Summer parties combine relaxation, nice weather, and good food and friends. It's always appropriate to bring a dish or beverage to contribute. While the old standby of a bottle of wine or six-pack of beer is easy, a guest can easily bring an entire dish for less money. Ranging from side salads to finger food to easy desserts, these 15 party dishes are cheap, easy, and welcome additions to any backyard party.
This go-to summer classic is about as easy and cheap as it gets: Just a box of pasta and some oil and vinegar provide the basis for a dish that virtually everyone enjoys. Add some seasonal produce such as summer green beans, tomatoes, and herbs, and the pasta salad is ready to go. To make it a heartier entrée, top with grilled chicken, beef, or tofu.
Recipe: Southern Living
This dish is the ultimate low-cost party food -- eggs are the biggest expense, especially in a kitchen stocked with spices. Egg salad pairs well with almost any cuisine, provides plenty of protein, and can be customized by adjusting seasonings slightly. Party hosts can make this the main event by smearing it between bread with some crunchy greens for rich and creamy egg salad sandwiches.
Recipe: Martha Stewart
A head of cabbage rarely costs more than a couple dollars and can yield 10 or more portions of salad easily. Break out of the box with variations such as a mango slaw with creamy coconut lime dressing; creative touches such as cilantro and coconut milk take slaw from boring to exciting without much extra expense.
Recipe: Season With Spice
These easy and cheap staples are always a hit, and it's just as easy to make them festive with toppings and decorative touches such as little candy stars -- though patriotic red, white, and blue cupcakes can create a festive and impressive look using just a touch of food coloring and an extra step to layer the differently colored batters. Genius.
Recipe: A Wicked Whisk
It's usually only non-meat eaters who bring vegetables for barbecues where grilling is the main event. But everyone can appreciate something a bit lighter between all the burgers and dogs. Layering just a few pieces on each skewer creates more servings out of a modest amount of produce. Get flavor that pops by using a marinade, such as a simple lemon and garlic mixture.
Recipe: Damn Delicious
Non-alcoholic drink options should be just as important as the booze at a party, and lemonade, soda, and iced tea can get boring. Liven up the drinks tray with homemade agua fresca by infusing cold water with mild and refreshing flavors -- a mix of fruits, grains, seeds, flowers, and sweeteners. For instance, slice up half a cucumber and cut a handful of green grapes in half and add them to a liter of water. Let the mixture infuse for at least an hour and serve over ice for a subtle and enchantingly different beverage.
Investing in some popsicle molds is an easy way to keep cheap and creative desserts around all summer long. From the most basic frozen orange juice pops to themed red, white, and blue pops, there are seemingly endless options. Bring popsicles to a party and they'll also help keep chilled food or drinks cold en route.
A cheap party food for the masses, air-popped corn is just a few cents per large serving. Customize the flavors and colors to suit any theme. To kick it up a notch from basic salt and butter, using zesty garlic and an herb such as rosemary. Popcorn is also a good dessert option, such as irresistible soft caramel popcorn .
Recipe: The Girl Who Ate Everything
This universally loved side dish works for most any party. Humble and simple as it is, garlic bread is always appreciated and devoured quickly. Because it should be heated and served warm, using day-old bread is totally fine and makes the dish so cheap that it's easy to double up and bring two.
Recipe: The Kitchn
Attractive, cheap, and healthy, spiralized vegetables create a generous portion of food out of a small serving. Use the veggie noodles in place of pasta in a favorite recipe, or let the vegetables lead the inspiration for new flavor combinations, such as a chilled sesame salad. Items that work well as noodles include summer squash, radish, beet, carrot, and cucumber.
Frozen bananas are a welcome substitute for ice cream. All that's needed are some popsicle sticks and optional toppings such as chocolate and nuts, although a plain frozen banana is delicious by itself. This can be made into a sophisticated dessert such as salted chocolate frozen banana bites, which would likely become a go-to even if they weren't cheap.
Recipe: Gimme Some Oven
This ubiquitous party dip hits all the right notes: vegan-friendly, gluten-free, and tasty, especially if it's homemade. A traditional roasted garlic hummus is nothing to sniff at, although a little outside-the-box experimentation can be fun too. One idea: a spicy chipotle hummus. However it's made, hummus is cheap, quick, and well-received at any festive gathering.
Recipe: Coconut & Lime
Get more milage out of seasonal fruits by skewering them in individual portions smaller than the average scoop of fruit salad. The skewered versions are also more versatile, turning fruit into a convenient finger food and even offering the option for a quick turn on the grill to caramelize the sugars and add complexity. A light dressing of lemon juice, sugar, and mint isn't necessary, but it's a nice touch.
Salty snack foods such as nuts and chips can be pricey. Instead, opt for inexpensive sunflower or pumpkin seeds that provide more bulk for the money, toasting the seeds in a pan with tamari, or soy sauce, to give them a nutty and salty quality. Not only is this a less expensive option, it's also less common, offering a nice change of pace from everyday snack foods.
Recipe: Trinity's Kitchen
Inexpensive to make, cornbread muffins get a kick from jalapeño, offering just a touch of heat to offset the naturally sweet corn. Even though they cost just a fraction of the price of ribs and chicken, these muffins can be just as essential to a summer barbecue.
Recipe: Sally's Baking Addiction