Dinner parties on a budget

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By in Food & Drink, Save Money. Updated September 2016.

Love being the host(ess) with the most(ess) but struggle to find the cash to entertain? We’ve got some great tips on how to host dinner parties on a budget!
budget dinner partyDinner parties are not only great fun, but they’re also an ideal way to get to know new friends a bit better.

There’s something about being in someone’s home that makes you relax a bit more than you would do in a restaurant, a pub or a club (possibly since the wine flows a lot faster when you’re not being charged £5 a glass).

The only issue is, of course, that cooking up a storm for multiple people at once can be a bit stressful, and involve some pretty big expenses!

But dinner parties don’t have to be stressful, and there are loads of different things you can do to keep costs down – here’s our top tips plus a few budget recipes to keep your guests (and your pockets!) full and happy.

When buying in your food and drink for the evening, now’s the time to try a supermarket downshift to save yourself a bucket. Don’t be tricked by some of the fake deals supermarkets have going!

3 cheap dinner party alternatives

So before we start getting into the nitty gritty of it all, it’s worth thinking more broadly about the sort of dinner party you’re planning.

If you’re in a position that you’re able to afford to spend the time and money to do everything on your own, that’s very kind and extremely brave of you!

However, there are a few ways that you can propose mixing things up a bit so there’s not so much pressure to do everything alone.

Try giving one of these dinner party alternatives a try…

  1. Bring a plate

    bring a plate dinner partyA simple but extremely budget-effective dinner party throwing tactic is to go with the ‘bring a plate’ option. Not a plate in and of itself, but a plate with some food on it, mind.

    Either you can make it a buffet affair of it, and ask each guest to contribute a plate of their choice, or alternatively allocate starter, main and dessert to different people.

    The fact you’re hosting is enough in itself and your guests will appreciate how stressful it can be, so the idea of bringing a plate along to lighten the load is the least they can do, right?

    Just make sure you start a group chat somewhere so you can discuss what everyone’s bringing first – particularly if you’re going for the buffet option – otherwise you’ll end up with 8 bags of tortilla chips and dips and no main courses!

  2. Come dine with me

    COMEDINEAnother fun alternative to a straight up dinner party affair – why not pair up with a friend to make things easier and take turns at hosting?

    We recommend sticking to groups of around six people otherwise things get a bit more stressful and difficult to prepare (maybe three pairs, so you have a partner to help with the cost and prep).

    Taking turns like this also means you get a few more dinner parties out of it (woohoo!), and this way everyone is mucking in at some point, so spending is a bit more evenly distributed.

    You can even rate each other out of 10 at the end like they do in the TV show if you’re getting really into things, but beware that this can lead to arguments!

  3. Chip in together

    Spilt jar of penniesAsking your guests to chip in might seem a bit tight at first thought, but the kind of feast you can prepare for your guests if everyone contributes even just a fiver will make your guest think otherwise!

    You can try using an app like Payfriendz to get everyone to transfer you £5 into a virtual collection jar – with everyone’s cash combined, you’ll even be able to provide the wine as well as dinner. Just make sure you ask someone to help you cart it all home from the supermarket!

7 top tips for keeping costs down

poor student

  1. Keep it simple

    The key to a fail-proof budget dinner party is to stay within your comfort zone and don’t cook anything you’ve never made before.

    Going in all guns blazing deciding to rustle up a paella for the first time ever to impress your friends might sound like a fun challenge (looks easy, right? Wrong!), but it’s likely to leave you stressed to the eyeballs when your guests appear at the door.

    It’s also way more likely that you’ll spend more cash on the ingredients than you would do with a recipe you’re well acquainted with.

    Entering unchartered culinary territory leaves open far too many possibilities for things to go disastrously wrong. Stick with what you know and you’re way more likely to impress!

  2. Prepare as much as you can in advance

    Likewise, to keep your stress levels at bay, we strongly advise that you prepare everything well in advance so that anything that can possibly go wrong can be fixed in time.

    This will potentially save you money as well, as leaving yourself as much time as possible for anything to go wrong will prevent the need to suddenly splash out at the last minute (take away pizza, anyone?).

    A lot of one pot dinners (including a few from our recipes section below) taste better the longer you leave them stewing anyway, so this frees up plenty of valuable time for you to get the kitchen cleaned up and ready for your guests arriving.

  3. Carb up to fill your guests

    make garlic breadCredit: Kate Hiscock – FlickrThe simple fact is that carbs are cheap and filling, so the more carb-heavy your meal is, the cheaper it’ll be to fill those mouths around the table!

    That’s not to say you should make carbs the main focus of what you cook, but supplementing meals with bread or potatoes will mean your guests get pleasantly full a lot quicker.

  4. Check your cupboards

    Before you make any decisions about what you’d like to prepare for your friends, don’t forget to have a good scour of the fridge, freezer and cupboards to see what’s already in there.

    You might realise you have ingredients in there that you’ve been waiting for an opportunity to use up – let what you’ve already got in there influence what you decide to make.

    If you’re stuck for inspo, a 16 year old has recently designed an app that lets you pop three ingredients into the database and it will conjure up some recipe ideas for you!

  5. Borrow don’t buy

    Food isn’t the only thing you’ve got to prepare – make sure you check you have enough cutlery, plates, glasses, chairs… the lot!

    If you’re running low on something, ask to borrow from neighbour or one of your guests instead of splashing out on buying new.

    If you live in halls this should be easy as pie, otherwise you can use this as an excuse to get to know your neighbours a bit better!

  6. Go to markets

    buy food from marketsParticularly when it comes to fresh veg, heading to a local market rather than a supermarket could save you an arm and a leg if you play it right.

    Head there near the end of the day, as this is when food is punted at a reduced price. This is also the perfect time to start haggling the price of your produce as market sellers tend to be a lot more flexible before they pack up for the day.

    Try to also stick with veggies that are in season – they will taste their best and be at their best price to boot.

  7. Shop around and shop smarter

    The worst thing you can do is to just turn up at the supermarket and grab whatever you can. For one thing, supermarkets are known for their cheeky tendency to trick shoppers into thinking they’re getting a great deal when they’re not.

    Secondly, shopping around can save you a bomb. Keep an eye out for any relevant student deals that pop up and try using comparison apps like MySupermarket to make sure you’re getting the best price – and if not, on to the next place!

  8. Suggest BYOB

    We all know booze ain’t cheap, and often it can end up being the biggest expense of your meal. However, there’s nothing worse than running out of wine at the dinner table!

    The easiest way round this is to politely suggest everyone bring their own bottle – mum always said not to turn up empty handed anyway, and one bottle won’t break the bank!

5 super cheap dinner party recipes

Flatmate Christmas DinnerRemember that people will have fun and appreciate your hosting skills whether you spend £10 or £40, so don’t go overboard!

Here are a few of the old team favourites here at Save the Student headquarters.

All of these recipes are catered to feed around 6 people.

Cheesy beano pie

how to make a cheese bean pie

  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Chilli flakes
  • Sprig of thyme, leaves removed
  • 3 fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • 3 x tinned baked beans
  • 1.5kg maris piper potatoes (or other good mashing potatoes)
  • Knob of butter
  • Small cup full fat milk
  • 150g cheddar cheese, grated

Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to 220/ gas mark 7.
  2. Fry your onions garlic and a sprinkle of chilli flakes in a pan for 4 minutes or so, then add the chopped tomatoes and thyme leaves and continue to fry on a medium heat for a further 8 mins.
  3. Add the tins of beans and simmer for 5 more mins, then tip the baked bean mixture into a large baking tray.
  4. Quarter or chop your potatoes into equal sized pieces and pop them into a pot of boiling, slightly salted water. Boil on a medium heat for around 15 mins or until soft.
  5. Drain using a colander then leave the potatoes to dry for a minute or two in the colander before tipping back into the pot. Add a knob of butter and start mashing your potatoes, gradually adding splashes of milk as you go along and a third of your grated cheese.
  6. Spread your cheesy potatoes evenly over the top of the beans right up to the edges and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.
  7. Bake in the oven for about 15 mins until the top is a bit crispy. Serve with salad and some garlic bread.

Build-your-own Burgers

how to make homemade burgers

  • 1kg beef mince
  • 1 egg
  • 6 x burger buns or rolls
  • Cheese
  • Gherkins
  • Lettuce
  • Large ripe tomatoes
  • 6 x large baking potatoes

Method:

  1. Place all your mince in a large bowl. Crack an egg into the mince, season with salt and pepper, then (after giving your hands a good clean) start mixing the egg into the meat with your fingers.
  2. Continue mixing the mince with your fingers until you have one big ball of mince. Split the mixture into two halves, then each half into three so you have 6 roughly equal positions.
  3. Roll each individual portion into a ball in your hand then flatten into a burger. Remember they will spring up a bit when you cook them, so it’s better to keep them wide and flat at this stage.
  4. Pop them all on a plate, cover with cling film and stick in the fridge until you’re guest arrive.
  5. For the chips, slice the potatoes into discs then chop those discs into chip shaped batons. Once chopped, throw them all into a pot or bowl of cold water to remove extra starch.
  6. Spread the chips evenly in a baking tray, drizzle with oil, salt and pepper and roast in the oven for about 30-45 mins.
  7. When your guests arrive, fry the burgers for roughly 6 mins each side (for well done, 4 mins each side for medium-rare).
  8. Serve in burger buns with fries on the side, and lay out all the extra toppings for guests to build their burgers with whatever they like!

Spaghetti bolognese

how to make spaghetti bolognese

  • 500g beef mince
  • 200g bacon bits/ lardons
  • 2 x tins chopped tomatoes
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 2 Garlic cloves, crushed
  • Handful mushrooms, thickly sliced
  • Bay leaf (optional)
  • Small glass of milk
  • Glass of stock (chicken, veg or beef – whatever you have in your cupboard!)

Method:

  1. In one pan, fry the bacon bits for a few minutes then add the onion, garlic, carrot and celery and allow to soften a bit on a medium heat for about 15 mins.
  2. Meanwhile, in a separate pan fry the beef mince for about 10 mins until you can’t see any pink, then start adding splashes of the milk slowly whilst stirring so the milk doesn’t burn.
  3. Add the veggies and mince together in whichever pan is biggest then add the stock and tinned tomatoes.
  4. Season and cook for about 1 hour 30 mins.

Pro tip: Tastes better after 2 days in the fridge, so you can make this one well in advance!

Veggie Thai green curry

homemade thai green curry

  • Aubergine/ courgette/ peppers/ mange tout/ baby sweetcorn (choose whichever 4 veggies you’d prefer)
  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • 1 x tin coconut milk
  • Thai green curry paste
  • 1/2 litre vegetable stock
  • Limes
  • 4 Kaffir lime leaves (these can normally be found in the freezer at any Asian food supermarket)
  • Fish sauce
  • sugar
  • coriander
  • Rice

Method:

  1. Chop all your veg into similar bite-sized chunks.
  2. Heat two tablespoons of green Thai curry paste in a wok or large frying pan with some oil and after about a 30 seconds of continually stirring, add half your coconut milk.
  3. Add your sweet potatoes and simmer on a medium heat for around 5 minutes.
  4. Add the rest of your coconut milk, the stock and the rest of the veg (plus kaffir limes leaves whole if you have them!).
  5. simmer for about 8 minutes then remove from the heat and add a squeeze of lime, 2 teaspoons of sugar and a splash of fish sauce (this will provide the seasoning you need!).
  6. To keep things easy, we’d recommend using either microwavable bags of rice or boil-in-the-bag.
  7. Serve each portion with a good handful of chopped coriander to garnish and an extra wedge of lime on the side.

Homemade pizzas

homemade pizza

  • 225g self raising flour
  • 45ml olive oil
  • 90ml warm water
  • Sprinkle of salt
  • Tomato puree
  • Grated cheese
  • Toppings of your choice!

Method:

  1. Place the flour and salt in a mixing bowl.
  2. Slowly mix in the olive oil and warm water to form a dough ball (if it’s too sticky, add more flour; if it’s too dry add more water – it’s trial and error with this part).
  3. Flour the kitchen surface you’ll be rolling the dough on and the rolling pin, so it doesn’t stick.
  4. Roll out the dough ball to form a pizza base.
  5. Place on a baking tray and cook the base in the oven for 5 mins on 180 degrees (gas mark 4).
  6. Remove the base, cover with tomato puree and top with cheese, then load up your toppings – whatever takes your fancy, or whatever you have in the fridge!
  7. Cook in the oven for a further 10-15 minutes at around 180-200 degrees (gas mark 5).
  8. Remove from the oven… and eat!!Tips for success?

Do you have any other great budget diner party recipes or tips to share? Let us know in the comments below.

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