Whether you have a caterer do all, only part, or none of the food preparation, there are ways to save on wedding food costs.
Wedding food ideas on a budget become more apparent if you take a “you, me, or us?” approach. By thinking in terms of mixing sources, you can discover cost-saving solutions you may not have thought about otherwise.
Whether you completely outsource, totally DIY, or are somewhere in between, there are ways to save.
Here are some wedding food ideas on a budget…
1. Make sure you know how the caterer determines the final cost you pay.
When by the number of people at the event, keep a careful count. Follow up on RSVPs ahead of time so you know how many to tell them.
You want enough food, but not have to pay for people who didn’t show.
See the Questions to Ask Your Wedding Venue Guide for more ideas on what to ask potential reception venues before signing a contract.
2. Know kids’ prices and check that you are charged accordingly.
Does under a certain age eat free? What’s the reduced price for children in a certain age range?
3. Discuss buffet versus served, sit down meal costs.
Contrary to what seems logical, there is no hard and fast rule about which is more economical. It depends on the dishes, how many courses, and other factors.
4. Ask if there’s a way to alter a dish you particularly like to fit within your budget.
First, discuss what you like so much about it. Then, for example, use the sauce or seasonings on alternative meat or on pasta instead.
5. Cut down on courses.
You can then afford a shorter, but more premium, meal. Guests will enjoy and remember it as a special feature of your wedding.
6. Have a potluck meal, where the guests bring the food.
This option is more realistic for casual receptions. It can be the ultimate DIY, with no cost OR cooking for you.
But consider the guest experience as well. Not everyone will at the prospect of bringing their own food to a wedding.
Add a quirky twist. For example, make it fun by having a cooking competition or other food-centric events. Or have them bring food instead of a gift. Or make it a recipe exchange.
7. Buy bulk, pre-made entrees and side dishes from a restaurant.
You may even be able to have them delivered.
8. Serve take out such as pizza, pasta, or Chinese.
Give the place plenty of notice to order in extra ingredients.
9. Order one or more food trucks.
Depending on where you live, you may be able to have grilled cheese, tacos, lobster, hot dogs, pizza, waffles, burgers, or just about any ethnic food.
10. Cater the entree and DIY the sides.
This is a way to make the meal special by serving a famous “to die for” entree or another dish from a local chef. Combine this with homemade family favorites.
11. Cater the meal and DIY the appetizers.
You can turn to Pinterest or a search engine for ideas. I Googled easy elegant appetizers and found some options. As of this writing, The Food Network has some interesting ideas.
12. DIY it all.
Buffets at small weddings are most conducive to DIY. But family-style (where you serve the dishes on the table and everyone passes them around) is doable as well.
In any case, do not underestimate the time and commitment involved.
13. Limit protein options.
These tend to be more complex to prepare and serve, which may increase the cost of labor and ingredients.
14. Serve filling food.
- Apples (because they contain filling pectin)
- Whole grain bread
- Proteins such as chicken salad or ground beef
This helps satisfy your guests’ hunger and stay within a limited budget.
Check out Angi Schneider’s Mexican Pasta recipe for a unique budget-friendly meal you can serve at your wedding.
15. Do pre-meal appetizers.
This can help fill your guests up before the featured food. And allows you to decrease the entree’s serving size or go with a more premium selection.
Choose well and you can lower your overall food bill, even with the addition of another course.
16. Use in-season produce.
Anyone who has purchased summer produce mid-winter knows prices go up.
So, it only makes sense to use in-season produce in your wedding meal. Plus, it usually has more flavor.
17. Serve in-season wild meats, poultry, and fish.
You may find them less expensive to buy through stores or have catered. Plus, in rural areas, it may be possible to hunt or catch your own.
Foods from all cultures have dishes that are generally less expensive than others. Entree ideas for different ethnic meals include:
18. American: Hamburgers, hot dogs, and sub sandwiches
19. Chinese: Traditional chicken or pork dishes, chow mein, lo mein
20. Greek: Build your own gyros bar, Mousaka (Greek Shepard’s pie), pastitsio (Greek lasagna)
21. Indian: Vegetarian dishes (let the delectable seasonings take center stage)
22. Italian: Baked pasta with meat sauce, Italian sandwiches, meatballs, pizza, Italian sausage
23. Mexican: Build your own nachos or taco bar, enchiladas, burritos
I’d love to hear your wedding food ideas on a budget. If you found a unique way to save money on your wedding reception menu, please comment below.
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Western Wedding Cake
Friday 4th of February 2022
I got married over 20 years ago and we had the most wonderful reception! Being older, my bridesmaids were too. They all graciously made an appetizer instead of buying us a gift! My caterer had less to make, lowering my cost considerably. My best friend even brought Virginia hams saving me even more. The groomsmen all provided a bottle or 2 of liquor or contributed in other ways. Our “family of friends” mean so much to us and made our day so special.
Thursday 27th of February 2020
I like what you said about using appetizers for your wedding food so that you can have smaller entrees. My sister has been telling me about how she's been working on planning her wedding recently. I'll share this information with her so that she can look into her options for different kinds of wedding food.