Dinner Party Cheat Sheet: Planning on a Budget

Posted by Nads on October 14, 2011

In the past, planning for a dinner party meant shopping at the grocery store, buying whatever I liked, and waiting to see what looked fresh and appealing to decide on a menu.

In recent years however, I’ve had to smarten up and focus more on planning and staying within  a budget when I entertain, so here are some quick and dirty tips that I’ve learned along the way :

1. Buy fruits and vegetables in season – with “seasonal” and “local” being all the rage, this should be an easy tip to keep in mind.  Generally, produce in season is much easier to find and more economical in price – just compare the cost of tomatoes or peppers in the summer to the cost in the winter. Try to plan your sides and desserts with this in mind and you’ll find your costs considerably lower. Check “local” websites for recipe ideas and inspiration.

2.Plan from the flyer – the first thing I do as soon as I have a party penciled in is wait for the flyers!  I do admit that I have a flyer fetish – its’ that “sale” side of me that always gets excited at the prospect of a bargain.  Meat or fish are always featured in weekly specials and a good deal on prime rib or lobster can be the cornerstone of your menu.  Check the flyer, choose your deal and go from there.  Guests will be delighted with your decadence.  (wink, wink)

3. Check the freezer – there is often something in there that you have forgotten that you can build a meal around.

4. Starches – pasta and rice can easily build your main course and are very inexpensive to buy.  You can jazz up your menu with different and exotic choices; ravioli, gnocchi, orzo, risotto and polenta are a few that come to mind.  Many of these sound fancy but are quite easy to prepare.  When looking for new but tried and tested recipes, I often turn to www.epicurious.com .  Their recipes often include reader reviews and feedback which are invaluable to the home cook trying something for the first time.  Also, look around to find your local Italian store, they often sell their own home-made pasta, ravioli, etc., which you can then ‘dress’ up with a homemade sauce.  Throw in a new ingredient to your standard tomato or pesto sauce and you will instantly have a gourmet entrée; roasted Portobello mushrooms, a shot of truffle oil, a couple of shrimp, some gorgonzola cheese, roasted prosciutto, etc.  Each of these will add a new dimension to a plain pasta dish.

5. Themed pot luck – an old idea that is coming back with many new twists is the pot luck dinner.  Asking everyone to bring a dish is very economical for you and can instantly create a fun and easy party.  Try to pick a theme – international, ethnic, local and allow your guests to show off their cooking props.

Do you have any dinner party tips for me or a great idea for a potluck theme?  Send them our way so we can share in future posts.

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