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Budget Friendly Entertaining with a Build-Your-Own Meal - Modern Alternative KitchenModern Alternative Kitchen

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Entertaining friends and family over the holidays is a highlight of the season, but it can get expensive to serve dinner to a large group.  One way I’ve found to cut costs is to serve something that doesn’t involve meat as the main ingredient. Top-your-own style bars  lend themselves well to this idea.

We’ve hosted or attended parties with potato bars, burrito/taco bars, pancake bars, soup bars, and ice cream bars.  In my experience guests like these type of dinners because they can create a meal to suit their own fancy, piling on more of their favorites and skipping the toppings they don’t especially like.  Children like these type of meals too, because they get to create and make their own choices.

Top-your-own meals also work well when someone in the crowd has food allergies or must avoid gluten.  They choose what goes onto their plate so it is easier to avoid offending foods.

Not only are these type of meals budget friendly, they are easy to prepare.  The preparation usually involves less cooking than a regular meal.

Top-your-own bars also work well for potlucks where everyone contributes to the meal.  We’ve used this method when we’ve hosted end of the year parties for the tennis team and my daughter’s Odyssey of the Mind team, groups that involve many families.

To organize this kind of dinner as a potluck send a group email detailing the meal plan and what foods you are providing.  List topping ideas.  Each family types their name next to the toppings they are bringing and hits reply to all.  This way the others know what’s left to bring, and it all works very efficiently.

Load up on your favorite potato toppings.

Baked Potato Bar

Every year we attend a party at the home of friends that host a baked potato bar dinner.   They grow their own potatoes, which makes it especially delicious.  Including baked sweet potatoes in a potato bar this time of year adds holiday appeal and a whole lotta yum.

Get creative. Potato bar toppings are only limited by your imagination.

Potato Bar Topping ideas:

  • Meat- Any cubed, ground  or shredded meat (chicken, turkey, beef, pork).  Homemade sausage, BBQ pork or spicing up ground beef with chili powder, cumin and oregano are nice additions.
  • Shredded Cheese– Any kind.
  • Vegetables- Sauteed, roasted, or carmamelized onions, peppers and garlic; steamed broccoli; braised kale, spinach, or swiss chard.  Really, any vegetables, except starchy vegetables, are good on potatoes.
  • Herbs– Any fresh herbs add a nice touch if you have them.  I’ve used rosemary, parsley, chives , thyme and brown buttered sage.
  • Olives
  • Condiments- Sour cream, homemade creamy dressings such as Ranch, salsa, homemade guacamole, homemade bbq sauce, butter or butter mixed with herbs.   Rosemary mixed into butter is delish on both white and sweet potatoes and cumin butter is fantastic with sweet potatoes.
Including a basic salad of leaf lettuce, cucumber and carrots adds some crunch and give your guests the option of adding toppings to the salad as well.
Here’ s another thought about entertaining from a Modern Alternative Kitchen contributor Entertaining with Real Foods .

What toppings would you add to a potato bar?  Do you have ideas for budget friendly entertaining?  We’d love to hear about them in the comments.

**This post has been entered at Keep It Real Thursday and Simple Lives Thursday #126.

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  1. […] these type of dinners because they can create a meal to suit their own fancy….Hop over to Modern Alternative Kitchen where you’ll find the rest of my post sharing an idea for low cost entertaining. Load up on […]


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