Affordable Entertaining and Smaller Dinner Portions


This weekend we’re having friends over again.

Entertaining makes me happy.

I hear from friends who don’t entertain that it’s scary and costs too much money.

Scary, yes. But the more you do it, the less intimidating it becomes.

Too much money, possibly. But if you share the meal with your guests by delegating a portion of the menu, it becomes very affordable.

If we can just focus on the true meaning of hospitality and let go of the fancy ideas–that entertaining has to be picture-perfect and made-for-TV–it becomes genuine hospitable entertaining.

Here’s a little tidbit that I’ve learned over the years. Don’t overcook. When you plan appetizers, salad, a full meal, and dessert, you really don’t need extra food in the kitchen for guests to get seconds. We eat way too much in America. Our plates are too full to begin with … and then seconds?

Keep the portions small.

Smaller portions

Bring people together and make it fun and light!

Here are my tips for affordable entertaining:

1. Invite a few friends over.

2. Plan out the menu; put it on your phone or write it down.

3. Think of your budget first, and then decide what you would like to cook.

3. Delegate the rest of the menu slots to your guests.

4. Ask each couple or guest to bring wine (or drinks).

5. Don’t overcook; keep the portions small.

There is a balance of not having enough food versus too much food. And of course you don’t want your guests to leave hungry, but I really do think that we tend to overeat at dinner parties.

My hand is in the air, especially when I’m invited to a friend’s dinner party, because I love sitting back and enjoying another person’s cooking!

I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips on affordable entertaining when it comes to the menu!? And do you tend to overcook?

(Food in photos from our garden/raised beds. Potatoes, rosemary, snow peas, and raspberries and mint. Eating from the garden is another way to save money when entertaining.)

19 comments on “Affordable Entertaining and Smaller Dinner Portions”

  1. I like your idea of portion control. One way I have done that is to put out a simple “finger foods” buffet from items from Costco (that are basically healthy) and I find people take only what they really want to eat during a “stand up” and chat party. I also like a punch bowl with colorful fruit in it to save money on beverages.

  2. Such great tips, and yes I agree our portions are too big! It’s amazing how full one can get nibbling on just appetizers before dinner is even served! I come from a family who has always made “too much”, it’s our culture. I’ve started to become more realistic, and sometimes even scale back.

  3. Yes, I tend to cook way too much food. But, that’s okay. I’ll either have leftovers for lunch the next day or maybe even a meal to put in the freezer. I don’t want anyone to ever feel like they haven’t had “enough”. Years ago, we had some friends invite us over often. We started stopping on the way to their house to grab a hamburger first, because we KNEW there would not be enough food! That is definitely always in the back of my mind when feeding guests.

    If money’s an issue, inviting for just dessert is an option I often use. Or delegating.

  4. This is great advice, Sandy! I love bringing things to parties and I also love when people bring something when we are having company over.
    Hope you are having a great week!

  5. This is such great advice! I think people feel bad asking their guests to bring something, but as a guest, I always appreciate when I can help contribute one way or another.

  6. Lately we’ve done spontaneous invitations, more than preplanned (are you free for dinner tonight?) This takes some of the stress off—the house is “as is”. My aim is to serve a “family meal” rather than a “party meal”. I’ve been challenging myself to cook from what is on hand—so much less expensive than when I run to the store and my eyes catch all the beautiful food choices there are.
    Salad, grilled meat, and a simple dessert (maybe just a chocolate bar broken into pieces) are more than enough shared with good company.
    Miss you Sandy

  7. Whenever I need to stretch the food planned (maybe because I choose an expensive meat or more people will attend than I thought), I add veggie sides. Even fruits prepared simply when they’re in season. People tend to take a little of everything, so that means a little less of each thing. And veggies tend to be inexpensive – and delicious – when they’re in season. It helps with the budget, helps stretch the meal further, and I think people really enjoy healthy sides to balance what tend to be more indulgent meals.

  8. Sandy, I absolutely love this! Such wise words and so true about portion control. Now….is it rude to invite myself over to your place??!!

  9. Great tips and I love the idea of others helping out if they’d like to. I find more than often, other people want to contribute to the menu, I mean who doesn’t want their friends to swoon over their new dish?

    Loving those potatoes too!

  10. I have started entertaining more and your blog gives me encouragement to just do it. The idea of keeping portions smaller makes sense to me since I tend to be one that overcooks. I think for me I can make improvements also by simplifying the menu. Okay..time to get started planning the next get together.

  11. I’ve been re-reading one of my favorite books, French Women Don’t Get Fat, and I just love how she mentions the reason behind the word ‘menu’ is because it should be a spread of small plates. Having more fun little things to eat can change the way we see food in general, especially with entertaining!

  12. I think people feel if they are going to invite others it has to be lobster or something fancy. I swear I have more people go for a big spaghetti dinner with salad and garlic bread than anything. It’s very inexpensive!! Just takes a little planning.

    • I really love the element of surprise when we’re invited over for a meal. I leave the expectations at the front door and enjoy the meal, whether lobster or spaghetti. And you’re right, Cathy, that is such a simple meal to make! Everyone loves it!

  13. The other think that I do is “Appetizer Dinners”…. my FAV way to entertain (and eat) Just small bites that I’ve orchestrated and farmed out to my guests to make…. making sure to have lots of vege’s, some protein, and ALWAYS a bitesize dessert!.

  14. After years of doing it all… I finally have settled on a way to entertain that is fun, inclusive, lower cost, and still I can retain that bit of control (not that I have control issues…NOOOO) and it’s just all around FABULOUS! Now days, I create the event, create the menu, then send out invites … both to attend AND to make one of the elements on the menu. Because I have these years of creating fun and wonderful food events… like you, I’m sure, you’ve created an ” expectation” and people step up their game to follow the recipe and make it look nice… NOW when we’re sitting around the table, as dishes are served, EVERYONE receives the OOOOHHHH’s and AWWW’s formerly directed only to me! EVERYONE wins and everyone learns to “cook like PHYLLIS”. For a small group of gals that I “entertain” regularly… I don’t even have to have it at my house… They’re BEGGING to have it at theirs! A definite WIN!.

    • Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Phyllis. I’ve never been a control-freak with the menu, but if I have something in mind, I’ll give the suggestion of “fruit salad” rather than just salad, which could mean many kinds of salads. I’m also thankful for friends in our lives who entertain! We are blessed and get invited over for other dinner parties (not always held at our house). Whew! Love the appetizer idea, too. That’s a fun one! So many great ideas …

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