Inexpensive Meals for Large Groups – Feed Friends on a Dime!

Jan 21, 2022 | Entertain, Food, Lifestyle

Looking for a way to feed a crowd that doesn't totally blow your budget?! We can help! These inexpensive meals for large groups are the perfect way to keep guests AND your wallet happy.

Group of friends gathered around a table from Fun Cheap or Free.

Feeding a crowd can be stressful. For one, it can be soooo dang expensive. But also, what on earth can you serve to a large crowd that will make everyone happy?! Well, fret no more, Freebs.

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We've got a list of great inexpensive meals for large groups that will satisfy the masses and keep your wallet in check! Trust us, follow these tips and you'll be the hostess with the mostess in no time. Let's get to it!


LET THEM CONTRIBUTE

First of all, it is more than okay to let your guests bring something to contribute to the meal. Everyone loves a good ole fashioned potluck, right?! Ask guests to bring a side dish, dessert or even a beverage to share. Either way, guests are usually more than happy to bring something which will ease some of the financial burdens off of you.

Not sure how to make the request? Send a simple text like this: “Dinner at our house. Bring a side, your kids, and let's party!” Trust us, nobody will get offended by that!


MAKE A PASTA BAR

Baked ziti in a baking dish from Fun Cheap or Free.

Pasta is one of the cheapest and most filling pantry staples you can buy, and that's exactly why it's the perfect food to feed to a crowd! Plus, everyone loves a good pasta dish. Grab yourself a buffet server warming tray so you can pop your cooked pasta inside and keep it warm all evening long!


WHAT TO SERVE ON A PASTA BAR

The possibilities are absolutely endless! Here are some of our favorite dishes to serve on a pasta bar!

Pro Tip: Once you drain your pasta, make sure to toss it with a healthy dose of olive oil so it doesn't all stick together. Also, spray your food buffet warmers with cooking spray before putting anything in them so nothing sticks!


HOT DOG BAR

Hot dogs can be very inexpensive and are a great way to satisfy your meat-loving friends! Grab some cheap buns and value-sized condiment bottles and let everyone make their own dog how they like it! Here are some of our favorite condiment options.

  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Sweet Relish
  • Grated Cheese
  • Chili
  • Jalapeรฑos

Toss a few bags of chips out, heat up some baked beans, or whip up some of our tasty southern potato salad as a side. Don't forget, ask your guests to bring a side so your wallet doesn't take a hit! Psst..check out this post for creative ways to use up leftovers from a party!


SOUP BUFFETS ARE SOUP-ER

Two bowls of loaded baked potato soup from Fun Cheap or Free.

Feeding a group in the cold weather months? Warm up a crowd with a buffet of different soups! Soups are typically very affordable to make and stretch a long way. Pair with cornbread, french bread, and crackers for a cheap way to fill everyone up!

Here are some of our easiest and most affordable soups to make! Toss the soup in a crockpot and set it to warm for the perfect serving vessel.

Create a topping station with the works like cheese, jalapeรฑos, nuts and seeds, and whatever else you may like to throw on top of your soup. That way everyone can mix and match and make their soup exactly how they want it.


MORE INEXPENSIVE MEALS FOR LARGE GROUPS

Here are even more ideas to help you feed a crowd on a budget!

And there you have it friendsโ€”inexpensive meals for large groups that are easy, too! See, we told you there were lots of ways to feed a crowd on the cheap!

What is your favorite way to feed a crowd on a budget? Tell us in the comments below!


Want more affordable party ideas?

Happy eating!

29 Comments

  1. Debi

    I love the pasta bar idea.I cook for friends and family alot and am totally going to use your idea.
    Please write more ideas for good inexpensive entertaining .I love it!

    Reply
    • FunCheapOrFree

      Your wish is my command, I promise to do more! XOXO

      Reply
  2. Jill

    This was such a good reminder to me. I have the crockpot server and the buffet server. I am going to bring them out more often! I really liked how you explained your shopping for the parties. That is where my education is lacking. And you make your spaghetti like I make mine with canned sauce as the base. I like adding stewed tomatoes, too, if I have them on hand because it gives me a few more tastes! Really good to see how you bring together multiple parties.

    Reply
    • FunCheapOrFree

      Thanks Jill! XOXOXO

      Reply
  3. Joyce Tompkins

    What is a frog eye salad??? Thanks for sharing…I was really wondering how you managed all that entertaining. I wish my Walmart was better at price matching and was a full Walmart….it’s hit or miss to get the price matching. But I’ve learned I can go to two grocery stores and stick to my lists!

    Reply
    • Joyce Tompkins

      OMGoodness this sounds really good! And since I’ve been doing Deals to Meals for a bit I have almost everything but the pasta. My mom needs gluten free but I’m sure I’ll find a great substitute for the ancini de pepe. Thanks!

      Reply
  4. Alyshia

    Thanks so much for this post!! Not only did we decide this next month will be our February FREEZE {just my way of saying a financial fast, lol}, but we are having a few friends over for the Super Bowl. GO HAWKS!! I also just found out our friends from Idaho are visiting and want to do dinner Monday. AND then to top it off, on Tuesday we are doing a pasta bar for my son’s first birthday {totally coping your idea from previous posts} so this couldn’t be better timing! It’s all right here. Stress is gone. Planning. is. done. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
    • FunCheapOrFree

      Yay! Let me know how it goes!

      Reply
      • Alyshia

        Everything went great – For the Superbowl we had everything in a crockpot ready to go when we got home from church, cooked up hammies real quick and watched the game! Yay Hawks! And my babes 1st birthday was an absolute HOOT – thanks so much for your easy planning ideas for meals. It seriously saved the day – it was so easy ๐Ÿ™‚

        Reply
  5. Debbie

    Ok, this would have done me in for a long time! I stress over having ONE party, much less …….I lost count….but, I would have been a mess!

    I do love the idea of the warming tray and multi-crockpot thingy! What a perfect way to host a dinner! Maybe if I had one of those I would be a better hostess ๐Ÿ™‚ You think?

    Anyway, great job!

    Reply
    • FunCheapOrFree

      Thanks! I don’t even think of it as a “party” any more, because when I think “party” I think decor, theme, take-home gifts…hyperventilation. It’s more of a “hey, let’s eat dinner…and have some friends over at the same time.” Mentally it’s what helps me. Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  6. Kelli

    Everything looked delicious! Wanted to share something I found on Pinterest (where else??)… You can use your crock pot to cook hot dogs and they are SO good! Just dump however many hot dogs you need in your crock pot, turn it on low, cover, and you’re good to go in a few hours. They taste like they’ve been roasted… Which essentially I guess they have. We did this for my daughter’s first birthday party, and everyone raved about how good they were. And, for people to say that about a hot dog… It’s got to be good, right?!

    Reply
    • FunCheapOrFree

      Awesome, thanks for sharing!!!

      Reply
  7. Britni

    Looks like you had a fun weekend! ๐Ÿ™‚ Could you elaborate more how you clean/re-clean your house for multiple parties/guests in a weekend. I would think having all of those kiddos over would make a tornado out of your house. Mine is usually a wreck when we have playdates with my daughter’s friends. It takes me a good day to get it back in order! Thanks, Jordan!

    Reply
    • FunCheapOrFree

      That’s an amazing question! I think I’ll do a post on that, actually! In brief, it’s really not that bad! We focus on the main floor. We just vacuum, put toys away, wipe down the toilet/sing/mirror in the bathroom, and wipe everything down in the kitchen before guests arrive. I lock my bedroom because it’s always a disaster 100% of the time. I have the kids pick up their own rooms. I only pick up the basement at about 75% because that’s where all the toys are and I know it will be a disaster anyway. Oh, and be sure to light a candle!! Having a good scent in the house makes all the difference. We start this at the “1.5 hour before guests arrive” mark and everything is usually looking great with 30 minutes to go. But I’ll be sure to do a post on this!

      Reply
  8. Debbie

    Jordan, do your friends ever reciprocate? I find that once you become the “inviter” others seem to count on you to do so and forget that you might actually like to go to their house once in a while. And some just refuse to invite….ever.

    Reply
    • FunCheapOrFree

      I absolutely agree. It’s true, hardly anyone ever invites us over. But it’s not because they don’t want to hang out, it’s because hosting can be intimidating for people. We find that when we have people over we usually end with “we should do this again sometime!” and they say “our place next!” and we put something on the calendar right then and there. I go through phases where I’m sick of hosting all the time and say “I’m done, I’m going to let someone else throw the parties for a while.” And you want to know what happens? Nothing. We sit around, bored every weekend, not doing anything. I’ve learned that if you want fun to happen, you usually have to make it happen yourself. I used to sit around moping that we weren’t invited to this, that, or the other…and realized…I just need to stop waiting for everyone else to come to me and make OUR house the party house! It would be nice to go to other people’s houses and parties more than we do, but again, I’d rather hang out with good friends at our house than not at all. Plus, that way we don’t have to hire a babysitter ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Reply
      • Debbie

        This is exactly what happens to us! We actually host several “front porch singing” nights per year and everyone has a great time, but that’s where it ends.

        And, like you, I sometimes wonder if everyone is partying without us or they are just content to be at home doing their own thing.

        After a while, I can’t stand it any longer so I host another get-together ๐Ÿ™‚

        I guess we’re just “people” people ๐Ÿ™‚

        Reply
        • Rachel

          I know this is old now but thought I would weigh in…I would LOVE to host but my house is small even if it’s clean and tidy and just not suitable for having more than 4-5 people in at any one time. I get super embarrassed when more than 4 people come over at a time and it becomes evident that there’s no room. I would much rather attend someone else’s house and bring a dish because I love to cook and help clean up the kitchen than be embarrassed. Definitely not trying to be rude or lazy by not hosting, it just isn’t practical for the next few years sadly ๐Ÿ™ please don’t think it is rudeness.

          Reply
  9. AmyO

    I really appreciate posts like this! Rather than just telling us to be frugal you showed us a real life example. And you covered so many different topics, from crockpots to your simple recipes to how to recycle your food. Makes it seem so easy. I am one to get overwhelmed with the whole idea, so I never invite people over. Thanks for all this great advice!!

    Reply
    • FunCheapOrFree

      Thanks for the comment, so nice of you!! I’m glad you enjoyed it ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
  10. Lydia

    Could you share any other uses for your crock pot server? Just scored one for super cheap but not sure where to find ideas for how to get good use out of it! Thanks!

    Reply
    • FunCheapOrFree

      Yes! I actually like to use it for dinner. If I’m making pasta at home, for example, I’ll use one for the sauce, one for the meatballs, and one to warm the sliced french bread (or I’ll just turn it off). Soup is another good one. I’ll make soup in one, cook up some veggies in the other, and warm bread in the third. It’s great for all parties and that’s mainly what I use it for though!

      Reply
  11. Jessica

    One of my favorite posts!! Thanks, Jordan ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
    • FunCheapOrFree

      So glad you liked it, thanks for reading!

      Reply
  12. Heather B

    I have been eyeing that three crockpot unit for a long time! So convenient!

    Reply
  13. Kamryn Carlson

    Now I can have more friends over without it breaking the bank! Yay!

    Reply
  14. Krista Sidhu

    Wow! I so needed these tips! Our New Years resolution was to have people over for dinner more often! Iโ€™m going to look into that warming tray

    Reply

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