Hosting your first dinner party? You want to obviously make sure everyone has a great time, but you also don’t want to break the bank doing so. Is it possible to have a great dinner party on a budget?
Absolutely, and here are 12 cheap meals you can cook for your dinner party, that everyone is sure to love (and most feed six to eight people!).
Easy, Cheap Dinner Party Ideas
You can delight your dinner party guests with meals that are both affordable and easy. There’s no reason to go above and beyond either your budget or your skill level.
Eggplant Parmesan, for example, is a step above your normal pasta dish, but it’s so easy to make. All you have to do is make your pasta sauce (trust us, it’s easy), fry up some eggplant (again, easier than it looks) and layer it all together with some melty cheese before popping it into the oven to bake.
If you’re not a fan of eggplant, this Ultimate Lasagna might be a good fit for your dinner party — especially when you humble-brag to your friends that you made it from scratch (okay, so the noodles are store-bought, but who’s checking?). You can make this recipe even more budget-friendly by swapping out the ground Italian sausage for ground beef, the red wine for broth and the ricotta cheese for cottage cheese.
To make your dinner party a little more hands-on for your guests, put Fajitas on the menu. Everyone loves building their own Mexican feast, after all, and fajitas are so versatile — a great pick if you have some finicky eaters on your guest list. To make the recipe even more budget-friendly, use chicken rather than steak and skip the guac. Your friends can settle for salsa.
Elegant, Cheap Dinner Party Ideas
Sometimes, you need to impress at a dinner party. Maybe you’ve invited over a new colleague, or someone you haven’t been dating very long or maybe even that someone’s parents. Whoever the guest of honor, send them home raving about your elegant dinner party and superb hosting skills.
Roast chicken has long been a staple in the dinner party world and for a good reason. It’s yummy, relatively affordable, feeds a crowd and looks impressive. Try this Greek Roasted Chicken and Potatoes, which requires minimal ingredients and minimal skill.
If you don’t have hours to fuss over a roasting chicken, Chicken Piccata with Lemon Sauce certainly has an elegance factor your guests will enjoy. This recipe takes under an hour and goes well with other affordable menu items, such as a simple tossed salad and plain pasta.
If you know your guest is a seafood fan, serving Poached Salmon with Salad may win you a few brownie points. This light, summer-y dish is perfect on a hot day. Just be sure to use fresh ingredients, which will really up the flavor profile without adding too much in the way of cost.
Casual, Cheap Dinner Party Ideas
But what about when you don’t need to impress at all? Maybe you just need to feed a few of your closest friends as you get together for a night of board games or to watch a movie. There’s nothing wrong with a casual dinner party and sometimes casual dinner parties are the most affordable.
This Slow-Cooker Mac n’ Cheese is not only casual and cheap, but it’s also incredibly easy and can be made right in your slow cooker, for minimal clean up after dinner. Add a little interest by giving your guests an array of toppings and macaroni and cheese mix-ins to choose from, such as chopped bacon, diced ham, green onions, diced tomatoes, salsa and hot sauce.
A similar, casual, hands-on experience can be had when you serve up Tacos. Spread out a buffet of taco fillings, from ground beef to chicken to black beans, along with an array of chopped toppings. Tomatoes, lettuce, avocado, salsa, lime, shredded cheese and cabbage slaw are all relatively affordable to have on hand. The key to ensuring a tasty dinner, though, lies in seasoning the fillings well.
And, if you want to impress your friends just a bit, even if it is a casual affair, go with Chicken Skewers. Everyone loves meat on a stick, but taking the extra care to thread the chicken onto a skewer and then grill said chicken shows a certain level of skill in the kitchen. Serve with some rice or lentils (both super affordable side dishes!) and an array of dipping sauces.
Dinner Party Meal Ideas Under $20
Just have $20 in your wallet? You can still feed a crowd.
From slumber parties to all-adult watch parties, every guest list loves a Homemade Pizzas bar. Make your pizza dough from scratch (which is also really affordable). Then, layout some affordable toppings for your guests to roll up their sleeves and make their own pies. Tomato sauce, pepperoni, shredded cheese, onions, olives, diced tomatoes, banana peppers, sliced ham and pineapple are all affordable pizza toppings to have on hand.
For a breakfast-inspired dinner party, whip up a Frittata, aka a fancy egg casserole. Breakfast food is cheap, so you could easily double this recipe to serve 12 people for $20. Just swap out a few ingredients and the recipe is even more affordable (i.e. go with onions over shallots, and a more affordable cheese, like cheddar, over goat cheese). Frittata is also an extremely versatile dish, so if you have ingredients on hand that you’d like to use instead, go at it — just about any vegetable or protein can find a place within a frittata.
Another easily customizable dish that’s great for crowds and especially crowds of picky eaters, is Chili. Pick a mild and basic chili recipe (tomatoes, beef, beans) and then lay out the toppings for your guests to create their own bowl. Hot sauce, green onions, sour cream, cheese, crackers and tortilla chips are a must.
Cheap Dinner Party Tips
Want to make your cheap dinner party even cheaper?
Ask your guests to contribute with a side dish (doesn’t have to be fancy — a bag of salad will do). Go vegetarian (meat costs more). Pick a one-course meal (something heavy enough that you won’t need anything else). Swap out expensive ingredients for affordable items (no one will notice if you use a more affordable cut of meat).