15 Themed Dinner Party Menus Under $5 a Person
The idea of inviting friends over for a home-cooked meal may seem daunting. What with work, family, and other obligations, who has time these days for such a quaint social ritual? And then there are the expenses for food and wine. But it's possible to pull off a dinner party for six without too much effort or too high a cost. These 15 themed, multi-course menu plans all come in at $5 or less a person and can be pulled together in a relative jiffy.
At about 70 cents a pound (enough for two servings), fall and winter squashes are good choices for inexpensive vegetarian meals. Toss roasted squash with rice ($1.50) and a handful each of dried cranberries ($2.50) and chopped, toasted walnuts ($2) for a tasty and nutrient-packed one-bowl main course. Season with sea salt, black pepper, and extra virgin olive oil ($2).
Transform Greek yogurt into a delicious dessert by whipping it with maple syrup and lemon zest. For four servings, use 3 cups of yogurt ($4.50), 3 tablespoons of maple syrup ($1), and the zest of one lemon (50 cents). Whip until fluffy. Total cost: $22
Dried beans add subtle flavor to this dish, and $1 buys more than enough to go around. Once the beans are soaked and cooked, sauté onion, (optional) chilies for heat, and dried oregano ($2) in a few tablespoons of butter ($1). Add beans and mash until mostly broken up and creamy, and salt to taste. Serve with chicharrón, crispy fried pork skin available at Mexican markets for about $3 a bag.
This is a fine recipe for leftover chicken, or any vegetable or meat on sale that is perfectly suitable for a dinner party. Sauté chicken or other filling ($6) with onions, salt, and chili powder ($1) until cooked through. Heat 12 corn tortillas ($2) on a griddle and cover with a towel to keep warm. Serve with chopped onion, cilantro, and lime wedges ($3).
A classic Mexican favorite, this cinnamon- and raisin-spiked rice pudding is easy and cheap. Combine a 1½ cups of rice ($1) with twice as much milk ($2) in a pot and cook slowly until creamy. Add 1 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, a handful of raisins, a few dashes of cinnamon ($4), and a splash more of milk and refrigerate until chilled. Total cost: $26
Perfect in its simplicity, a roast chicken satisfies even the pickiest eaters. At about $1.50 a pound, plan to roast two whole chickens ($15) and enjoy the leftovers, including the bones, which can be used to make a budget-friendly soup stock later. After washing and patting dry, slather the bird with olive oil, salt, and pepper ($1) and roast over quartered onions and dried herbs ($2) until golden brown.
This straightforward and inexpensive recipe is the right finish for a comfort food dinner party and a great way to use seasonal produce. Toss four sliced apples ($4) with lemon juice, one-half cup brown sugar, and a pinch of cinnamon ($1). Add a topping of one-half cup flour, one-half cup rolled oats, one-third cup butter, 2 tablespoons sugar, and a dash of cinnamon ($2) and bake until the top is browned and the apples are cooked through. Total cost: $30
A recipe for sweet potato pie from Wake Up and Eat is cheap and vegan. It uses a prepared crust ($3), tofu ($1), vanilla (25 cents), maple syrup ($1.25), sweet potatoes ($3), and coconut milk ($1.50) to yield a silky, rich, and satisfying dessert. Total cost: $24
Instead of calling in for a pizza to feed a crowd, try making basic pizza dough, which is easy and inexpensive. Combine a small amount of active dry yeast with warm water and sugar to activate, then add flour, salt, and a touch of olive oil. Knead well and let the dough rise for an hour. Then punch it down, let it rise for another hour, and it's ready to go. The cost of dough for two large or three medium pizzas is roughly $4. Top with marinara sauce (homemade is best, but store-bought ($3) will do), low-moisture mozzarella ($5), and any other favorite topping. Bake at 500 degrees until hot and bubbly.
Pasta is a go-to dish for a tight budget, impressing guests for just a few dollars a plate. Stock up on a favorite dry pasta when it goes on sale for extra savings. Even at full price, a box of good-quality pasta costs less than $3. While the pasta boils in salted water, crisp up chopped bacon ($2) in a pan with olive oil. Add garlic, onion, and chopped mushrooms ($4). Add a splash of wine, broth (50 cents), or pasta water as the pan gets dry, along with salt and pepper to taste. Pour cooked pasta into the sauce and toss with a handful of chopped parsley and grated Parmesan cheese ($1.50). Total cost: $23
Chicken is a low-cost and versatile component for fancy dinners or family meals, and two chicken thighs per person is a healthy serving. Marinate 12 thighs ($6) in a mix of garlic, salt, chili, and lime ($2) for up to six hours and bake in a hot oven until cooked through.
Slice 1½ pounds of carrots ($3) into half-inch rounds and sauté in a large skillet. When halfway cooked, add freshly squeezed orange juice ($2), cumin powder, a dash of cinnamon, cayenne, and salt to taste ($1). Cover and cook over medium heat until carrots are cooked through but still firm.
There are many ways to use potatoes, and this version of fries saves effort, mess, and money by foregoing the big pot of oil. Cut five large potatoes ($5) into wedges; coat lightly with oil, salt, and pepper ($1); and bake in a 375-degree oven until the skin starts to brown, about 30 minutes.
Save time and money by using a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store ($7), along with a pack of flour tortillas ($3). Shred a block of Monterey Jack cheese ($4), which is cheaper than the pre-shredded variety. Add leftover veggies or meat for more flavor. Heat the tortillas in a skillet and layer one half with cheese and chicken, fold over, and cook until the cheese melts.