Cheap Potluck Ideas

Buy ground beef in bulk and prepare tasty hamburgers at home, then freeze or cook.
Buy ground beef in bulk and prepare tasty hamburgers at home, then freeze or cook. (Image: NA/ Images)

Sunshine and long summer days call for potlucks more than any other season. The cost of feeding friends can be hefty if paying alone. Invite each friend to bring a type of dish. Save money by purchasing things that are reusable such as tablecloths, and reusable plastic plates and plastic utensils, the type used for camping. Make a grocery list with a budget and estimate the cost for each item before shopping. The following ideas are for groups of about eight people.

Seasonal Appetizers

Cheap and satisfying appetizers are important for any potluck. Check out fruit that is in season, which is usually cheaper and sweeter than fruit out of season. Seasonal summer fruits are cherries, watermelon and strawberries. Watermelon works great as a bowl for presenting fruit. Slice the watermelon in half and remove the pulp with a melon baller and then replace the fruit and cover with plastic wrap until time to serve.

Prepare Meats in Advance

Buy meat in bulk. Prepare delicious meats in advance at home rather than buying them premade, which can be expensive. For hamburgers, mix 3 pounds of ground beef with one egg, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Mix well with chopped onions, shape into hamburgers and keep in the refrigerator if cooking soon or freeze if preparing in advance.

For chicken, place 2 pounds of skinless, boneless chicken breasts in a quart plastic bag with desired amount of barbecue sauce or the juice from two lemons, rosemary and a pinch of salt. Seal the bag and freeze the chicken or marinate if cooking soon.

Side Dishes

Cheap salads are pasta salad, cucumber and tomato salad, and potato salad. Pasta salad is the cheapest to make. Boil enough water for 1 cup of rigatoni; boil the pasta for nine minutes. Drain. Toss the pasta with 2 teaspoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, a pinch of oregano, and washed and halved cherry tomatoes. Chill and serve. Cucumbers are in season during the summer and are cheap. Wash and slice three cucumbers. Chop two tomatoes and toss with the cucumbers in olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt. Serve chilled.


Choose desserts that don't need to be frozen and that hold up well in the cooler. Make a gelatin of several layers in different colors and flavors such as lime on the bottom and pineapple on the top. Begin by making one batch first. Mix in chopped fruits and nuts such as apple, raisins and walnuts. Let it set. When set, pour the second layer in a different color over the solid first layer. Keep in the container until time to serve.

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