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Food & Drink

Cheap dinner party ideas

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 a student dinner party for four people or more! 

dinner party drinks food plates

Having a dinner party is 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 eating out in a restaurant (possibly since the wine flows a lot faster when you're not being charged £5 a glass).

The only issue, of course, is that cooking up a dinner party menu for multiple people at once can be a bit stressful, not to mention expensive!

Here are our top tips on how to host a cheap dinner party, plus a few easy dinner party recipe ideas for under £10 to keep your guests (and your pockets!) full and happy.

Don't be fooled by fancy labels. Now's the time to try a supermarket downshift to save money on food and drink. And don't be tricked by some of the fake deals supermarkets have going!

Cheap dinner party recipes for under £10

Great British Bake Off Nadiya Hussain cooking oven

Credit: BBC

Remember 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 should feed around four people (but can easily feed six or eight people if you add more ingredients).

Even though most of these recipes contain meat, you can also use them as vegetarian dinner party ideas by replacing the meat ingredient with a plant-based product.

Dinner party mains

RecipePreparation timeCost
Spaghetti bolognese 25 mins£2.74*
Pulled pork 6 hours 15 mins£5.02*
Enchiladas30 mins £6.68*
Stir fry 15 mins£5.87*
Chicken with roasted vegetables traybake 45 mins£6.65**
Chilli con carne30 mins£2.86*
Chickpea and chorizo couscous20 mins£4.62*

*Prices are correct as of August 2020 (using Tesco.comSainsburys.co.uk and Asda.com prices as guidelines).

11 student dinner party ideas to save money

Here are some easy tips on how to host a cheap dinner party even if you're not good at cooking:

  1. Choose easy recipes and serve simple food

    beans on toast at uni

    The key to a foolproof cheap dinner party is to stay within your comfort zone and don’t cook anything you’ve never made before (although maybe try something a bit more adventurous than beans on toast!).

    Going in all guns blazing and deciding to rustle up paella for the first time just to impress your friends will leave you stressed to the eyeballs when your guests appear at the door.

    You'll also likely spend more cash on the ingredients than you would do with a recipe you're well-acquainted with. Stick with what you know and you're way more likely to impress!

  2. Check what you already have in your kitchen 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 freezer, fridge and cupboards to see what's already in there.

    You might realise you already have ingredients that you've been waiting for an opportunity to use up, so let what you've already got influence what you decide to make.

    If you're stuck for inspiration, have a gander at our essential apps for students – there's a great one that helps you to use up your leftovers!

  3. Host a 'bring a plate' party

    stacks of plates

    Credit: hxdbzxy - Shutterstock

    A simple and budget-effective dinner-party-throwing tactic is to go with the 'bring a plate' option. Not just a plate, mind – a plate with some food on it.

    You can either make it a buffet and ask each guest to contribute a plate of their choice, or allocate the starter, main course and dessert to different people.

    Your guests will appreciate how stressful hosting can be, so will be more than happy to bring something along to lighten the load.

    Just make sure you start a group chat so you can discuss what everyone’s bringing first, particularly if you're going for the buffet option. Otherwise, you could end up with eight plates of sausage rolls (although we wouldn't complain about that, personally).

  4. Do a BYOB dinner party

    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 around this is to politely suggest that everyone brings their own bottle – your mother always said not to turn up empty-handed anyway, and one bottle won't break the bank!

  5. Do a Come Dine With Me dinner party

    Come Dine With Me meme

    Credit: Channel 4

    Why not get a group together and take turns at hosting, Come Dine With Me-style?

    We recommend sticking to groups of around six people otherwise things start to get a bit stressful (you could even do it in three pairs, so you have a partner to help with the cost and prep).

    Taking turns like this means you get a few more dinner parties out of it (woohoo!). It also ensures that everyone is mucking in at some point, so spending is more evenly distributed, especially if you set a budget for everyone to stick to.

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

  6. Ask guests to chip in for food and drink

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

    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. Choose carb-based recipes

    Oprah Winfrey bread

    Credit: Weight Watchers

    The 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.

  8. Check food and drink prices online first

    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.

    Check out supermarket's prices online before going in person. And remember, some discounts are online-only!

    Secondly, shopping around can save you a bomb. Keep an eye out for any relevant student deals that pop up and compare the prices at different supermarkets to make sure you’re getting the best price – and if not, on to the next place!

  9. Borrow extra cutlery and crockery

    table filled with food plates dishes buffet

    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 a neighbour or one of your guests, instead of splashing out and buying it 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 little better!

  10. Buy cheap ingredients from a local market

    Heading to a local market rather than a supermarket could save you an arm and a leg if you play it right – particularly when it comes to fresh fruit and veg.

    Go near the end of the day, as this is when food is sold at a reduced price. This is also the perfect time to start haggling 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 lowest price too!

  11. Prepare the main course before guests arrive

    monica friends chef

    Credit: Warner Bros

    We strongly advise that you prepare everything well in advance so that any mistakes can be corrected in time.

    Leaving yourself time to fix any messes will also prevent you from having to splash out at the last minute to avoid disaster (takeaway pizza, anyone?).

    A lot of one-pot dinners 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.

If you don't fancy cooking you could ditch the food and have a cocktail making night instead!