Reader Question: How To Feed Guests Easily and Inexpensively

Sheila wrote:

I have a spring and summer filled with guests coming into town. I am looking for easy and healthy go-to recipes to serve that won’t break my grocery budget. I’d love to serve pasta everyday, but I know that isn’t an option! I need help from those that host a lot of people or are good at hospitality to chime in!

Hi, Sheila!  Great question, and I have to tell you that I am so excited for you and all the time you will get to spend visiting with friends and family.  I love it when people come to visit us and the big way I show people love is to cook them food so your question got me excited!

To keep the budget in check when serving a lot of people, I like to serve several side dishes along with the meat – for instance, serve a salad, corn on the cob, macaroni and cheese, and watermelon along with hamburgers.  (Yes, this is more work, but no one said keeping the budget low would be effortless.)


I also typically put the meat at the end of the buffet line to encourage people to fill up on the cheaper side dishes rather than stuff themselves with meat.  And, many kids would just as soon eat a hot dog as a hamburger so don’t discount having cheaper options for the young ones.  Rolls or other types of bread are great cheap fillers for many meals.

Here’s another post with a lot of similar tips: save big by preventing food waste at picnics and parties.

When we have guests coming into town, I usually spend the week before cooking up a storm.  I love to cook and spoil my guests with delicious food, but if I don’t get it done ahead of time, I’ll spend all the time my guests are there in the kitchen and that is usually quite uncomfortable for everyone involved.  If you do things ahead of time – even simple things like forming hamburger patties – getting meals on the table will be a cinch and clean up will be much faster, and you’ll be able to relax and enjoy time with your guests!


A challenge to this, at least for me, is refrigerator and freezer space – my refrigerator usually ends up looking like the one above.  You kind of have to be strategic about the types of things you prepare and the containers you put them in or you might run out of room. :/

One of the things that I like to do when we have guests coming into town is freeze cookie dough ahead of time and then you can bake it when you are ready for it.  You can also bake cookies ahead of time and freeze them; I just like to have cookies fresh from the oven!  You can also freeze muffin batter ahead of time and it makes it easy to have fresh muffins for breakfast.  My granola bars recipe is also really good to make ahead and freeze the bars (we actually prefer these from the refrigerator or freezer).

If your guests offer to help with the food, do take them up on the offer but do it strategically.  Obviously, this is going to vary depending on who your guests are, how they are traveling, and their own budget.  I find that it’s usually easiest to have your guests provide all the food for one meal than to try to have them contribute to various meals.  This usually ends up being easier for both of you because you don’t have to coordinate who’s doing what, and it leaves your guests free to just order pizza for everyone if that’s what’s easiest for them.


I usually prefer to use glass dishes (yeah, even outside – I’m weird) but when we will have guests that will be eating several meals with us, I buy paper plates for ease of cleanup, and sometimes will buy disposable pans, too.  You don’t want your guests or yourself to be stuck in the kitchen loading the dishwasher and washing dishes, so it’s a good idea to stock up on paper goods even if you don’t normally use them much.

I hope you have a great time with your guests, Sheila!  Please, everyone else, share your tips on feeding guests easily and inexpensively!



  1. I freeze a spiral ham and/or pork ribs fam pack when they go on sale for under $1.50/#, serve with fluffy mashed potatoes (real, not fake) and sale fresh veggies, or roasted canned veggies for a special meal (usually 1st night) cost is usually around $15 total to serve 12 adults.

    Left overs are used for quiches with a potato crust, and a build your “own” pizza bar using homemade dough from the 5 min a day bread book. The pizzas are actually full size, and we pair up & share. The toppings range from chopped leftover meat and veggies to canned pineapple, onions, potatoes and random one servings worth of leftover sides. Pizzas are served right off of our glass cutting boards they are cut on as they come out of the oven (3 at a time max)

    I also make baked ziti. Most of our friends & family think this is a huge treat. Think lasagna that is stirred together instead of layered. Easy and quick. As a bonus you can use left over pasta from a previous meal (not spaghetti though) and fresh bread from the leftover dough made for pizza night.

    I like to plan my meals to be something a little different for visitors, but still budget friendly. To save on prep time I plan meals that can use similar parts near each other (ex. put leftovers in containers instead of baggies to use for pizza bar easily, chop up leftover ham for use in future meal during clean up.)

    For breakfast I’m a huge fan of pancakes. I serve them with homemade jam which cuts way down on the amount of syrup used.
    Overnight french toast is a great special crowd pleaser. It uses a loaf of day old discount bread, a little vanilla, milk and eggs. Mix it together the night before, pop in the fridge to soak overnight and pop in the oven the next morning for an hour. You can stuff it with cream cheese & fruit to get fancy. I’ll also serve with a side of turkey bacon or sausage.

    I like to keep it flexible. I don’t plan exactly what meal I’ll make every night, instead I have options laid out that will be made throughout the stay and can choose what fits our schedule/needs best each day.

  2. Making large sides (like pasta salad, potato salad, etc) that can be used for multiple meals can help. It is usually cheaper to make a larger batch of something and then have the leftovers- and with sides if you change the main dish it doesn’t really feel like leftovers. Same for reusing the same main item (ie buy one large ham and have ham and sides one day, then ham & bean soup with the bone and leftover meat another). Soups and stews always feed a lot of people and aren’t usually as expensive to make.

  3. I have 6 adults (my twins 20, a visitor from Germany for a year 18 and my 25 year old nephew plus me and my husband and will have 6 visitors for 2 weeks – so we’ll be 12 total. Whew!! So, I appreciate all the ideas. They were common sense for the most part and I agreed with everything. Wish I had a basement fridge…. I only have a small freezer. Anyway, thank you for all the helpful comments and ideas. I’ll start to make a list and have my husband encrust and grill a huge piece of meat so we can use that for a lot of meals in various forms. A GREAT Jamie Oliver recipe is a cauliflower macaroni casserole. It’s like mac and cheese, but has half veggies. SO good, huge and will feed a lot of people.

Please abide by our comment policy.