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How To Throw A Dinner Party On A Budget

Impressive food doesn't have to cost the Earth.

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2. Your slow cooker is your friend.

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Cook up a big batch of pasta sauce, stew, tagine, chilli, curry, or soup in your slow cooker. Not only will it be cheap, because slow-cooked food uses cheaper cuts of meat or beans as a protein source, it cooks itself, leaving you to mingle with your guests.

3. Serve lots of small courses…

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Lots of small courses – think shot glasses of tomato soup served with mini cheese toasties as starters – can be cheaper than one large one, look really impressive, and are a fun talking point. Take inspiration by googling "tasting menus", and see what the fancy restaurants are serving for inspiration.

4. …or one massive one.

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Pork or lamb shoulder is relatively cheap portion-for-portion and looks mightily impressive when carved at the table.

Pad the meal out with lots of cheaper vegetable side dishes.

6. Serve simple cocktails instead of wine.

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You can get a nice bottle of prosecco for £6 or under (and cava is even cheaper at around £4), but to make it stretch further, top it up with some lemonade, soda water, or elderflower cordial, and add a dash of limoncello.

7. Set up a drinks or food bar, and let people serve themselves.

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A prosecco/taco/ice cream bar provides a focal point and an activity to keep people busy.

All you need to do is provide the main item (the drink/taco/ice cream) and a set of dishes with garnishes and toppings.

This can be far cheaper than providing options for fussy guests, as they can serve themselves. And if you only provide toppings and accompaniments (fresh berries, grated cheese, sliced peppers) that you can either use up in the next few days or freeze, there won't be any food waste either.

8. Have a make-your-own-pizza party.

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The same set up as above, but you use plain pizzas and offer a selection of toppings (and have to cook the pizzas before serving).

This would only work if you have a small number of guests, small pizzas, or a huge oven.

11. Serve exotic meat.

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Ostrich, kangaroo, wild boar, and venison is fairly cheap and is also a good talking point. Serve with mashed potato, a selection of jarred sauces, and roasted seasonal vegetables.

13. Presentation is everything.

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Making the food and drinks look good gives the illusion of FANCY. This can be as simple as snipping some fresh herbs over shop-bought food, swirling a glug of olive oil, and cracking some black pepper over soup, or using shop-bought herb plants in galvanised buckets as table decorations and providing scissors for your guests to snip stuff off and sprinkle on their own plates.

14. Go for a one-pot dish.

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One-pot dishes are simple to put together, can usually be made extremely cheaply, and save on time and washing up. Pasta/rice dishes are filling, stretch far, and can cost next to nothing.

It also creates a lovely atmosphere if you serve by putting it straight on the table and letting people help themselves, family style.

15. Or just do a pot luck.

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Tell everyone to bring one of the following: a starter, main, or dessert, and see what you end up with. The danger is you could end up with six starters and no main, but that's half the fun of it!

Fancy food doesn't have to mean fancy prices.

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