Three parties in three weeks. This is our December. Last week, Jason graduated law school! It’s been four-ish years in the making, and there was no way we weren’t celebrating.
Jason is not a guy who likes to make a big deal of things. I love any reason for a party. So our compromise was to host a celebration at home. We both have large families. Include our siblings, their children, and a few family friends, and we were at twenty-five guests!
I wanted to cater the whole thing, from start to finish. Jason didn’t want to spend a gazillion dollars. So I decided to challenge myself and see if we could host both families for just $125.00.
Growing up, I always wanted what I thought was a normal family. My parents were teens when they had me, so they were always so much younger than my friends parents. I had three younger siblings to help look after, and our home was always chaotic (because there were six of us!). As I have gotten older, I have to say I appreciate my family so much. To this day, when I see childhood friends they always ask about my parents. My mom always made sure everyone felt welcome, and if the house was a mess, so be it. We never went hungry, and we always felt loved. Those are my very favorite memories as a kid, now. And I try to embody that when I host my own family events. We ate from Chinet plates (sturdy!), and drank from plastic cups, because sometimes it’s more about the company, comforting food, and welcoming atmosphere, instead. Thank you, momma for teaching me that early on, even if I wasn’t always so aware of your talent for making everyone feel welcome.
We met our budget, and also did not. Let me explain: Jason requested I make my lasagna for this family shindig. Around the holidays, we always have lasagna. My mom is Italian; not so Italian we’ve ever had a Feast of the Seven Fishes, but lasagna always makes an appearance either on Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day. Some years I make it, some years, mom does.
So per Jason’s request, I made three lasagnas. I initially thought I’d need four, but three ended up being more than enough. We planned to feed twenty-five people, but in the end twenty showed up #leftovers
I also made sure to add a cheese board (we have so many crackers leftover from Sam’s Club), and lots of sangria in our budget. Dessert was paid for, by my mother in-law, which is why I say we did and did not meet budget. We did, without dessert for sure. Typically, you’re probably not looking to buy a store-bought deeeee-lish, albeit pricey cake – you can make a cake, or other dessert(s) for much less at home.
How to feed twenty-five people on a $125 budget ($5 PP):
Lasagna is a flavorful and hearty, yet inexpensive meal. I made the same lasagna I make every year – it’s a classic, and as much as I love experimenting, sometimes there’s no need to mess with a good thing. I purchased the same ingredients as my lasagna rolls, and just layered instead. Honestly, you can get this recipe from my lasagna roll post, but also a lot of the time from the back of a lasagna noodle box. Over time, you’ll make it your own, anyway – but this is a good starting point.
+ This time of year, most pasta is on sale at your local grocery. I snagged three boxes of lasagna noodles at $1.79/box. My fave tomato sauce (not sponsored, seriously when I make homemade sauce, Tuttorosso is my favorite) 28-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes were on sale 10/$10. I bought three cans – two for lasagna, and one for an extra side of sauce, at serving.
+ Instead of a bolognese sauce with beef, at the last minute I subbed for ground sausage – ground sausage, was on sale at $3.79/lb, which saved me $1.50 per pound. I usually mix ground beef, with ground sausage, or just ground beef, but this year everyone said they actually preferred the ground sausage to the mix. If you’re sticking to a budget, look for a protein that is on sale (I suggest ground beef, ground sausage, sausage links (you can remove from casing), or turkey). You can also forgoe meat, if you’re guests aren’t huge meat eaters – some people would rather have a rich tomato sauce, and call it a day. Know your people.
+ We had vegetarian guests attending, so for a veggie lasagna, I made this Creamy Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna – um this was a huge hit! Frozen spinach was BOGO, so I only paid for one package of spinach (this recipe called for two). Plus less meat, equals less expense.
+ I love trying new cheeses! My family, and Jason’s family aren’t into all of that. So I mixed my cheese board with goat cheese, havarti, cheddar slices, and mozzarella pearls. Instead of artisan meats, I stuck with prepackaged/pre sliced pepperoni and sausage. I also added green olives, kalamata olives, and pickles. Most of those garnishes, you can buy for under $3/jar. Again, know your people. If they would appreciate and enjoy a fancier plate, then maybe make more veggie lasagna, than meat and splurge on your cheese board, instead.
+ Sangria is such an inexpensive drink to make. I always add a cup or so of liquor to my wine mix, but you don’t have to if you don’t have it on hand. I dice the fruit small, and it goes a long way in a pitcher. Since we did have a party the weekend before, we had tons of leftover beer, and water so for us this was a bonus.
+ For dessert, my mother in-law gave me a Publix gift card, and we ordered a 1/4 sheet cake, and assorted pastries. This was actually very pricey. You wouldn’t normally probably have a cake like this for a big family dinner, but this time of year, there are so many cookie recipes that would also work. Like this one, and this one too.
This post is somewhat different from other party tips I share. There are no styled photos, because we were too busy eating, drinking, and celebrating. But I wanted to share how we were able to feed everyone at just $5/person, and all leave with full bellies – cheers!