How To

Frugal and Healthy Holiday Party Food Ideas

If you’re not careful, a season of attending and hosting holiday parties can add heft to your credit card balance, as well as your waistline.

The National Retail Federation expects that the average person will spend a little less than $100 on food and candy this Christmas. Government researchers estimate the average holiday weight gain amounts to just about a pound, which might not be so bad, except it adds up year after year.

Preparing your own party food may be the key to solving the two problems, since you can find ways to cut both costs and calories. And if you’re the party guest, you can ensure there’s at least one sort-of healthy dish on the table. “I often bring hummus with pita bread or chips and raw vegetables for dipping,” says Sandra Lira of specialty bakeware maker Zanda Panda. “This is the cheapest, healthiest recipe that I’ve brought to a party and it’s always a big hit.”

Try her recipe below, as well as other fare from chefs and bloggers that are cheap, healthy, or both:

Winter sangria

Frugal Foodie fancies up cheap boxed wine in her slow cooker for a cross between sangria and mulled wine. Add a bottle or two of inexpensive wine (or part of a box), a quarter-cup pomegranate juice, a sliced orange and a cinnamon stick. You can also add a shot or two of spice rum.


Lira serves this dip surrounded with fresh sliced pita and chopped veggies. To make, rinse two cans of chickpeas and drain in a colander. In a food processor, combine the chickpeas, a large clove of garlic, the juice of a small lemon, four tablespoons olive oil and a half-teaspoon salt. “I prefer to crush the garlic in a garlic press before adding, but it can be chopped instead,” she says. Process ingredients until smooth and place in serving bowl. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of paprika and finely chopped parsley on top.

Winter squash dip

Winter squash is at its cheapest this time of year, and this winter squash dip recipe prepares enough dip for a big party and has just a few dollars worth of ingredients.

White chocolate crunch

Kristl Story of uses this as a fast party treat or hostess gift. To make, mix together a cup each M&M candies and dry roasted peanuts in a large bowl, and two cups each Chex cereal and thin pretzel sticks. Melt a 12-ounce bag of white chocolate chips in the microwave according to package directions. Pour melted white chocolate chips over other ingredients and toss until coated. Spread on cookie sheets lined with wax paper. Once the chocolate hardens, break into pieces and serve.

Homemade eggnog

Store-bought eggnog runs $3.50 a quart in NYC, but you can make twice as much at home for roughly the same price. Frugal Foodie uses Alton Brown’s eggnog recipe. Cut it with more skim milk for a drink that’s lighter in texture and calories.

Kale chips ‘n’ dip reader Emily Pirraglia, currently serving in Americorps VISTA, makes a dip of yogurt, dill, garlic, lemon, and black pepper to taste. She serves it with homemade kale and sweet potato chips.

Spinach-feta quiche

A large quiche costs less than $6 to make. Mix it up by trying other vegetable combos.

Fay’s butter cookies

Sheri Silver of “Donuts, Dresses and Dirt” uses a cookie press prepare these butter cookies and keep portions small, which controls calories (at least, until you taste one and want more), and turns out more cookies per batch than eyeballing a spoonful.

Raspberry-coconut chiffon cake

This cake isn’t exactly waistline friendly, but it does work as a budget and wow-worthy centerpiece. Peppermint counterbalances fresh raspberries in this cake recipe  from cake designer Heather Barranco.

Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.