The Best Frugal Office Party Foods

by Janey Osterlind on 14 February 2011 10 comments
Photo: shironosov

Some do it to observe birthdays, others to celebrate weddings, and still others, just to mark the fact that they’ve made it to another Friday. Office food days are pretty much a fact of life if you work, well, anywhere. So how do you feed your coworkers without breaking the bank? Read on to find out which dishes are the best for workplace gatherings. (See also: 5 Potluck Parties That Help You Share the Wealth)

1. Sweet Onion Tartlets

I love this recipe because it makes you look like a master chef, but is so easy that even I can’t mess it up (and that’s quite a feat). My favorite sweet onion tartlets come from the Food Network’s own Sandra Lee. Once you’ve got the basic recipe down, you can fill your tartlets with any number of ingredient mixtures, including goat cheese and spinach, olive tapenade and fontina cheese, or bacon and cheddar. Estimated cost to serve 20: $8.84.

2. Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts

Let’s face it — anything wrapped in bacon is better. Water chestnuts by themselves have relatively little flavor (although they do have a delightful crunch!), but when combined with bacon and married by a toothpick, they become a winning office party treat. Try this bacon-wrapped water chestnuts recipe from Allrecipes.com. Estimated cost to serve 20: $13.79.

3. Fresh Fruit

If you’re health conscious (as many in my office are), you may appreciate it when someone brings in something to share that is both nutritious and delicious. Unless you want to risk coming off as the office Scrooge, though, don’t just pick up a bushel of apples and toss them out there for people to share. Try a variety of fruits, such as pineapple, mango, or star fruit. You could also try cutting fruits out in interesting shapes using a melon baller or cookie cutters. For the most bang for your buck, pick fruits that are in season. Estimated cost to serve 20: $10-$20; varies with type of fruit.

4. Mini Calzones

Who can resist tiny calzones at an office party gathering? Make spinach and cheese minis using refrigerated buttermilk biscuit dough, frozen spinach, ricotta cheese, and shredded mozzarella. Estimated cost to serve 20: $9.49.

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5. Grilled Mini Sandwiches

Like mini calzones, mini sandwiches are bite-sized perfection for an office setting. Try these three grilled sandwich recipes (courtesy of Rachel Ray), or experiment with your own. Rather than going for packaged sandwich bread, start with something heartier, like sourdough or focaccia. Also, try offering a variety of meats other than the typical deli slices — Serrano ham, salami, and prosciutto are good places to start. And, since your sandwiches are all diminutive in size, a slightly more expensive meat won’t hurt your wallet too badly. Estimated cost to serve 20: $15.

6. Sweet-and-Sour Meatballs

Every time my friend brings these meatballs to one of our parties, they’re gone before the last guest even arrives. Why not try them at your next office food day? I found something similar to her secret family recipe on Allrecipes.com. Estimated cost to serve 20: $13.83.

7. Cupcakes

These sweet desserts are my favorite. Not just the packaged, plain-old-vanilla kind, though; I like the new trend in designer cupcakes. Try your hand at two of my favorites: red velvet cupcakes (who said you have to wait till a wedding to eat red velvet cake?) and carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. Peruse recipes for the best cupcakes at Martha Stewart.com. Estimated cost to serve 20: $8-$12; varies by cupcake recipe.

What dishes do you take to your workplace gatherings that please crowds without breaking the bank? Share your experiences in the comments!

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Guest's picture
gt0163c

Around Cubeville, I'm known for my brownies.
1 box brownie mix (Betty Crocker Original Browni Supreme is my favorite, but any will work)
1/2 the oil called for on the box
The amount of oil called for on the box of Hershey's syrup
The water and oil called for on the box
6oz semi-sweet chocolate chips (dark chocolate M&Ms can be used as well)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix it all together and very slightly underbake.

These are extra chocoately and everyone loves them.

Cost is ~$5 for a 9x13 pan.

Janey Osterlind's picture

Yum, thanks for sharing - that sounds delicious! Can you clarify how much oil and water to use, though? I want to try making them!

Guest's picture
anon

deviled eggs - cheap and easy

Meg Favreau's picture

I LOVE deviled eggs -- plus you can add so many delicious things (capers, chopped red onion...well, maybe raw-onion breath isn't great for an office party) to the filling to spice them up.

Guest's picture
Debbie M

These are frugal? I was hoping for some low-cost fairly easy baked good. What I bring:

Very sharp cheddar, which I cut into cubes or strips - $4.

Chocolate cake--people like the depression/wartime recipe (with the vinegar), but I don't know how to make a frugal frosting (I mix chocolate chips with milk).

I've also brought brownies and cookies. Occasionally we have a pie contest or a chili cook-off.

Another fairly frugal thing other people have brought is chips with home-made salsa or hummus.

Thanks for the deviled eggs idea--they're cheap (though I don't think they're easy). (Well, they're easy, but time-consuming.)

Meg Favreau's picture

Debbie, have you ever tried mixing chocolate chips with sour cream instead of milk? It makes an amazingly creamy frosting!

Guest's picture
Debbie M

No, I have not tried chocolate chips with sour cream. I will pencil that in on my recipe, and then probably never try it until I realize oh-too-late that I am milk but have sour cream. Thanks!

Guest's picture
Guest

An excellent frugal office potluck idea is a baked potato bar. A couple of folks or the boss can supply the potatoes and everyone can bring in toppings - filling, cheap and pretty popular, especially at the weather stays chilly.

Guest's picture
Guest from CA

Deviled eggs are easy & quick if you buy the bag of shelled hard-boiled eggs. Just slice, remove the yolks & make up the filling, re-stuff the halves. I found a decent egg tray at the 99cent store - bought 2, & use one for the lid.

Easy chocolate frosting (my family uses it on angel food cake) is whipped cream with some powdered sugar & about 5T chocolate powder. Mix all ingredients & let them sit awhile, then whip it up.

Our office does the potato bar, salad bar, sandwich bar, taco bar type potlucks.

Guest's picture
KAREN

I love to make a pot of chili or black bean soup! (If I am really being frugal, I can use dried beans, soak and cook them, and make a batch of soup for under $3!) You can make a pan of "Jiffy" corn bread and be a hero for $4!