Tis the season – the season of parties galore. It seems I can hardly open a search engine without seeing posts everywhere on how overstressed everyone is, and how to stay on budget and not overeat during what is basically an extended season from Thanksgiving through New Years.
Party food CAN be downright cheap, taste great and provide an alternative option on a table groaning with overly cheesy, gooey or fried calorie ridden dishes. While some of these are “healthy,” a few are lower calorie alternatives and some are just in the “not so bad for you” as everything else category! All should fit your budget.
I’ve been on crutches, so I’m “cooking in my mind” and browsing the internet for great ideas…Some of these are mine, while others have been on my “short list” of ideas to try. Happy whatever Holiday you’re celebrating through the season!
Hummus & White Bean “Hummus”
I love this recipe from Giada de Laurentus of Food Network, and while perhaps strictly not a “hummus” it’s delicious, cheap, and easy. Easy to double, too. Serve with vegetables, Pita (homemade chips are cheapest) or breadsticks. Vegetarians and Vegans will love you and everyone else will enjoy it. I make a similar White Bean Dip with Herbs and Olive Oil, too.
It’s fun to serve three varieties of hummus, in matching bowls, each with their own distinct flavor and color. Check out these marvelous dips from Leafy Greens & Me.
Beloved by kids and adults, they’re so old-fashioned they’re retro. When they appear at any party table they go fast. They’re easy to dress up in any number of ways. Try cutting them so they stand up and adding a few chives at a jaunty angle – it makes fewer servings but also makes them seem a bit more special.
While they may not be the healthiest food on the buffet table, they compare well to many of the alternatives and are a welcome protein amongst the many carbs on a buffet table. Photo from Sandra Lee’s Straight Up Deviled Eggs.
Big Seasonal Salad
If you’re on the way to a buffet, consider making a big salad, using inexpensive Romaine as a base. Fill it with inexpensive but seasonal pears and apples, add some dried cranberries and some kind of nut. This Pear and Apple Salad has a cranberry dressing that looks marvelous, and more expensive endive which could be left out. You’ll want to double, at least for a party.
Another dressing alternative would be a simple vinaigrette like the one from my very similar Healthy Harvest Salad. It uses ingredients you’re likely to have right in your cupboard.
Roasted Winter Squash Soup
I love the idea of serving a soup like this, that can be served at room temperature in little shot glasses at a party. This recipe from Country Living makes a ton, and could easily be halved.
A little goes a long way when served as shots at a cocktail party. Pick up an assortment of mixed glasses at a thrift store and you’ll still be way below budget. Use them all year round to serve small deserts and puddings like Chocolate Pots de Creme – sometimes all we need is a taste of something sweet after dinner or before bed. Make sure the little cups are large enough for a spoon if needed.
Always popular, and always on sale around every holiday, mushrooms can be stuffed with a variety of things! Cheapest (and healthiest) is probably a bread-based vegetable stuffing with a little Parmesan, like my Stuffed Mushrooms with Wine, but even fancier mushrooms are still not likely to break the budget.
There are a zillion ways to stuff mushrooms… here are a few ideas from Southern Food on About.com. Pick up old silver plated trays at thrift stores for a song and you’ll have your own “heirlooms” to pass along when you’re gone.
Spicy Roasted Chickpeas
Oven Roasted Chickpeas have become a new favorite. Roast them dry, flavor as you wish and you’ll have crunchy, crispy little balls of happiness. Given how popular Wasabi peas have been, I can’t imagine these would be anything but a “new” amazing dish for many people at the buffet.
If you have time to do a little baking, the beauty of Gougeres is that you whip them up and pipe them out (you can use a Ziploc bag for this, just snip off a corner) and freeze them to take out and bake on a moment’s notice.
Recipes abound for these inexpensive, yet “fancy” appetizer – make a dozen or five dozen…A Seattle chef shows how to turn these luxuries into a “fast food staple.”
Crostini, “little toasts” really require no cooking skills (but use a timer so you won’t get distracted” and are easy and cheap…who could ask for more…or less? Twelve Crositini ideas from Saveur, and 19 from Toast Toppers. Of course, White Bean Hummus, above, makes a lovely topping!
Pictured below are crostini from, believe it or not, Lima Beans & Peas. They’re a wonderful substitute for the more expensive Fava. Top, if you’d like with herbs, olive oil, a few shavings of Parmesan or a dollop of Ricotta. A few crispy fried prosciutto shards never hurt anything!
Phyllo Cups – Spanakopita Bites
While Phyllo is a “gourmet” product, it is often on sale around the holidays, usually about 1/2 price and often unadvertized. Pick up a few packages to toss in the freezer. A package goes far. I use it sometimes instead of the Wontons in my stuffed Wonton Appetizers, filled with Pulled Pork or BBQ Beef. These little Spanakopita Gems from What’s Cookin Chicago have inspired me to try them.
Healthy, maybe not so much, but at least there’s Spinach? There are options on the kind of cheese. A tip – When making things like this, lightly brush the whole sheet of Phyllo with butter and then cut into squares with a Pizza cutter. You’ll save time and use a lot less butter.
Guilt-Free Seven Layer Dip
Do people never tire of this dish? I think not. Next time I’ll try this healthier version of a seven-layered dip, from The Picky Eater. She’s made it with more beans and veggies, using yogurt instead of sour cream and homemade baked tortilla chips.
Cucumber Canapes with Whipped Feta
These little gems look from Two Peas and their Pod look amazingly refreshing, and the whipped feta would be a marvelous flavor paired with the cucumber. Plus, they look all “chi chi” for a budget price! And basically, no cooking involved…
Red Lentil Dip with a Spanish Flair
I love this Red Lentil Dip with a Spanish Flair. It may not look like much but the flavor is outstanding! Memorable! Lick the bowl good.
Lentils are always inexpensive, and I find the red ones (they’re really more orange) in my regular grocery store now, usually in the bulk aisles. I use them for Red Lentil Curried soup but I may just have to buy more for that…By the way, the more inexpensive button mushrooms will be just fine in this; they’re just younger cremini.