Party Food on a Budget

  • Posted by Alex Bruderlin
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It’s the time of year when you want to throw a party – celebrate summer or the holidays! But parties can be expensive, especially when it comes to food. Tony Hakim Food Lovers have a few times on how to organize party food on a budget.

Party food doesn't have to break the bank. Image via Horrible Housewife.

Party food doesn't have to break the bank. Image via Horrible Housewife.

Plan Ahead

Half the battle with any sort of party or celebration is planning ahead.

First of all, make sure you have a budget in place. A budget will determine so many things about your party and your menu. After you’ve set your budget, work out what kind of party you want it to be – barbeque, buffet, lunch, dinner, hot, cold. Once you’ve settled on that, you can work out how many guests you can invite. Whilst an ‘open invitation’ style party might sound like fun, that can blow the budget entirely. The amount of people you can invite depends on your budget, menu style and location.

 Barbeques are a great and inexpensive main course. Image via Confetti Couture

Barbeques are a great and inexpensive main course. Image via Confetti Couture

The Menu

So, you have your location, party style and budget in place. Time to talk food!

Side Dishes

First of all, most of the time, making something at home will be cheaper than buying things premade – dips are a perfectly example. There are loads of recipes online for delicious dips that you can whip together in a few minutes.

Things like chips, nuts and soft drink can definitely blow the budget – aim for the products on sale, and always check the price per 100g to make sure that the sale price is a great deal. Whilst cans or single-serve bottles might seem like a great idea, they are often far more expensive per L than 1 or 2L bottles.

Salads might seem boring, but it’s not hard to jazz them up. A few day-old slices of bread in the toaster with a little olive oil, and you’ve got the most delicious croutons imaginable. A small piece of pumpkin or sweet potato roasted in the oven can be diced and tossed over a salad for something that is both tasty and attractive.

Pasta salads are another overlooked hero - dried pasta is cheap and easy to cook, and can be paired with a variety of sauces, veggies and meats for delicious hot or cold sides.


Main course, if you are providing lunch or dinner, can be where the budget is broken or your offering falls short. Just keep it simple!

Sandwiches are a great staple at parties, since you can put anything between bread and people will be happy. If you are providing salads, you can use the same ingredients in your sandwiches to guarantee nothing goes to waste. A make-your-own salad or sandwich bar is also a fun and simple way to serve food; just arrange your ingredients in plates and bowls, and let people come up with their own combinations.

If you are having a barbeque, talk to a local butcher. They can often do deals if you give them your budget and guest numbers. Barbeques are great, because so many things taste amazing on the grill! Skip fancy steaks, and go for sausages, chicken or beef skewers (very budget friendly if you dice and marinate the meat yourself), veggie skewers and hamburgers (hamburger patties are another item that are far cheaper to make at home than buy ready-made.)


Don’t be one of those people who doesn’t provide dessert. We love dessert. But it can be tricky.

Ice cream can be hit or a miss, depending on the crowd, and expensive if you want flavours or toppings. If you are having a summer party, ice blocks (like Zooper Dooper) are a fun and inexpensive treat both kids and adults will enjoy.

Cupcakes and brownies are unsung heroes of desserts. Brownies are ideal, since they can be sliced at any size; cupcakes can be iced for any celebration at no extra cost. Avoid boxed mixes, and make from scratch.

Fruit salad is another under-appreciated dessert. Served on skewers with marshmallows, they look amazing – and presented with a bowl of vanilla yoghurt to dip offers both another flavour combination and an attractive presentation.

Simple is delicious - fresh ingredients make all the difference. Image via Food Wallpaper

Simple is delicious - fresh ingredients make all the difference. Image via Food Wallpaper

In the End

Party food on a budget is all about planning and creativity – and knowing your limits. The smaller the party, the further food and your budget will stretch. Here are our final quick-tips.

  • Lunch parties are better than dinner parties – people eat less, and there is less of a social obligation to provide alcohol.
  • Presentation is key. Serving things on plates and in bowls rather than in their packaging will make things look so much better.
  • If someone offers to bring something, take them up on it. Potato salad, coleslaw, bread rolls or drinks are super easy for guests to transport.
  • When it comes to drinks, ice can be expensive. If you fill an esky or metal tub with ice, it will stay much colder than plastic.
  • Disposable plates and cutlery can get expensive very fast. Use your own flatware, and go for disposable cups and napkins instead.