the time, waiting for a sale is one of the best ways to save.
Rather than buying everything you need the day before your event, watch the sales over the coming weeks and pick up ingredients when they’re discounted. When buying fresh foods like meat and produce, you may need to freeze or otherwise preserve ingredients until your event.
You can also think about preparing elements of your menu in advance. If you’re planning to slow cook a meal for your guests, for example, you can prepare all the ingredients for your slow cooker in a snaplock bag and then pop it in the freezer until needed.
Otherwise, you might slice and freeze vegetables for a stir fry or stew, or even fully cook, portion out and then freeze a complete meal. Pull out all your favourite meal planning tips to save as much money as possible.
Check out our 15 tips for smarter shopping.
9 easy feeds for entertaining on a budget
To get you inspired to cook for a crowd, we’ve put together a small selection of easy, affordable dishes. Check out the recipes below for some ideas about feeding a crowd on a budget.
1. Perfect party platter
Who doesn’t love a grazing platter? Our guide to making the perfect party platter will show you what to buy for your platter, and how to arrange every element artfully.
Your perfect party platter should look bountiful and approachable. Fill all the gaps, and be sure to cut a few slices of cheese to show guests they can and should dig in!
Read our perfect party platter recipe here.
2. Pita chips
These baked pita chips make a sturdier, lower-fat alternative to fried potato chips. Load them up with your favourite hummus, guacamole or other dips.
You can also mix up the flavours by adding your favourite spices and dried herbs in addition to the salt.
Read our pita chips recipe here.
3. Smoked chicken and brie pizza
Pizza is a great crowd pleaser. You can make a big batch of pizza dough all at once and divide it up into individual pizzas.
This smoked chicken and brie pizza recipe includes a super easy pizza base recipe, with one way to top your pizza. However, you can easily swap the toppings with your favourites, or provide a range of options and let guests assemble their own pizzas.
Read our smoked chicken and brie pizza recipe here.
4. Cheesy bacon spinach dip
Everyone loves dip! This is a pretty substantial dip, so it can be a good centrepiece for nibbles with a few friends.
Serve this dip with the homemade pita chips above, or an assortment of seasonal veggies.
Read our cheesy bacon spinach dip recipe here.
5. Cheese straws
Cheese straws are popular for both kids and adults, and can easily be assembled from ingredients in your pantry. Throw these together when people are coming around with short notice, or to add an easy, tasty and cheap bite to your grazing platter.
Read our cheese straws recipe here.
6. Easy sticky soy & garlic chicken nibbles
Nibbles are one of the ultimate finger foods for a hungry crowd. Cook a big batch of nibbles in advance and keep them warm in the oven until guests arrive.
Read our sticky chicken nibbles recipe here.
7. Popcorn chicken
Just like nibbles, popcorn chicken is a real crowd pleaser. Because these are baked and not fried, they’re lower in fat and healthier for everyone.
You can easily scale the recipe up with more chicken and keep it warm in a low oven until guests arrive.
Read our popcorn chicken recipe here.
8. Tempura prawns with dipping sauce
Tempura is a light, airy batter for frying. You can buy frozen prawns cheaply from the freezers at your nearest PAK’nSAVE, but you can also use other ingredients like sliced potato, broccoli florets, strips of chicken — anything you love!
Read our tempura prawns recipes here.
9. Spinach and chestnut dip
Another fantastic dip, this is a delightful option for vegetarian guests. With the spinach, chestnuts and spring onions finely diced, this dip is creamy but with small flavourful bites within.
Read our spinach and chestnut dip recipe here.
Looking for more super savey tips?
Head on over to our Eat Well, Pay Less hub for more supermarket saving tips.