'Tis the season of parties and get-togethers. For gatherings that don't feature a full-on meal, it's nice to offer something to nibble on. Bite-size appetizers are a great way to offer a variety of flavors without spending too much on ingredients. And not everything needs to be made from scratch; plenty of time-saving frozen and premade options are just as budget-friendly. These easy, inexpensive ideas serve about 10 to 15 people, from meat eaters to vegetarians to vegans. Prices are rough estimates based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data and an informal survey of grocery prices.
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Frozen spinach ($1) and a light sprinkling of feta ($1) in crispy filo dough ($3) is a classic flavor combination. To assemble, thaw and season the spinach and combine with feta. Put a spoonful into filo of any shape and bake according to the instructions on the filo packet.
Frozen meatballs cost about $3 a pound and offer large portions. Simply heat them up in the sauce of your choice ($2), such as barbecue or marinara, and serve with toothpicks for a fun and tasty party dish.
This appetizer is perfect for a group that includes kids and couldn't be easier to make: Cut a baguette or cheaper Italian loaf ($1) in half lengthwise and spread with marinara ($1), then top with low-moisture shredded mozzarella ($3). Bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Let it cool slightly before slicing into bite-size pieces.
This delicious and dirt-cheap snack is a budget standby. A dollar's worth of kernels easily makes 15 cups of popped corn. Supplement with some oil for popping ($1) and a little butter and salt ($1) for a treat that goes with a casual party atmosphere.
Take advantage of seasonal fruit, cutting apples and pears into chunks and dressing with lemon juice and cinnamon before alternating them on toothpicks for an easy bite. Two of each fruit ($4) is be plenty for nearly 30 skewers.
At about 20 cents per piece, frozen ravioli make a great inexpensive appetizer when fried in oil ($1) until golden brown and served hot. Because they are so rich, figure only one or two ($4 worth) for each guest.
A bag of frozen dumplings is less than $3.50 at Trader Joe's and other stores and comes with nearly 30 pieces. Use the leftover money for a dipping sauce, such as soy, chili, or sweet mango. Keep a bag or two in the freezer for last-minute entertaining.
Skewered appetizers have many benefits: They are fun and easy to eat and use a tiny amount of ingredients. One bell pepper ($1.50), a quarter onion (25 cents), 2 ounces of olives ($1), and one romaine heart (50 cents) is enough to make a tray of refreshing salad bites. Dress with a simple combination of lemon, olive oil, salt, and pepper ($1.50) and layer on a skewer or toothpick for a full-flavored appetizer.
Hot, melty cheese is a quick way to almost anyone's heart. To make a simple quesadilla, simply heat a flour tortilla (25 cents) in a pan, sprinkle with shredded cheese (50 cents), and top with another tortilla (25 cents). Flip and heat until the tortillas are brown and cheese is melted. After making four quesadillas, cut them into six slices and serve with salsa (25 cents).
Break the stems off two packages' worth of button mushrooms ($4). Chop a quarter of an onion (25 cents) and sauté with the stems. Place the mix into the mushroom caps and top with seasoned breadcrumbs (50 cents), then bake in a hot oven until the caps are soft. Serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice (25 cents).
Ready-made biscuit dough is a quick and easy way to prepare this warming appetizer. Store brands offer packages that make eight pieces for as little as $1.50. Divide each package in half for mini biscuits, or let guests indulge in full-size buns. To add sophistication, use a food processor to combine a small bunch of chopped chives ($1) with a stick of room-temperature butter (50 cents) to slather on the hot biscuits.
A humble package of puff pastry ($3) transforms into decadent cheese straws with a light sprinkling of parmesan and dusting of cayenne pepper ($1.50). Simply roll out the dough, distribute cheese evenly -- pressing it lightly into the dough -- and cut into strips. Twist the strips and bake according to the directions on the package.
To make a quick salsa, combine a can of whole peeled tomatoes ($1), an onion (75 cents), a handful of cilantro (25 cents), and a chili pepper (25 cents) in a food processor and mix until combined but still chunky. Next, heat 1 cup vegetable oil (75 cents) in a pot and add corn tortillas cut into triangles to make homemade chips ($2) -- or opt for a large value bag of chips (also $2 or so) from a supermarket.
This cheap, tasty classic is easy to prepare. Slice a baguette or cheaper Italian loaf ($1) lengthwise and slather with butter (50 cents), chopped garlic ($1), and chopped parsley ($1). Then put the halves together, wrap in foil, and bake until warm and crispy on the outside. Slice into pieces and enjoy while hot.
Onions have a rich enough flavor to make them the star of a dish. To create simple and delicious onion tarts, start by defrosting a box of puff pastry ($2) and cutting into small squares. Sauté two large onions with olive oil and a few sprigs of thyme ($2.25). Take a small spoonful of the mixture and place in the center of each square, then bake according to the package instructions.
A simple grilled cheese with two slices of bread (50 cents) and two slices of cheese (50 cents) becomes a party hit when cut into bite-size pieces. Cut each of five sandwiches into quarters and stack high on a platter; figure at least two pieces of this American favorite per person.
Crispy potatoes are a delicious snack in nearly every culture. To make this Spanish-style appetizer, cut four large potatoes ($4) into small cubes. Bake with olive oil and plenty of sea salt (25 cents) until the potato is soft and the skin turns crisp. Sprinkle with smoked paprika (50 cents) before serving with toothpicks for easy snacking.
Transform two onions ($1.50), three carrots (50 cents), and a large potato ($1) into a delicious appetizer by cutting and roasting the veggies with olive oil, salt, pepper, and dried herbs (50 cents). Once done, load a toothpick with one of each veggie and drizzle the skewers with balsamic vinegar (50 cents).