Party planning can be a challenge if you are on a tight budget and also have time constraints. I always want to make everything myself instead of serving store bought food, but it isn’t always possible. It is time consuming and often just too tiring, so some compromise is always in order. I usually bake only one item, the item that costs most which in most cases is the cake or cupcakes. Then I add in something simple that is purchased such as cookies. Basic cookies such as oatmeal or chocolate chip go a long way and are generally inexpensive while also being a classic favorite that almost everyone enjoys. Cookies are not difficult to make, but if you factor in baking and clean up time, it is well worth it to buy some items, especially baked goods.
For appetizers, I make the simple items such as the fruit and vegetable platters the night before. It costs a lot less than buying a pre-made platter and fruit and vegetable platters are among the easiest party platter staples to make. As you can see, you can “cheat” a little, by purchasing pre-washed baby carrots, bite sized tomatoes which you simply have to wash, and it’s very easy to just wash a cucumber and cut it into slices. The broccoli was purchased in pre-cut form as well.
A fruit platter doesn’t need to be fancy or time consuming. Most fruit platters have pineapple and a melon assortment which require a lot of chopping. While they are colorful and cost effective, you may not have the time or energy to cut everything and buying a pre-made platter can get in the way of your budget.
Creating a fruit platter with fruits that simply need to be washed is a great alternative. Fruits such as grapes (which usually come in 3 different colors at my local grocery store), and berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries) can provide a nice colorful variety for a fruit platter. They are also easier to eat since you don’t need a fork to eat them.
Pasta is also easy to make, while inexpensive and can be great for both regular diets and vegetarian diets depending on what you put in them. Pastas are a great make ahead item as well since many of them can be easily frozen and heated the day of the party.
Depending on your budget, having dinner rolls, artisan bread or breadsticks would be great to go with the baked dish.
A big pot of soup, stew or chili is also a great option since they can also be easily homemade ahead of time and can be served with dinner rolls or some sort of bread.