10 Easy, Inexpensive Finger Foods to Feed a Crowd

FT Contributor  | 

Everyone’s been there before. A small gathering accidentally balloons into a larger crowd, and you suddenly find yourself looking for a way to feed everyone without breaking the bank in the process.

Below are 10 easy, inexpensive finger foods that you can either pick up at your local grocery store or pull together in a jiffy to feed a hungry crowd.

1. Bagels

Bagels are an excellent filler food for a party. They’re cheap, and you can often purchase them in bulk quantities at a discount. You can grab a tub of cream cheese, butter and jam, or even cheese and pepperonis to go on top.

Normal bagels have gluten, but there are often gluten-free options available. However, be warned that these might increase the cost per bagel significantly. Consider getting one sleeve of gluten-free bagels and sticking to cheaper options for the rest.

2. Chips and Dip

A classic party pleaser, chips and dip won’t cost you too much — typically a few bucks per bag of chips — and you can put a party platter together in a matter of seconds. You’re also able to literally find them at practically every location that sells food.

While chips are cheap, they are often unhealthy. If you’re looking for a healthier alternative, look for baked chips, veggie chips, or even opt for a slightly more expensive container of nuts for those who want to avoid the junk food.

3. Crostini

If you’re looking for something a little fancier in appearance, purchase a baguette, slice it up into thin pieces, brush on some olive oil, and toast them. Crostini varies in cost depending on the toppings you choose and whether you make them fresh or not.

Check out a basic recipe and list of common toppings for reference. A tomato basil crostini, for instance, likely won’t cost you much to pull together. A goat cheese topping, though, will add up quickly.

Crostini can take a bit more time and effort, but it certainly falls into a healthier category of snacks. Also, keep in mind that you’re dealing with gluten once again. Look for gluten-free bread to offer as an alternative, although beware that it may change the overall taste of the dish.

4. Deviled Eggs

Snacks don’t come cheaper than deviled eggs. Eggs can cost under a dollar a dozen, and a basic recipe simply adds a few other ingredients:

  • Mayonnaise.
  • White vinegar.
  • Yellow mustard.
  • Salt, pepper, and paprika.

While they pull together on the cheap, this option does require a bit of time. However, you can prepare them before your get-together and leave them in the fridge until you’re ready to serve them.

Remember that eggs are a highly allergenic food, so make sure to label them properly.

5. Layered Salad

Salads are one of the premier healthy snacks you could offer at a party. While they lack the junk food appeal, anyone looking for a healthy pick-me-up can dig into a salad without worrying about too many health concerns.

That said, salads are, once again, more time consuming and they often require a trip to the store for toppings. These vary widely and often include:

  • Tomatoes.
  • Cucumbers.
  • Onions.
  • Eggs.
  • Celery.
  • Cheese.
  • Bacon bits.
  • Dressings.

The ingredients you use, and the brands you choose, dictate how expensive the salad will be. In addition, while most salads are dietarily friendly, make sure to point out if you include things like eggs and cheese for anyone who is avoiding dairy or has an allergy.

6. Nachos

Another crowd-pleaser, nachos are a junk food classic. They’re easy to pull together and typically don’t cost much — unless you purchase more expensive toppings like ground beef. There are endless versions of nachos that can be prepared, but the standard dish — that is, tortilla chips with melted cheese on top, is both affordable and quick to assemble.

If you’re tight on time, purchase cheese dip. If you have some time, consider melting your own cheese. You can also make them en masse using a baking sheet.

Nachos make the naughty list when it comes to health, and if you opt to smother them in toppings, make sure to leave some plain chips on the side for those who are looking to avoid dealing with heartburn in the future.

7. Pigs in a Blanket

Pigs in a blanket may come premade, but they often cost quite a bit that way. Making them yourself, can be quite affordable, even if it does take a little time. One great shortcut that won’t cost too much is to use pre-packaged crescent rolls to pull them together.

While pigs in a blanket aren’t the healthiest snack, and they do have gluten and meat, meaning you’ll be ruling out both gluten-free and vegan eaters. Fortunately, there are many options for gluten-free bread and even vegan-approved hot dogs.

8. Potato Bar

If you find you need to provide a significant quantity of food at low costs, pull together a baked potato bar. Potatoes are extremely affordable, and you can select toppings based on what you can afford. Typically, these include:

  • Butter.
  • Sour cream.
  • Chives.
  • Salsa.
  • Bacon bits.
  • Green onions.

As an added bonus, potato bars are dietarily friendly, as it leaves the choice of ingredients in the hands of the eater.

9. Quesadillas

Much like a potato bar, quesadillas are a fun, affordable “do it yourself” snack. The ingredients are often purchasable in bulk, and you can easily provide gluten-free options as an alternative to a wheat tortilla. Common quesadilla toppings include:

  • Cheese.
  • Chicken.
  • Ground beef.
  • Black beans.
  • Refried beans.
  • Tomatoes.
  • Onions.
  • Bell peppers.
  • Salsa.
  • Cilantro.

Just make sure you have plenty of room in the oven or an efficient skillet station available to produce them for a larger group.

10. Taco Bar

Along the same theme as quesadillas and baked potatoes, a taco bar keeps things cheap and avoids the dietary and allergenic concerns. Typical ingredients for a taco bar include:

  • Chicken.
  • Ground beef.
  • Beans (make sure to include something like this as an alternative for non-meat eaters).
  • Salsa.
  • Guacamole.
  • Sour cream.
  • Cheese.
  • Tomatoes.

Keep in mind that the more ingredients you include, the more expensive the taco bar will be — although you can cut down on the cost if you utilize coupons as you shop.


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