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Fun frugal food to please every appetite

Let us take a look at a few ideas for providing your guests with the foods they love while staying within your budget.

If you have ever hosted a party, you know how difficult it can be to please everyone on your list. There are so many different expectations, likes and dislikes, that it can almost seem impossible to plan for all your guests' preferences. But this can be done and your budget doesn't have to suffer. Let's take a look at a few ideas for providing your guests with the foods they love while staying within your budget.

Plenty of special little choices

If you have a lot of people coming over for your celebration meal or party, this is one of the easiest ways to ensure that you please them all. Providing a wide variety of food in small portions is the perfect way to please them all. Finger foods, hors d'oeuvres, cheese trays, fruit plates, vegetables with dip, and the like are perfect for a party that is all about nibbling and mingling. However, if it is a holiday party, it will require a special touch. If you are familiar with tapas, this might be a good time to search for recipes specifically served for these 'small bites' parties. You'll get a lot of ideas for delicious dishes to serve, both hot and cold.

Now is the time to rethink some of your classics. You can dress up your pinwheel recipes with over-the-top ingredients for your party. Rather than use ham and Swiss cheese, choose smoked salmon, arugula, and Gruyere cheese, for instance. Wrap diced honeydew melon in pancetta and broil for a surprising bite. Make tiny meat and vegetable bundles inside thin layers of fillo dough. Spoon spiced shrimp into Romaine lettuce leaves. Those are just a few ways to turn familiar appetizer foods into something special and enticing for your guests.

Be sure to have more than enough little serving plates set all over the room so your guests can sample a few bites, walk away, sample another couple dishes, and keep moving. Guests are bound to set their plates down often, so just be ready with more. Keep the food interesting with a lot of variety and no one will feel they didn't get what they wanted to eat. This is also great for conversation because everyone is anxious to talk about the tasty item they discovered over on the other side of the room.

The potluck makes a comeback

A wonderfully old-fashioned way to both host a party and make sure you please your guests is to throw a potluck. This is one way to ensure that the dishes you serve will be what your guests will want to eat. Because, after all, your guests are bringing their favorite dishes! Here you are, providing your guests with bragging rights to their great-grandmother's plum pudding recipe while, at the same time, pleasing your guests tastes and keeping your budget under control. If that sounds sneaky, it's not. Everybody knows the score! Your guests will love providing their favorite dish just as long as you provide the place and the basics for the meal.

When you issue the invitation, keep it casual. Say something on the order of; “You're Invited to a Holiday Potluck,” then explain that you want them to bring a favorite dish of theirs. Also, let them know to keep their dish small since everyone will be bringing something so you'll have more than enough for everyone. This keeps them from going overboard making way more food than is needed. Be sure to ask what dish they are bringing so you can orchestrate the meal at least a little. You don't want an endless supply of gelatin salads or pinwheels and no sweet potato casserole or veggie tray, for instance.

This is also a great way to start conversations between people as they find their favorite dishes and talk about the recipe. You can also ask your guests to bring recipe cards if they would like to share. Perhaps you could gather the cards and put them together in a book for your guests as a little Thank You gift for coming and sharing in your potluck party.

Capture their attention with comfort foods

When planning a party, you naturally want to please everyone's taste buds. And what's more pleasing than comfort foods? Building comfort foods into your menu helps you make sure there is something that everyone likes. Comfort foods are generally inexpensive, can be prepared with ease, and are recognized and loved by most everyone.

Think of your classic comfort foods and you'll usually think of cheesy macaroni, green bean casserole, wild rice mushroom bake, and maybe some creamy mashed potatoes. A fragrant sage stuffing is another food that just makes you go 'ahhhhhh.'

Whatever your comfort food, if you decide to include one or more with your meal, just have it match the style of the dinner. For instance, if you are serving a variety of 'small bites' for your meal, go ahead and make the comfort food, but instead of making it in a big casserole, create tiny bites in mini-muffin tin cups. Tiny bites of sage stuffing will match the finger food style of the party but still offer the comfort you and your guests are craving.

When you are trying to please a lot of people, there are three main options you have for making sure everyone is satisfied even when you have a limited budget. Offer a lot of choices in the 'tiny bites' style, host a potluck, and finally include comfort foods that satisfy most everyone. Your job as host is to make sure your guests are well fed and happy. With these options, you can tweak your menu and style in ways that will have your guests very pleased indeed.

Plan an impressive main course even on a tight budget

When you're planning party meals, the main course could very likely add up to more than the rest of the whole menu. The star of the meal is important, to be sure, but how can you present a gorgeous main course when you're on a tight budget? There are some things to consider, so let's explore a few options.

Let the sales guide you

When it comes to expensive items like meat, it helps to be mindful of special sales and giveaways that are in your area. For instance, if you're planning on having pumpkin pie for dessert, and a grocery store is offering a free honey ham with the purchase of pumpkin pie ingredients, why not let that determine what you serve for your main course? You may have been thinking about duck or a rib roast, but when it comes to your budget, a free ham sure sounds delicious!

Smart merchants offer big savings on traditional meats and other main course proteins because they want to get you in the store for the other ingredients. Watch the sale brochures early so you don't get stuck in a panic and spend full price when time runs short. And don't forget your local butcher or independent store. If it is a seasonal celebration, remember smaller shops stock up for holiday meals and don't want to get stuck with anything after the holiday is past. Keep in mind 'supply and demand' – grocers lay in a large supply while the demand is high and can ask any price, but they want to move their stock before the demand ends, so watch closely for this price break to happen fast, and be ready.

Know the proper serving size

The USDA guideline for meat serving size is about a quarter pound of meat per person. However, certain celebration meals usually call for a more impressive serving size. But don't go overboard! Figure the serving size somewhere between a quarter pound and a half pound per person. Remember, you will be having all your favorite side dishes, as well. It's so easy to over-estimate when it comes down to picking out your main course. Keep in mind when you choose your protein that if you are buying a bone-in meat, you need to take that 'waste weight' into account and buy closer to the half pound per person serving size.

Choosing a big turkey, duck, goose, or chicken will take some estimating when it comes to serving size. You can actually make an assumption to help you calculate the servings per bird. Deduct about twenty percent from the total weight and that should give you a good weight in actual meat. Of course, you'll want a good amount of both white meat and dark meat. If you're serving a large group, sometimes it's better to cook two smaller birds instead of one big bird. Start by calculating the amount of meat you'll need, then shop for the best price per pound whether you are buying meat, poultry, fish, or other seafood.

Choosing quality or quantity

If you just can't bring yourself to put a smaller piece of meat on your party table, then by all means buy a larger cut. This means, however, that you will need to shop around for less expensive cuts to make sure your main course still fits your budget. For example, if your budget is limited but you want to serve a big beef roast dinner, you will need to walk away from the prime rib or tenderloin. Choose instead several nice chuck roasts and cook them low and slow so they are cut-it-with-a-fork tender. No one will care that your beef isn't expensive just so long as it's juicy and delicious. You can do that with less expensive cuts of meat if you cook it right.

The same goes for poultry or seafood. Compare the price per pound of several poultry options. If you can't afford to buy a goose or duck, choose a turkey or chicken. A large turkey that has been roasted beautifully will impress your guests as much as, if not more than, a smaller (and much more expensive) goose. But, you can also do both, serve quality AND quantity, if you shop and plan wisely. If you really want that beautiful duck on your table, go ahead and choose a small one, then roast another bird so you have enough meat to serve. Think of the expensive protein as a side dish and buy a smaller size. In other words, you don't have to serve your guests a half pound of expensive protein. Plan your main course with a less expensive protein and serve your luxury protein in smaller bites.

You want your party table to feature a wonderful main course, but meat, poultry, and seafood can be expensive. There are ways to still present a beautiful main dish without breaking the bank. Be sure to watch the sales in your area and introduce yourself to the butcher or fishmonger. Also, be mindful of the portion sizes and the number of people you are serving. Don't over-estimate and spend more than you have to. And remember, quality isn't always about spending more money. It really all comes down to serving the tastiest dish you possibly can, and you can do that on any budget.