Gathering with family and friends can be the highlight of any week. Except when you find out it’s a potluck, and your grocery budget is already pretty thin without trying to cook a meal for fifteen people.
My website is all about raising a family on a budget, so I’ve written about cheap meals for large families before. And while you could use those recipes for potlucks (and I have!) potlucks also have a few specific quirks. Namely, you want them to be super EASY, and preferably super QUICK.
So today, I pulled out my own recipe binder and also surveyed some of my favorite budget food Facebook groups. I’ve gathered a few dozen of the absolute best: classics, new twists, and all-out originals. You’ll be potluck ready in no time!
*Note: Everyone has a different budget. I’ve tried to choose recipes that stick to staple, less expensive ingredients like chicken, ground beef, pasta, rice, and potatoes. While some may have more expensive spices or sauces, I’ve tried to let that be the exception rather than the rule.
And of course, if you need help slashing your grocery budget, you can check out my ultimate guide to saving money on groceries to make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck.
Need to skip ahead in this article to check out a specific kind of dish? I got you covered:
Cheap potluck side dishes & appetizers
Carrots and apples are usually among the cheapest fruits and vegetables you can buy at the grocery store. (Though if you buy at the cheapest grocery store for produce (my article), you can get a lot more for a lot less!)
This recipe has no mayo, but does have a refreshing sweet/sour mixture with lemon and honey that’s sure to please all your party people who are vegetarian, keto, AND gluten- & dairy-free. How many recipes can do that?
Homemade bread is one of those dishes that make other potluck-goers sit up and take notice. But bringing homemade garlic butter rolls? Now THAT will earn you a standing ovation.
Let me show you one of the finest frugal dishes around- the humble, New England bean pot. If you want to stretch this even further, you can mix in sliced hot dogs, ground beef, pulled pork, or another red meat.
If baked beans aren’t your style, perhaps you’d prefer something from south of the border. This recipe is about as cheap as it gets: beans, water, onion, and some spices. You will need to do a bit of forward thinking and soak your beans overnight.
This “Garlic and Zest” recipe also includes plenty of variations: black beans or pinto beans, stove top or instant pot, and normal or extra creamy. Make it your own!
The classic, original potluck recipe for potato salad with cold boiled potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and plenty of mayonnaise. The only thing that might be tricky to find is celery seed, but it’s the ingredient that flavors everything just right.
Here’s a large-batch recipe ready for center stage at your next potluck. It’s as easy as it gets, with only four ingredients This one is in my preferred style, non-creamy, which is sure to please any vegan or dairy-intolerant guests.
Here’s your side salad that’s vegetarian, dairy-free, and even gluten-free if you use gluten-free noodles. Add in tons of fresh, chopped veggies and a homemade dressing, and voila! Potluck-ready in no time at all.
In certain parts of the world, funeral potatoes are a mainstay at every funeral (plus most other family gatherings). It’s comfort food at its finest, with the saucy potatoes you’d expect and the crunchy topping you might not.
To make it vegetarian, simply sub the can of cream of chicken for a different “cream of-” can (like mushrooms).
I guarantee you’ve never seen Ramen noodles like this! You’re not even cooking them in a pot in this recipe, but toasting chunks of them in the oven.
Thankfully, the budget-friendly noodles balance out some otherwise more expensive ingredients that are less-common in a standard pantry. But the effort will be well worth it for the look of surprise on your family’s faces!
In-season fruit platter
Trying to fill a tray of watermelon in December will cost you an arm and a leg. But citrus like clementines, oranges, and tangerines, plus apples, pears, and cranberries, are perfect December fruits! (On the other hand, a tray of watermelon wedges in July would be delightful.)
If you stick to fruits that are fresh and recently harvested during the time of your potluck, you’ll save plenty.
Pro tip: Use a cutlery organizer, which you can get at a dollar store, to up your presentation game.
“Make your own” food bars
If you’re the one hosting the potluck (or you can group together with a few other guests to divy up the long ingredient lists), “make your own ____ bars” are a fantastic choice. Not only are they super customizable, but there’s very little cooking involved, aside from potentially throwing some meat in a crockpot. Check out my three favorite “make your own” ideas!
Sometimes, the beauty of a potluck dinner is how everyone gets exactly what they want. But with a taco bar, you can level even that up. Simply provide taco shells (ideally both soft and hard) and let everyone fill it up how they like it! Ideas for toppings include:
- Ground beef
- Pulled pork/carnitas
- Shredded Mexican chicken
- Shredded cheddar cheese
- Sour cream
- Brown rice
- Spanish rice
- Black beans
- Diced onions
Pro tip: Use a crock pot to keep the taco meat(s) warm.
Baked potato bar
Ahh, the humble potato. So affordable and yet still so delicious! If you want to do a baked potato bar, you can either throw a tray of potatoes in the oven to bake, put a bunch in an instant pot, or even wrap them in foil and cook them over an open fire (for camping potlucks)!
You can offer toppings like:
- shredded lettuce
- Spanish/Mexican rice
- pulled pork.
- (Basically any veggie or meat could work!)
Pro tip: if you’re going to offer bacon or another more expensive meat, put it at the end of the line, when everyone has already filled up most of their potato.
Instead of using deli meats like roast beef or smoked turkey (which are crazy expensive right now!) you can do pulled pork or pulled chicken sandwiches. Those large roasts of meat often go on sale for a couple dollars a pound (I’ve seen pork butt roasts as low as $0.99/lb!) You could do the same with egg salad, tuna salad, chicken salad, or good ol’ fashioned PB & J as sandwich topping options.
Make sure you’ve got one or two types of bread, veggie toppings like lettuce and tomato, and finish things off with those cute, colored toothpicks!
Potluck casseroles on a budget
This recipe is awesome, full stop. Not only is it delicious as written, but you can customize it a million ways depending on your budget and what you have available.
No hash browns? Try tater tots, frozen diced potatoes, sliced potatoes, or mashed potatoes.
Not enough ground hamburger? Try a different ground meat like chicken, turkey, or pork, or use some diced mushrooms or a can of kidney beans to stretch the meat you do have.
This casserole has all the flavors of Mexican street corn, just off the cob! It’s an easy, one pan side dish that is sure to be a hit with everyone, vegetarians and gluten-free friends included.
My mouth is literally watering as I write up this section. Can you just make this and invite me to your potluck?
Chicken. Rice. Broccoli. TONS of cheese. It can’t get any easier or be more of a crowd-pleaser.
Yes, like those Doritos. Who would have thought the chips favored by teenagers and gamers also made such a delicious casserole layer? This dish is full of Doritos, layered between bold Mexican flavors sure to make your eyes pop.
Inexpensive Main Dishes for Potlucks
Is it Mac & cheese? Is it chili? No, it’s both!
This is the main dish you need when you totally forgot about the potluck and need to whip something up fast. This is done in 15 minutes thanks to instant pot magic, and tastes amazing. There won’t be any left once the party is over, guaranteed.
Who doesn’t want all this ooey- gooey goodness? Mac and cheese is sure to please any kids and all the adults at your next potluck.
Homemade mac and cheese can sometimes be more expensive than boxed versions, due to the amount of cheese. However, this recipe only needs three cups, and gives you eight different types to choose from. That way, you can use whatever cheese you find on sale and still make a delicious dish!
Potluck dishes don’t have to be complicated. For this recipe, you’re simply taking a tube of crescent rolls and twisting them into a wreath shape. The recipe here gives excellent, step-by-step instructions with pictures at every step to show exactly how to do it.
Infuse chicken breasts with zesty ranch and taco flavors, add black beans, corn, diced tomatoes, and green chilies, and let your slow cooker work its magic with this Crock Pot Fiesta Chicken. Serve it with rice or tortillas for a satisfying meal!
Growing up in New England, we always called this dish “American Chop Suey.” Elsewhere, it’s apparently called Johnny Marzetti. Whatever you call it, this simple meal of pasta, ground beef, and plenty of tomato sauce is always a hit at cookouts and potlucks, especially with picky kids.
Shepherd’s pie is easily one of my favorite meals, and sweet potatoes are my husband’s favorite. So guess what dish we BOTH love?
This dish is hearty, healthy, and whipped up with surprises while still being affordable. The author, Hannah, also gives tons of substitution options if you’re out of certain ingredients or need to accommodate certain diets.
One of the trickiest parts of potluck dinners is timing. With this crockpot lasagna recipe, you don’t have to worry about that for a second! After fifteen minutes of prep, the crockpot will do all the work for you.
Yeah, I already talked about doing a baked potato bar. But if you can’t get everything together for that kind of customization, at least bring some kind of spud! Though this recipe calls for an air fryer, you can definitely get most of the flavor by using an oven, if necessary.
And speaking of potatoes, who doesn’t want some delicious carb-on-carb action? This curry-inspired vegan dish uses both pasta AND potatoes, and nine different seasonings. I’m not sure who will be happier: you, for having only one pot to wash, or your taste buds.
In general, fried rice is a great cheap family meal because it relies on ingredients like rice, eggs, and whatever vegetables you have in the fridge or pantry. Adding ham (specifically, leftover holiday hams) just makes it that much better! Throw a bunch of this in a disposable aluminum pan and you’re all set for your potluck.
Cheap potluck dessert ideas
No need for fancy pie crusts in this recipe! Simply slice up a bunch of apples and top with a flour- or oatmeal-based topping. It’s a delicious dessert that will feed a crowd and is a crockpot recipe too. That means there’s no need to transport glass baking dishes, and you can throw it together before work to be ready by potluck time. Score!
There are thousands of popcorn flavor combinations you could choose from: Cracker Jack, pumpkin spice, even buffalo ranch! It’s perfect potluck food if you’re on a budget, since you can get huge containers of kernels for pennies on the dollar. But my favorite flavor combinations will always be one of these two:
First, the salty/sweet perfection that is dark chocolate & sea salt flavored popcorn. YUM-MEE.
And secondly, but just as delicious, this drizzled chocolate popcorn recipe, complete with mix-in ideas. No popcorn popper required.
And finally, I couldn’t resist sharing this creative recipe. Who would have thought you could make red velvet BROWNIES?
Especially if you’re going to a potluck with some kind of red theme (think Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or even the 4th of July), these brownies are sure to become a conversation-starter and cult favorite among the guests.
And there you have it! If you’d like more ideas for budget-friendly foods and shopping tips, or other hacks for raising a family on a budget, be sure to subscribe to my weekly email newsletter below.