It’s so important to have a “go to” list for easy party foods that are made with real food, those items I can make quickly and without much thought when I have to bring a dish to pass to a big (hopefully peaceful) family gathering. Whether you’re hosting something yourself and need Mary’s tips for Stress-Free Entertaining or are traveling with food, If you are still looking for some healthy appetizers and homemade party food, you’re in luck!
When I bring food to a party, (whether it’s a football party, or a holiday party, or any other type of potluck get together) it must follow some if not all of the following qualifications:
- Real Food (whole ingredients, homemade, not processed)
- Not Too Expensive (is it tacky to say “cheap”?)
- Quick and Easy (often mutually exclusive with nos. 1 & 2, so this one is regularly compromised)
- Simple to Pack and Pass
Keeping these easy party food rules loosely in mind helps me to Eat Well, Spend Less when I’m sharing food or hosting a party, and that makes everyone happy.
Cheap and Easy Party Foods That Are Actually Healthy
By bringing one of these recipes to a party you can show that real food can be easy, DELICIOUS, and you don’t have to eat junk that will kill you just to have fun. Amen?
As good Kitchen Stewards, we don’t want to kill our budget just because it’s a party, and of course, we don’t have a lot of time to spare. BUT party appetizers can still be done in a healthy way, and you can find the 80/20 balance at the dessert table. 😉
Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I hope you find the perfect healthy recipe for your party. We’ll start with my favorite, the one that gets recipe requests all the time (and isn’t that the best compliment someone can give to a cook?).
Appetizers to Take to a Party
Spicy Cheesy Chicken Dip – This dip is much more cheesy than spicy, and it works awesome with tortilla chips, homemade crackers (these taste just like Wheat Thins but are homemade!), or carrots and red peppers. I swear, I think I could eat a whole meal of different dips and be blissfully happy, couldn’t you?
Easy Deviled Eggs – These are my ultimate favorite: cheap, easy, and recognizable as real food, no matter who you are! Click on the post to see how I include my kids as young as 3 and 4 in this process.
Fresh Baked Rolls – I use the breadmaker – almost as easy as purchasing and reheating! Always serve with real butter or a homemade spread. I’ve done Herbed Farmer’s Cheese in the past; we made it on TV recently!
Homemade Jalapeño Poppers – You may not think of something like these quick and easy jalapeño poppers as a healthy football game appetizer or potluck offering, but the way Lori makes them will make you a believer.
You could absolutely use jalapeños from the store any time of year, but I have a reminder in my Google calendar for every August to make a bunch and freeze them because jalapeños are a buck a pint. 😉 My idea was that it would be even EASIER to host or attend a Superbowl party in the winter (but I’m thinking we will get out 4-6 for every in-home date night to make it feel more like a restaurant)!
Tired of Unhealthy Choices at Every Social Gathering…
…and tired of watching your kids eat junk?
I’m happy to be able to offer you this free ebook with:
- 10 whole foods recipes that won’t break your budget
- Well-tested appetizers, salads, and desserts that every guest will recognize and enjoy
- Practical strategies for sharing healthy food with others
- And the valuable secret to getting kids to eat real food in the face of a rich buffet spread…
Famous Mexi-Chip Dip from The Everything Beans Book – this is an often requested appetizer at family functions, and my family can eat half a tray of it easily ourselves! Now that my son knows how to cook, he likes to make his own and personalize it – and it’s good!!
Homemade Guacamole – There’s nothing super special about guacamole, BUT people recognize it, generally love it, and will often be impressed that you made it yourself.
If you have kids, it’s a great recipe to teach them to make (we use it in our online cooking class, the Kids Cook Real Food eCourse and I really like being able to go to a party and brag about my kids’ skills). We have homemade guac at least once a week or more as a dip for veggies with dinner.
If you want to add a little probiotic boost to your guacamole, check out my friend Wardee’s fermented version! Color me green with appreciation! 😉 Did you know you can even freeze guacamole? Get the how-to guide here.
Veggies and Homemade Dip – I like the Garlic Yogurt Cheese Dip from Healthy Snacks to Go; definitely an easy party food. I never buy store dip, because they always include soybean oil (why that’s yucky). The one shown above is Healthy Probiotic Avocado Dip and it’s definitely become a go-to for family Christmas since it’s way easier than the spicy chicken dip. #justnotime
Cultured Cheese Balls – While we’re on the topic of yogurt cheese, if you’ve got some adventurous people at your football party or potluck, these would be gorgeous as part of a cheese plate appetizer. I can imagine so many great herbs to dress them up or a pairing with jams or olives, since they could go sweet or savory at any moment! If the cheese is burping, the people watching the game will be right at home. 😉 You’ll get that better when you get to the part in the post about storage.
Homemade Ranch Dip – Everybody loves ranch, right? Skip the MSG, added sugar, and weird industrial fats that haven’t even been around 100 years – make your own. My 8yo can make a batch in about 5 minutes, and I’m even faster. I think. I’m kind of time-challenged, so we might be dead even actually. 😉
Regardless of the exact minute split between mother and daughter, this homemade ranch dressing or dip is so versatile, can be made with a variety of bases depending on what you have on hand, and is great on salads, as a veggie dip, or on sandwiches. We teach kids to make it in the Intermediate Level of our Kids Cook Real Food eCourse.
Homemade Hummus – It’s a classic! I told you I could feast on dips for an entire meal and be happy, and I think I’m proving it with all these party foods that you can dip into! Here at KS we have a simple blender hummus, which is awesome in case you don’t have a food processor, and Kristin at Live Simply steps it up with a roasted garlic version.
Wardee comes through again with the fermented version for the traditional foodie, a recipe passed down in her family through the generations. Bet you could apply that technique to the roasted garlic version for a killer healthy party dip that will make people wish it was in the commercials at the Super Bowl!
Tex-Mex White Bean Dip (GAPS Legal) – If you’re struggling with gut issues, hummus can be a killer because of the beans and the tahini (sesame seeds). This gentle dip with white beans (GAPS legal) is packed with flavor from smoked paprika, chipotle powder and more, and it’s allergy friendly to boot.
One more way to get those veggies to look more attractive to everyone…
Pea Pesto Appetizer – I learned this recipe from a chef at an ALDI event, and at 24c a serving, it will definitely help you keep your budget in check while you spoil the party people with a very posh-looking appetizer!
Salads and Sides to Share
Because of portability issues, I prefer to bring cold side dishes whenever possible, and grains and potatoes fall squarely into the “inexpensive” foods category. I don’t really make pasta salad anymore, sadly, but if you do, the versions below are absolutely delicious.
Cooked Spelt Salad – for the adventuresome family members, here’s a perfect alternative to pasta salad that includes lots of veggies and a yummy balsamic vinaigrette dressing.
Potato Salad – I bring this every year to the big Christmas dinner; it’s my favorite dish to keep if I have leftovers, too, so I make a BIG bowl!
Pasta Salad Bar – Feed a crowd cheaply and easily with a pasta salad bar. Fun for the guests to build their own customizable party food, too!
Spicy Buffalo Potato Wedges – If you’re in the mood for heat, or if your husband is like mine, this will definitely impress. He was so geeked when I figured these out for a Superbowl party a few years back! You can make these potato wedges lightly seasoned for kids and wimpy people and turn up the HEAT for the crazy ones.
I even made homemade “Frank’s” hot sauce for it the next summer so it was super authentic. They’ve become a Superbowl Sunday tradition for us!
Black Bean & Avocado Starter Salad – We always joke that we’re not sure WHAT to call this black bean and avocado recipe, but it always goes over great. Sometimes it’s a salad, sometimes a dip for chips, sometimes a topping for tacos or quesadillas.
If lime, cilantro and avocado make you smile, this one is for you! Use as much or as little jalapeño as you can handle. 😉 And if you’re in a warmer climate than I am and have fresh tomatoes available, pair it with this Roma Fresco from Traditional Cooking School.
Cabbage Salad with Goat Cheese or Feta – Need a little something lighter (and less expensive) than bacon and dried fruit?
This simple cabbage salad gets rave reviews every time I serve it, and I can whip up a batch in about 5-7 minutes because I know the recipe by heart and just throw stuff in without measuring carefully! It gets a little zing from either goat cheese or feta (guess which one is more budget-friendly?) and of course cabbage is a powerhouse in that it lasts forever, looks great and never wilts, and is soooo inexpensive. Love it.
A salad may not seem like the perfect appetizer, but people will appreciate the bright color and flavor among other heavy dishes. Bring forks!
Tips For Hosting a Frugal Party
I was fortunate to visit the ALDI Test Kitchen a few years ago, and Chef Brigitte Nguyen treated us to an engaging presentation on “Where to Spend and Where to Save” when entertaining. She uses a lot of the time and money-saving strategies that I already espouse (or at least know about and have good intentions of doing!), and her style is simply uncomplicated, to the point, and focused on making people smile with her food and party atmosphere.
Some of her tips were just golden:
- Set up small appetizer trays around the room(s) so that everyone isn’t crammed into the kitchen hovering over you while you do the last few things.
- Speaking of cooking during your party – her make-ahead tips are fabulous. Anything you can do beforehand, including planning a menu that doesn’t require much hands-on work in the moment, is your best option.
- Instead of having a vast array of drinks to choose from or spending all your socializing time making a fancy signature cocktail, choose simple wines that fit each course and only serve those.
- Don’t stress about dessert. She’s a huge homemade-from-scratch gal, but if you’re running out of time and bandwidth for a party, a few specialty cookies or dark chocolates make a beautiful dessert, and she even provides little goodie bags so people don’t feel like they have to stuff themselves just to try everything.
I wish I had these tips on hand when we hosted Thanksgiving a few years back – I made some mistakes and began to polish my own plans for finding time to host a big holiday party, but these are really good too.