Budget-friendly snacks for 10-24 people
April 24, 2017 6:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for snack ideas for casual gatherings I host in my home 1-3 times a month. I'd like to keep it under $30/event and simple is best!

We have a house! And friends! So we've been offering to host a bunch of little gatherings (book club, game night, etc.) at a greater frequency than ever before. I'd like to compile a list of super quick and pretty cheap snacks to offer. These events are usually in the early evening, after dinner, so snacks need not be particularly substantial. We live in Minneapolis so we have a lot of options for shopping.

Some loose guidelines:
1. $20-30 for food would be manageable. Got something cheaper? Lemme know!
2. Groups vary between 10 people and up to 24 (the larger groups include kids 1-8 years old).
3. I typically try to do something sweet and something salty.
4. We usually have a gluten-free person or two. And a cashew allergy.
5. Seeking recipes OR purchased snack ideas OR hacks the mix the two.
6. Shelf-stable is cool so we can limit mid-week shopping, but not required.
7. Cheap adult beverage suggestions are welcome as well. I prefer not mixing a batch, though, as I'm not likely to drink the leftovers once the party is over.
8. Bonus points for easy prep OR make ahead recipes.
9. More bonus points for minimal clean-up or finger food type suggestions.
posted by deadcrow to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
If you have an air popper, buying bulk popcorn will give you a very cheap snack that doesn't take up much storage, and you can make it sweet or salty depending on your seasoning preferences. Your local Costco might be even cheaper than Amazon's 12.5 lb bag for $17.55 ($1.40/lb). As a bonus, children are enamored with watching popcorn come out of an air popper.
posted by juniperesque at 6:29 PM on April 24, 2017 [11 favorites]

Pesto and bread, hummus and pita. A variety of interesting cheeses served at room temp with crackers. Artichoke dip is nice because you can mix it up ahead of time and put it in the oven before guests arrive. Lemon bars. Almost everyone likes cookies.

Buy a few fun (or fancy) bowls and platters to put things out in--it feels festive.
posted by Tuba Toothpaste at 6:32 PM on April 24, 2017

I always like to have sour cream or plain Greek yogurt around and then various dry dip mixes. Use a mandoline slicer to make thin rounds from veggies, toss with olive oil and sea salt, bake in oven til crispy - veggie chips and dip! Much cheaper when made at home, and the prep is simple.

Oven roasted chickpeas are so quick and easy and CHEAP it's a sin. And you can change them up by tossing them with different spices- hot Spanish paprika, garlic powder, berbere, etc.
posted by nightrecordings at 6:35 PM on April 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

If you can get reasonably priced avocados, homemade guacamole is one of my favourite things to make for guests.
posted by quaking fajita at 6:47 PM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ricotta (store brand is perfectly fine in this application, anything super fancy is divine, but not necessarily budget friendly), mixed with some chopped fresh thyme, salt, pepper and a squirt of honey, with some bread or gluten-free crackers will astound your guests.

I'll add for completeness that Budget Bytes is really good for recipes when your priority is cost.
posted by General Malaise at 7:01 PM on April 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

Chips and salsa is also an easy go-to.

I made this for a Super Bowl party one year and then people demanded I make it again. And then asked for the recipe. If you want to use regular mayo, that's totally fine here.

It's a bit more time-consuming, but herbed goat cheese stuffed peppadews is a delight.

There are a lot of amazing things here that can suit all dietary restrictions and tastes. Those are more techniques than recipes but I've gone to that page often for ideas (which is where I stole the stuffed peppadews thing).
posted by darksong at 7:07 PM on April 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Melt some chocolate chips and thin out with some cream in a skillet. Cover with marshmallows, broil until marshmallows are brown. Serve with graham crackers for dipping. Fun, cheap, yummy.
posted by gatorae at 7:18 PM on April 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

A log of goat cheese with a jar of chutney/ fig jam/ spicy jam poured over it. Serve with crackers and listen to people rave.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:20 PM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Some ideas I learned from a couple of years of monthly Bunco games:

a) if you host, you get to ask people to bring things
b) you can also ask for tiny bits of cash and get catering or delivery or just buy deli stuff*
c) restaurants often have really interesting catering trays - Mexican restaurants especially, and also Mediterranean (I have a falafel place nearby where the falafel is kind of expensive and so is the pita but I can call the day before and pick up quarts of tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, tzaziki, Greek salad, and hummus for about $22 and then get pita and chips at the store) but check your Grubhub and other sites for other deals
d) summer is coming and people love watermelon
e) cook a ton of pasta, dress with bottle dressing - there are a million vinaigrettes at the store - serve with grape tomatoes
f) if it's after dinner, cake. Any cake. People love cake. People also love end-of-day donuts.
g) my favorite grocery store has frozen 1/2 ounce meatballs in 2lb bags for $6 - warm in a bottle of BBQ sauce, or traditional grape jelly + Heinz chili sauce
e) my personal secret weapon: pesto and sundried tomato torta, which you can serve with baguette slices or Triscuits (my favorite) or pretzel chips or saltines or whatever, it doesn't matter.
f) sharpest white cheddar (I like the crumbly-crunchy Cornwall (?) cheddar at Costco, but Dubliner or whatever you can get cheap as long as it is razor-sharp) with honey or fig preserves or a good berry preserve or orange marmalade either poured over or served on the side, with bread or crackers

*My favorite tradition was our December game, where everyone would put in $20 (on top of their normal Bunco buy-in) and our hostess would get a side-heavy order from Honeybaked Ham so we could have Sidestravaganza, plus a ton of dinner rolls and some dessert. People love sides.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:22 PM on April 24, 2017 [7 favorites]

When you need a more filling snack, chicken wings are great. They're one of the cheapest meats and you can buy them in alarming quantity if desired, and take well to many different preparations and cuisines. Also they are pretty kid friendly if that's an issue.

Right now my favorite way to do chicken wings is Korean style but lazy, so not the perfectly crunchy double fried world famous Korean fried chicken, but instead I marinade wings in a combination of gojuchang, doenchang, toasted sesame oil, a little brown sugar and scallions. Usually overnight but just a couple hours works fine. All of those ingredients are pretty cheap and last virtually forever in the fridge. Then I bake them in the oven on parchment (that is one sticky marinade!) on medium heat until cooked through, and crank it up to high heat to caramelize some for the last ten minutes or so. Spicy, sweet, savory, awesome.

If you have a little money to invest, a lot of party food becomes way cheaper to make at home if you have a good food processor that won't pummel everything but can still handle fibrous items. Fruit salsas in particular are a real bang for your buck situation when you make them at home. Mango, cilantro, onion, lime, and jalapeƱo is a classic, but for whatever fruit is in season there are a million salsa recipes. And of course when the tomatoes are good you can't beat simple pico de gallo. Hummus and other bean dips of all types are much cheaper made from scratch and even taste better if they have had a day to sit in the fridge. I like dip made with butter beans, garlic, lemon, dill, and good olive oil. Black bean dip is awesome and takes well to stronger flavorings and goes great with bell pepper strips.
posted by Mizu at 7:45 PM on April 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Sardine Rillettes, sardine croquetas (or just grilled sardines, same page), taramasalata

Less fishy: chorizo, meatballs, nth chicken wings (deserving of multiple !!!s)

Less fleshy: olives, grilled red peppers with garlic & olive oil, def a hummus or bean dip

with: crusty bread, salad (eg spinach, shredded cabbage, walnuts), yogurt
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:07 PM on April 24, 2017

Oil popped popcorn is really easy, really cheap, and was quite the hit during a period when I was often hosting post-dinner meetings at my house. Just put some oil w/ a high smoke point (I use canola) in a pot along w/ 3 kernels. Turn heat to low-medium, and once at least 2/3 pop, add a bunch more in to cover the bottom. Leave the lid cracked just a bit to let some steam escape so the popcorn ends up crunchy and not chewy. Let it go 'till the pot's full or you get even the slightest sniff of burnanation. It's better to have a handful of unpopped kernels than have the whole batch taste off. The end result is gluten-free, and guests can put whatever toppings they want on it. I'm partial to Old Bay myself.

Key thing, get good kernels! I buy some white kernels from a local popcorn shop. Google shows several in your city, such as Tom's.
posted by eelgrassman at 9:19 PM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hummus is cheap and easy to make at home. Also, grapes belong on most party shopping lists, as cheap crowd pleasers.
posted by salvia at 9:44 PM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Chocolate Caramel Cracker Crackle is delicious and pretty cheap to make.
Matzo or saltines (I prefer saltines, placed in the pan with the salted side down) topped with butter-sugar caramel, and chocolate chips.

Veggie tray with some unusual vegetables- I like sugar snap peas and sliced fennel bulbs. Served with hummus or that homemade dip where you mix onion soup powder into sour cream.

If you have a Costco membership, you can get big chunks of pre-cooked meat for cheap- like brisket or corned beef. Slice, broil til warm, serve on a wooden cutting board with nice mustard and bread.

Cold watermelon slices are so good in hot weather!

Sara Lee frozen pound cake is so good. Maybe puree some Costco frozen fruit chunks (like berries or mango) and drizzle over top.

Super thin frozen lamb chops if you can get them. They're about $17/box. Broil or fry for 2 minutes on each side, and add salt. The party will fall eerily silent as everyone gnaws on them with their eyes half-closed.

A wheel of brie, baked in the oven and drizzled with honey or fruit puree (blueberry is nice), and served with a baguette.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:02 PM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding popcorn. It is super easy to have interesting flavors. For fancy flavors, try Bloody Mary Popcorn or Herbed Buttermilk Popcorn. Buttermilk powder makes popcorn taste amazing cheesy, like smartfood.

How do you feel about baking? Because making your own focaccia or bread is really easy with a scale and a stand mixer (it's totally doable without, but if you've never done this before, this makes it super easy). I use the bread recipe from Ratio by Michael Ruhlman. He's got different flavor suggestions, too, like olive walnut or rosemary and roasted garlic.

Or, make or pick up balls of pizza dough and throw together pizzas or flatbreads. Trader Joe's has gluten free pizza crusts available, though I haven't tried them. My GF sister-in-law likes baking with Cup4Cup, though a lot of gluten-free folks would prefer to have prepackaged things to stuff made by someone else (where they have no control/guarantees against over cross contamination, etc.).
posted by carrioncomfort at 6:59 AM on April 25, 2017

Oh, an cheap adult beverage suggestion: shandies! Equal parts lemonade and beer. Alternately, equal parts ginger soda (the real gingery spicy stuff is best) with beer. A lighter-in-flavor (not as in 'lite') works better than, say, stout. Light, refreshing and easily scale-able.
posted by carrioncomfort at 7:02 AM on April 25, 2017

I'm going to add that popping popcorn doesn't require a dedicated appliance. A large pot with a lid works just fine.

I'm a big fan of hummus & babaganoush with fresh raw veggies as a party platter. It's healthy, vegan, and mixes well with crackers and cheese.
posted by Cranialtorque at 8:39 AM on April 25, 2017

Beverage - wine spritzers: A bottle of white wine, seltzer water (I like lime-flavored, but plain and other flavors work, too) with 4-6 citrus fruits (lemon, lime, orange) cut and squeezed into the mix... I just plop the squeezed fruits into the pitcher with the rest of the ingredients. Especially good on a hot summer day.
posted by sarajane at 10:33 AM on April 25, 2017

Seconding suggestions that when you are hosting, you can ask guests to bring a snacky food to share. Also, Puppy Chow!
posted by beandip at 2:50 PM on April 25, 2017

Yes, popcorn, but... THIS POPCORN.

Also, our board game night go-to was just a bunch of Trader Joe's/Costco frozen hors d'oeurves and wine which was totally cheap, easy, and delicious, am I missing something?
posted by athirstforsalt at 12:22 AM on April 29, 2017

« Older What made you feel confident again?   |   Could somebody please explain Skype to me? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.