Host a Dinner Party on a Budget | HotPads

Host a Dinner Party on a Budget

By Luce

Savvy Miss entertaining expert Luce helps members prepare for hosting a dinner party!

Hey Luce,
My boyfriend and I recently moved in together. We just invited his parents over to dinner in our new place and now I'm panicked. With such a small kitchen and minimal cooking experience, I don't know what to do. This will be the first meal I have made them. Every time my man and I have gone out with them, they've ordered the most ornate, expensive dishes on the menu. How do I "wow" them without breaking the bank?
-Freaked Out

I would say above all else: Relax! If your man's mother would expect you to be "all things" or perfect, then that would be her problem, not yours. Don't try to pretend you're something that you're not (like a gourmet, "ornate" cook). MOST IMPORTANTLY, remember everyone will enjoy themselves if you, the hostess, are enjoying yourself. This is the most important item on the menu. This alone will "wow" them!

Now, as for your small kitchen, limited cooking experience and budget: Trader Joe's is your friend! Print this list and bring it to TJ's, and don't forget to pick up some fresh flowers for the table while you're there. Be sure to keep the flowers simple and low; you don't want to block the view across the table for conversation.


For any dinner party, always ask your guests ahead of time if there is anything that they're allergic to or just won't eat. You would hate to find out that you were serving something that they are allergic to, and could not eat.

Here's your dinner party on a budget menu:

Sun-dried Tomato and Pesto Torte with box of mixed Water Crackers and Wine.
It's a good idea to have a white chilled and have a red on hand, too, just in case. Since wine is a subject all its own, I'll leave the wine selection to you. I'm sure your man knows what they like, so make sure you have that available.

Salad of Mixed Spring Greens with Balsamic Vinaigrette.
Lightly toss the salad with the dressing just before serving. Do not get low fat dressing; this is not the time to diet, and most of those dressings lack flavor anyway.

Ravioli with Quick and Very Fresh Tomato Sauce.
Cook 2 packages of ravioli, or any pasta of your choosing, from the refrigerator section at TJ's. Top with homemade tomato sauce (see recipe below) and garnish with fresh basil and parmesan cheese. Serve with a side of store-bought crusty ciabatta bread in a basket.

Very Fresh Tomato Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped (Trader Joe's sells onions already chopped in their produce section)
  • 1 28 oz. can of tomatoes (or, you can use 5-8 medium fresh tomatoes, in summer)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oil in pan; add onion and cook until translucent (clear). Add chopped tomatoes and cook for only about 15 minutes; add a little sugar and salt and pepper. Even though this only takes 15 minutes to cook, make it before they arrive, then turn it off and reheat it when it comes time to eat. Then your house will smell like something good is cooking. Even when you use canned tomatoes, this sauce will be very fresh tasting.

Noix de Coco Givreés with Chocolate Quadratini.
TJ's has many frozen desserts. One that is fun that I like to serve is called Noix de Coco Givreés (these fabulous coconut ice creams in a natural shell are imported from France). Serve these with Chocolate Quadratini, chocolate wafer cookies made by Loacker, imported from Italy. Some people just have to see chocolate on the table for dessert. Your guests will be impressed that you have the confidence and smarts NOT to kill yourself making some fancy dessert. Find out if they like coffee or tea after dinner.

(NOT) Freaked Out, have fun at your dinner and let me know how it goes. I'd love to hear from you - this is what makes my job fun.

With over 30 years of experience in the food industry, Luce's infectious love for cooking and teaching inspires home cooks to reach for new creative heights in their kitchen while keeping food simple and delicious. Luce studied regional cuisine in Tuscany, Italy and has been instructing for the last several years at Williams-Sonoma in Santa Barbara, CA and privately throughout California.

This article was reprinted with permission from, the free website community dedicated to connecting, empowering and informing women.

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