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how to entertain on a budget

It’s getting to that time of year, when social activities take up a bit more of our free time. The warner nights are perfect to spend outside with a glass of wine or a few tasty dishes to share with loved ones.

Inviting close family and friends over for a feed is always a nice thing to do. It’s a chance to show off any culinary skills you may have, as well as spend quality time with people you care about. But if you’re on a strict budget, it can be hard to know what to prepare. As nice as it is to be able to offer up a spread of smoked salmon, champagne and eye fillet steaks, these sorts of options aren’t cheap, especially when catering for a number of people. So how does one impress with mouth-watering dishes without breaking the bank?

Here are a few cheap yet tasty ideas special enough to serve to guests, but easy and affordable too.


  • Make your own hummus, serve with carrot and cucumber sticks.  Try sprinkling with a dash of cayenne pepper or cumin for a twist or blend with roasted beetroot for a vibrant pink dip.  
  • Chop up cubes of tasty or vintage cheddar. Serve on toothpics or on a cute bowl with dried dates, walnuts and fresh grapes.
  • Have a bowl of raw almonds or peanuts for people to nibble on – nuts are tasty, healthy and cheap. 
  • Green or black olives. You don’t have to go to the fancy deli section of the supermarket to find tasty foods to serve up – open up a bottle of olives, strain and serve in a little bowl. If you want them to look a bit fancy, drizzle a dash of olive oil over them, add a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of dried herbs.
  • Make your own garlic bread – this is super tasty and so cheap to make. A French stick is about $2, combine one clove of garlic, 1 teaspoon of finely chopped parsley or chives (ideally from your garden so its free) and about 4 tablespoons of butter. Make deep cuts into the bread stick about 1cm apart, being sure to keep the bread together at the bottom (ie, don’t cut all the way through). Evenly spread the garlic butter mix between each slice, wrap in foil and bake in a moderate oven for 20 min.


  • Serve soup – soup is one of the cheapest and easiest dishes to serve up – chuck in a stack of veggies and make plenty of garlic bread or buttered toast as a side.
  • Slow cook cheaper cuts of meat to make a delicious stew – both of these are delicious with garlic bread or buttered toast.
  • Pizzas – everyone loves pizza – buy some bases from the supermarket and sprinkle some basic topings such as mushrooms, onion, tomato paste, olives and mozzarella – you can make up about 4 pizzas for less than $6 each if you’re clever with the ingredients
  • Pasta – super easy and one of the cheapest foods around. Make up a simple rich tomato sauce with a dash of red wine, some sundried tomatoes and olives and sprinkle with baby spinach or basil and crumbled fetta.  
  • Salads - always a winner, easy to make and an essential addition to any dinner party.  Combine leafy greens with interesting elements.  Try baby spinach with torn basil and mint, chopped watermelon and crumbled fetta; or cos lettuce, walnuts, goats cheese and pomegranate seeds.  
  • BBQ - easiest way to cook protein for larger groups plus there is less washing up and frees up the kitchen for creating other dishes.  Try cooking up a whole fish, studded with spices and slices of lemon, wrapped in foil; veggie or meat kebabs; butterflied lamb or cheap and cheerful sausages. 


  • Serve up big pitchers of iced water with a few slices of lemon and a sprig of fresh mint – cheaper than buying softdrink and also more refreshing and healthier. Or try iced lemongrass tea for something different.
  • Ask guests to bring a bottle of something to share.  


  • Who needs a fancy cake when there are so many simpler (and healthier) options! Try poaching some pears or stone fruit and serve with a dollup of icecream or yogurt – its cheap, easy and refreshing.
  • For the warmer months make your own ice pops with moulds and experiment with different combinations of fruit. Try blending up watermelon with mint and coconut water, or try combining coconut milk with fresh mango. Freeze, display on a pretty platter and share. 
  • A block of nice quality chocolate and a bowl of fresh berries is the perfect way to end to a meal without being expensive or time consuming to prepare. 
  • Ask guests to bring along something sweet to share.  

People usually offer to bring something to dinner parties, you might as well say yes!  Asking your guests to bring along a bottle of wine or something for dessert means you have less to prepare and can keep your costs down, and your guests will be glad to contribute to a wonderful evening.