Just Say No To Store-Bought Food Platters – Save Money By Making Your Own Party Trays

by Andrea

Consignment And Thrift Stores, Costco, Frugal Tips, Grocery Shopping, Party Tips, z1

Following are my best tips to serve 35 guests party food on a budget, plus ideas for making your own party trays.

I tend to be a bit more generous with my food budget when I’m entertaining or serving others. For example:

  • I shop at the best supermarket in the area — so I know I’m serving the freshest foods.
  • I purchase the best cuts of meat — even asking for the butcher’s advice.
  • I splurge on restaurant-brand condiments — instead of buying store-brand items.

However, presenting the best party foods to friends and family doesn’t necessarily mean spending tons of money.

Here are some my frugal party tips that I’ve shared before.

One thing I don’t do is buy store-bought food platters anymore!

Here’s why…

I Save Money Making My Own Party Trays

I  was recently granted the task of serving lunch to a cast of 35 teenage actors and stage crew.

Since my children’s reputation among their peers was at risk (I realize this sounds dramatic, but they’re tweens), I wanted to give them the best that I could — at a price of $5 or less a head, which is what each child paid.

After scouring the sale ads at the best store in the area, I put together a lunch menu that I knew would make everyone happy.

Here’s what I bought:

I still had enough money left over for an elaborate vegetable tray. However, I didn’t have it in me to pay $49 for a vegetable tray that I knew didn’t have $49 worth of food on it.

Therefore, what I did was spend $26 on vegetables and a disposable aluminum tray, and I made my own — for almost half the price.

I didn’t need any fancy kitchen items. And if you’re like me, you probably already have these on hand anyway:

  • Vegetable peeler
  • Spray bottle for vinegar rinse
  • Serving tray or platter
  • Cutting board
  • Good knife

I don’t really like the fruit dip and veggie dip that tends to come on store-bought party trays. It’s really easy to make your own.

For some ideas, check out these super tasty veggie dip recipes and fruit dip recipes to die for!

The best part was my simple party tray had twice as many veggies as the store-made platter, and at half the cost! 

Everyone was happy with my food platter, and I had quite a bit of money left over to add to the goodies at the cast party.

The Cheapest Time To Host A Party

If saving money is your goal (isn’t it always?), here’s my tip for deciding on a time for your party:

Host the party mid-day (after lunch and before dinner) — because guests will only have 10 to 15 bites per person during this time!

If you have the party around dinnertime (like 7PM or later), your guests are probably going to expect
dinner and likely haven’t eaten since lunch — so you’d have to plan on more bites per person.

Think about what you eat at parties:

  • At an afternoon party, I might visit the meat and cheese platter, have some veggies and dip, and have about 10 to 15 “bites”.
  • At an evening party, I’ll typically eat 20 to 25 bites of food.

That seems to be about average for most of us at parties.

As you can see, the most budget-friendly time to host a party is after lunch and before dinner — when the average number of “bites” per person is the smallest.

Save Money By Choosing The Right Party Foods

The same homemade party tray ideas above work for fruit trays and other food platters too — like cold meats, and crackers & cheeses.

Here’s a super helpful guide that shows how much the average person eats at a party:

Here are a couple of simple ways to save money on food when hosting a party:

  • Put a whole block of cheese out, and allow people to cut their own slices. Why? Guests are inclined to put fewer “slices” of cheese (that they have to cut themselves) on their plates than pre-cut “cubes”.
  • Serve a piece of cake or a slice of dessert instead setting out cookies, brownies, and other sweets that guests tend to stand and nibble on for awhile. When was the last time you had more than one piece of cake at a party? Even if I wanted to, I’d feel very self-conscious going in for more than one piece — at a party.
party food trays come in all shapes and sizes even if you make your own

To help you decide on the best party food to serve for a low-budget party, use these ideas as a springboard to create your own menu:

Save Money On Party Trays & Supplies

When it comes to organizing all the details of your party and the supplies that you’ll need — you can save money there too.

For example, you can find low-cost party supplies (like food platters and candles) at dollar stores. Also, shopping in bulk can save you money on food for DIY party trays and other party supplies as well.

Lastly, don’t forget about the non-foods items that you’ll also need for your party — like napkins, toilet paper, cups, plates, and silverware.

TIP: For plates and cups, the best thing to do is buy smaller plastic cups and plates for your party. Why? That way your guests will be forced to eat smaller serving amounts — as opposed to piling up food that they may not eat.