Graduation Party Food Ideas

My only daughter is graduating in June. I am throwing her a big party at our house. We are living on 1 income right now and things are very tight. I have so much expense with everything I have to buy and rent for this event that I am looking for some good cost effective ideas for food. We are planning on having chicken and cabbage rolls and meat and cheese trays along with all of the other goodies, etc. Does anyone have any good food or party ideas that work well? I only have 2 months left. Any suggestions would be appreciated! Thanks.

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Laura - April 7, 2010

I have always found that simplest is best. Go for quick finger foods – grapes, apples, strawberries, cheese cubes, and the like. After throwing many large and small parties, I always try to make one thing special, which is usually dessert. People will forgive any dinner/main course booboos when dessert is spectacular. Know what always makes a fantastic impression? Homemade! For the large crowd at my son’s birthday party (about 8 kids and 12 adults), I made his birthday cake and decorated it myself. You’d be amazed what you can do with some food coloring, a great icing recipe, and a little time! It is also incredibly doable on a single income (we have the same at our house). Please feel free to email me for more ideas (lrnbrown AT gmail DOT com – replace the AT and DOT accordingly) and some links to recipes if you need them. Good luck!

Amanda - April 7, 2010

How about a nice salad. You could put all the items used for salad in bowls. If you have a patio table and a kiddie pool, put the pool on top of the round table and fill with ice. Place bowls of salad items in ice to keep cold. I picked this tip up from the Dollar Stretcher. If you could buy local produce or grow your own, a salad would be cheap.

deanna - April 8, 2010

For large parties I like to buy inexpensive pork shoulder or pork picnic roasts. I buy and freeze them when they go on sale for 89 to 99 cents per pound. To serve for a party I trim them of fat and then cook in a crock pot. Add bar-b-q sauce (or use your own pulled pork seasonings). Shred meat and serve on homemade dinner rolls. Also potato salad and coleslaw can be made very inexpensively. A watermelon carved into a basket shape makes a great presentation. Add cantaloupe & honeydew melon. I make a dip out of cream cheese and marshmallow fluff. Mix 50/50 and use with strawberries. Most of these things will be better prepared a day ahead of time – so you won’t be terribly rushed on the big day.

Cold cut and cheese trays are way too expensive @ $7.00+ a pound! There’s always a better option.

LisaE - April 8, 2010

I agree that meat and cheese trays can get expensive, even using block cheese and slicing it yourself.

Maybe a huge pan of sloppy joes or bbque meat to go on buns, something that can be hand-held is good. Also, maybe deviled eggs would be a good option but those would take time to make unless you had help.

Good luck and best wishes to your daughter!! It is an exciting time for the whole family.

LisaE - April 8, 2010

After thinking on this some more, am wondering what type of food you are wanting….main dishes or sides/finger foods?

If looking for another main dish idea maybe baked ziti….that could feed a lot of people and not cost too much.

Or if looking for other ideas, maybe a 7-layer (or less) of a bean dip with chips….you could even make your own chips with tortillas instead of buying them.

Tracy Staerr - April 9, 2010

Pasta salad is a good and cheap food. A little goes a long way… and its cheap to make. Mine is usually just pasta, veggies, cheese and pepperoni and Italian dressing (I use the cheapest store brand) 1 pound of pasta is good for at least 50 people. Same with pasta and sauce. Salt potatoes are good too…. especially if you can get them at Aldis or SaveALot….Jello salad good filler….

Good Luck and Congrats!

Pam - April 9, 2010

Just curious…do you have any relatives that might pitch in and bring a dish? My sister in law and I are having a 50th wedding anniversary tea for my in-laws. Once the word got out, several family members volunteered something that they like to make. Does your daughter really enjoy Aunt Sue’s macaroni and cheese or Uncle Dale’s chocolate pound cake? If they are dependable people, why not ask them to bring that dish and let them know it is your daughter’s favorite.

I second the suggestion of bbq pork. Kroger here has boneless pork loin on sale for $1.99 lb. every few weeks. It is pretty low fat to boot. I just put a piece of pork loin in the crockpot on high and cover the top with bbq sauce. I let it cook on high for about 4 hours, shred it/pull it apart with a couple of forks and mix in more bbq sauce. To me, the sauce that works best is KC Masterpiece, but Aldi has a “Kansas City” bbq sauce that is probably the same thing and much cheaper. I’m guessing one bottle will do 2 lbs. of pork loin.

Debbie in MA - April 11, 2010

I have done two graduation parties now. Here are some items that we did: egg salad sandwiches, tuna salad sandwiches, cut up carrots, cut up celery (a few with peanut butter), macaroni salad, cole slaw, garden salad with homemade salad dressing on the side, 3 bean salad, pretzels, chips, chili, brownies, cookies, punch, and a graduation sheet cake. Other items a few people brought were potato salad, Rice Krispie treats, & cupcakes.

John - April 14, 2010

Hi – First we want to say what a great site you have! Our site is all about food for the large party – a “rubber meets the road” concept of how to actually pull off a large party from your home or rented venue. It’s written from a caterer’s perspective, which is our work experience. With detailed, photo step by step recipes, our goal is to give the do it yourselfer every tool to do a professional job catering their own large party. We would like you to consider a link exchange with us, which we think would benefit us both. Please give us a good look at: Thanks – John and Zuzana Upham 603-828-8487

jeanna - April 14, 2010

When my daughter graduated, we smoked pork, made only a few dishes, but lots of them, like pasta salad, and baked beans. But the kids’ favorite food that we served was french fries. My husband broke out the fish frier and we fried Aldi crinkle cut french fries. For probably $5 we made a ton, and you would have thought we were serving them something exotic! Also made some homemade onion rings.

I’ve seen recipes for “blue velvet” cupcakes (adding blue food color to chocolate cake), but if the school color isn’t blue, I bet you could use green, etc. Google blue velvet cupcakes or the “bakerella” site. Those cupcakes and stuff she makes are really cute.

My suggestion is to limit your menu to a few items and just make lots of it.

I also scanned in picture on the computer and by saving them on the SD card of my camera (and saving a song on the SD card) we used our Wii to make a slideshow to show on the television. It was a nice touch. I had all of my daughters school pictures from kindergarden up and included sports photos, photos of her friends, etc. Kind of a tear jerker though….

Rhonda Brewer - April 14, 2010

I went to a graduation party just last year that was really fun, but fairly inexpensive. They made a bonfire & served “roast your own” hot dogs and marshallows! We had chips, watermelon, brownies, and typical cook-out snacks. They had music playing until the sun went down. When it started getting dark, they showed a movie on the side of the garage (using a rented projector).

d - April 14, 2010

thats cute rhonda brown

Limecloud - April 15, 2010

I agree on the pulled pork- it’s easy, cheap and it’s very popular. If you want cheap (and good), the Crock Pot is your friend- you can make homemade meatballs in the crock pot with either tomato sauce (with rolls) or sweet and sour sauce (take a bottle of chili sauce and a jar of grape jelly, put it in the crock with the meatballs and let it cook for a few hours-yumm!). Another cheap idea is to pizzas- make the crust yourself and either make mini pizzas and have people add toppings themselves or make big ones and have them already made. People love homemade pizza and if you have a grill you can even do grilled pizza (see or google it for instructions- I’ve done it before and it’s really fun and tasty :) Good Luck with the party, congrats to your daughter!

amanda - April 15, 2010

Don’t be afraid to be unique! Everyone has meat/cheese trays at their graduation parties and as a party goer, our family gets really tired of having the same thing at each one! It’s usually pretty hot at graduation parties unless yours is in the evening. So think along those lines. The kiddy pool to keep things cool works out excellent. Texas Sheet Cakes can be decorated in school colors. I also love the bonfire hot dog and marshmallow idea! If you want a veggie tray or fruit tray pick 2-3 basic veggies and fruit and stick with that. Carrots, Celery, Watermelon, and Cantalope come to mind. Grapes are often on sale as well. Ground beef is typically cheaper than deli meats so meatballs or sloppy joes would cost less than ham and turkey. If you like deli buns instead of standard buns, watch the deli clearance rack right now and buy at 40% off and put them in your freezer until graduation. Meatballs and sloppy joes can be made way in advance as well and frozen until party day. Another thing that will help stretch your food, whatever the choice is- Use only appetizer plates. People fill their plates- if you set out dinner plates, people will eat dinner. If you set out appetizer plates, people will eat a snack. The same with cups- use no larger than 7-9 oz size cups. Borrow 5 gallon coolers from your friends, church, etc and you can make 5 gallons of lemonade and 5 gallons of ice tea. Don’t serve can pop- you will find tons of open cans with half or less drank that will then be wasted beverage and wasted money. Hope that helps!

jan - April 15, 2010

Macaroni salad. My mom’s receipe: A big bag of macaroni cooked and drained. A dozen hardboiled eggs, cooked, peeled and chopped. Lots of sweet pickle relish, yellow mustard, mayonaise and plenty of chopped celery. Make a day or two in advance. Gives you more time and everyone loves it! Add a little more dressing just before serving and there you go! Happy Graduation to your daughter mine is a high school freshman.

Marcia Freespirit - April 16, 2010

Hummus and flat bread is a hit for a lot of the “hip” crowds. You can buy it even at Walmart if you don’t mind paying the price…or you can easily make it yourself with chickpeas. You can flavor it any way you want – I just add taco flavoring to mine and it’s a hit, especially with some cheese on the top.

Good luck!

Sylversiddy - April 17, 2010

My aunt made ham rolls: she used flour tortillas, put a little mayo or sour cream on them, a thin slice or two of deli ham, and rolled them up. She sliced them about an inch thick along the roll and they went pretty far.
Another thing that will go far is chicken. Boil it days before (you can refrigerate or freeze). Pull it apart and either bbq it or make gravy for it. If you have a crock pot, heat it in that, have buns or biscuits and they can eat that. This and pulled pork are excellent for stretching the budget. Anything with pasta will stretch miles-ziti, pasta salad, spaghetti, Johnny Marzetti (spaghetti made with macaroni), or broken up ramen noodles with seasonings added-I make more water than I need, and put the lid on the hot pot after it cooks and is turned off. The noodles swell a little more and stretch further. I have 6 children and cook for an army on a regular basis, so I hope I’ve helped.

Teresa - April 21, 2010

A taco bar is another big hit for gradtuation parties. Use ground turkey and refried beans for fillings and go with small (6 inch) tortillas to reduce waste. I don’t know if this is the cheapest thing to do, but by making things with a theme, you don’t have to think as hard about what to serve. You can do all the taco fixings, Spanish rice, chips and salsa, and maybe some cut up melon to round out the meal. Add a sheet cake our the graduate’s favorite dessert, and you are all set.

Lisa E. - April 21, 2010

If you do decide to do deviled eggs you can do it very easily by yourself. Boil, cool in ice bath, peel under running water and set on towel to dry. Slice eggs in half gently squeeze yolk into a large zipper bag and set whites on trays. Next, seal bag and mash yolks, open bag and add mayo, dried mustard, sweet or Indian relish squeezed(to remove liquid), and salt and pepper to taste. Seal bag again and mix well. Snip off a small corner and “pipe” into eggs! It couldn’t be quicker and easier. To keep deviled eggs from getting “wet or runny” I complete all of the steps but piping yolks into eggs the day before and right before the guests arrive I add the yolks to the whites. Hope this helps, and Congratulations!

Jenny - April 21, 2010

I didn’t have time to read all the other responses but as a caterer, I suggest that you pre-make sandwiches instead of having meat & cheese trays. Use nice little dinner rolls and just put in a slice of meat and cheese. Have bowls of mayo, mustard, catsup, relish, etc. Your meats and cheeses will go a lot farther and there seems to be less waste.

aannees - April 23, 2010

I have done the taco bar but added baked potatoes which are very cheap and the toppings were simiar-it was a hit. We did chinese take-out for one grad party from the deli. Bulk is cheaper-put it in large roasters to warmup the day of grad-preparation was sooooo easy-again the talk of the class. The best and easiest party was the “dipping” party. we got olive garden style bread sticks-whole wheat and white for variety, and variety of dips. seasoned olive oil, maranara sauce (gallon cans of sauce kept warm in crockpots) cheese sauce, and last but not least alfredo sauce (yuumm). We put out some fruit trays, celery and carrot sticks and gallons of tea and lemon aid (other poster correct-pop is BIG waste of resource).Only use the smaller plates for serving-guests usually go to seveal parties. My children decided on their favorite foods and that is what i built the menus around-each were very economical, and after a couple of grad partys the last two got asked from the 1st day of their senior year what we’d be serving for graduation cuz they wanted to come!! PS on the taco bar-skip the meat and add nacho cheese and chips and mexican flavored rice and refried beans–same taste but serves many for much less.

Becky - April 23, 2010

It’s actually cheaper to plan and serve a complete meal than to try and keep appetizers/hors douevres filled on a buffet table. So use your Chicken & Cabbage Rolls as your entree. Maybe something like Potato Salad and a big green salad w/ lots of fresh veggies in it, some garlic bread or garlic-cheese biscuits, and a decorated cake for dessert, along w/ coffee.

Speaking of coffee, it’s also fun and not too pricey to put out a Coffee Bar when you serve dessert. Flavored creamers, a couple cans of spray whipped cream, hot milk in a thermos, 3-4 sweetener choices (raw sugar, Splenda, etc), a flavored syrup or two, ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and cocoa…. very special but not expensive.

Bondgirl - April 23, 2010

When my daughter graduated I ordered a 5 foot long subway sandwich. YES!! They told me to bring a 6 foot long board to the store the day of the party and they did the rest. It was beautiful, a surprise for all, and soooo delicious! It cost $35 which is fine for 50 people and I got the cake at Costco. We had chips and nuts on the side with iced tea and coffee. Many said it was the best party I’ve ever thrown.

Denise - April 28, 2010

This recipe from Taste of Home is a fun one…Graduation caps made of mini peanut butter cups, chocolate thin mint squares and M&Ms.

Charley - April 28, 2010

My mom and I had a bakery for several years and catered several graduations. Best ideas we did: made cupcakes and iced them, provided some sprinkles and other toppings and let them decorate their own. apple dip: a jar of marshmellow fluff and a pack of cream cheese mixed together with a little cinnamon and vanilla, it is very good on strawberries. We also did a lot of tortilla wraps with cream cheese, ham or turkey and a green onion down the middle. slice in about 5 pieces and put on a try. potato, pasta and coleslaw are all cheap and easy, as is a hot dog bar, taco bar, nacho bar or baked potato bar. Maybe even a tray of pizza made on english muffins, they dont take hardly any toppings and are really good. veggie and ranch trays can be popular, as well as just a tray of cookies…..hope you find something to help in all of this!!!!

Cricket - April 28, 2010

Well let me say this all of us made it thru with my swollen feet but the day of the party and I diden’t hurt a person at all. My Aunt had pulled pork sandwiches. Along with a ton of finger foods in the mix. After 2 boxes of brownies also and I got end pieces it went all to well. One thing I have to say is call the fast food places to see if thier buns are about ready to be thrown out and if they give them to ya all the better freeze them and run if you can. Have fun and look for the best deals out there is all I can say.

emma - April 29, 2010

bake a cake in a glass bowl, (hat part) and a cookie in a a square makes the mortar board to sit atop the hat. Ice in school color. serves as decoration and dessert. granted doesn’t feed many but darling! the tassel can be real fringe or use fruit by the foot with m&m or dab of icing to hold it on. for economical reasons i would use embroidery floss (maybe .39) or possibly ribbon.

Gina - April 30, 2010

I would say one to keep the cost down would be to ask family to help put. Do it potluck style. If that’s not an option I once had a party and served almost 80 people for roughly 40 bucks.
I made two big crockpots of chile beans. Then I made about 80 hotdogs. And picked up a Costco size bag of tortilla chips.
Had another crock pot with nacho cheese. Also made a tray of mac-n-cheese.
I served Chile cheese dogs and chile cheese nachos. You can bake your own cake or pick up a 1/2 sheet at Costco or Sams.
For drinks I filled an igloo with Iced Tea and an Igloo of lemonade. The food was a hit and I didn’t spend a fortune.

Jane - May 2, 2010

You can also go with a retro theme and do the finger sandwiches…ham and or chicken salad on thin white bread or wheat slices….you can make several weeks in advance. Spread the “filling” side of the bread with a thin layer of margarine or softened butter; place filling on bread and cut into desired shapes. The margarine keeps the bread from becoming soggy. If you have enough pans, place a layer of paper toweling between sammies and seal with plastic wrap.. these can be frozen for several months and they thaw in just a few minutes…take out a pan or two as they platters are depleted…that way if you make too many, you are not stuck with a ton of sammines that have to be eaten in thenext 2-3 days, but have lunch in a flash out of the freezer.

Janet - June 21, 2010

I am also having a party for my son. Limited income too. Pulled pork is a great idea. Look for a hostess outlet if they have one by you buns and bread are really cheap. Mostaccioli is easy and just keep warm in the crockpot, i will be borrowing a couple from friends. Pasta salad,I use multicolored pasta, salami cut in strips, diced red pepper, shredded italian cheese, sliced black olives and italian dressing easy and everyone loves it and its cheap. Also if anyones interested instead of renting a tent for a 175 and up, I found a coleman gazebo tent 15 x 12 @ my local dunhams 69.00 alot cheaper and can be used again for other parties.

Michael - October 20, 2010

Ive got some sweet party tips from this. Halloween is gonna be a great one! Thank you

Helen - April 11, 2011

great ideas! i also have grad party coming up! Thank you all, huge help!

Robyn - April 13, 2011

A fun and easy party is to have a bonfire, and have the guest cook hotdogs, roast marshmallows (or smores), and pop popcorn over the fire. You can also cut up veggies (make ahead and store in ziplock bags) also cut up fruits (watermelon, strawberries and red and green grapes) Homemade chocolate chip cookies go over well too, and can be used to make the smores) deviled eggs, homemade chili. To make homemade skewers I used dowel sticks and drilled a small hole in the end. I then inserted a inexpensive metal kabob skewer with the end cut off ( the round circle end of the metal kabob skewer) You can fine the outdoor popcorn poppers in camping stores (also seen them in thrift stores). I have also made homemade apple pie dough along with canned apples and cinnamon and sugar and homemade pizza dough and along with pizza fixings and they cooked their own in the poorman square camping cookers found at Walmarts camping section.

Mary - April 15, 2011

For my oldest son’s open house we hosted a baked potato bar. You can wash the potatoes in your dishwasher! NOTE: If you do these ahead, you can make sure they’re COMPLETELY DRY and then wrap in foil. LESSON LEARNED: Do NOT pierce with a fork before wrapping in foil…. YUK! Bake your potatoes ahead, and then keep them warm in a roaster. Have bowls of various toppings: shredded cheese, cheese sauce, bacon bits, sour cream, chives, chopped steamed broccoli, ham bits, sunflower seeds, etc. It was a really fun and different type of menu, everyone liked it. My nephew had a brunch menu…also fun and fairly inexpensive. For my daughter’s next month (also my son’s college recital) we’ll do a chocolate fountain… EVERYONE borrows mine, so you should be able to find a friend who has one, lol! 6 bags of chocolate chips + 1.5 cups of vegetable oil – heat in microwave until melted and stir to blend – then pour into base of fountain. (there are instructions online) It looks very impressive and professional – and you can have cheap things to dip into the fountain: Pretzel rods, wafer cookies, marshmallows, etc. It is messy, but everyone *loves* it.

Andy - May 15, 2011

Hey what a great site full of great ideas you could say it’s a passport to a perfect grad party.

Candy - April 3, 2012

I am also preparing for graduation—my conclusion is the simpler the better. Going to do polish dogs in a roaster with onions & water. Can turn on low before leaving for graduation & will be ready. Can also make up some sloppy joes and have them warming slowly. After that salads—Ask a couple of friends or family members to make a couple of salads and it will take some of the pressure off of you. Also—make a reasonable size cake & then brownies or cookies for sweets. There is always so much cake leftover after these things and it’s like throwing money away. Remember people are coming to celebrate the graduation of your child not critique your food layout.

Linda Landis - April 28, 2012

Thank-you everyone for all your wonderful ideas.

Lori S - May 7, 2012

My son is graduating this year from high school. Several friends of mine also have seniors this year. We are each going to make a dish for the other parties. This will help us all, especially with time.

Tina - May 9, 2012

Thank you for all the great ideas! I too have a son graduating this year n was think of doing the normal meat n cheese try w assorted salads, veggies and fruit. Oh of course cake and other desserts? After reading all these I am going to think hard about changing mine. I did want to add a friend of mine is doing French Dips. A roaster of beef more on the rare side and watching the time the put it in and than french bread/hoagie style bread cut in half with all the fixings you would like. I did think this was a great idea to share with everyone.

Joanne Peterson - June 7, 2012

I have made for large gatherings pulled turkey and gravy with rolls. I use the largest turkey I can find. I season it, place the turkey breastside down in a roaster with cut up root vegetables and celery, and garlic and some chicken broth in the bottom of the roaster. Very slow roast it at 300 degrees covered till done so it stays juicy. When it is cool, shred it. Make a gravy from the strained broth and may need to stretch it with some more chicken broth. Combine the meat and the gravy. Taste for salt and pepper. Can also use a barbeque sauce instead of the gravy. Just save the broth and drippings for a later date for a different use because they are very flavorful. It’s a great make ahead dish. I rewarmed and then kept the pulled turkey and gravy hot in a large crock-pot. It always goes over well.

Carmen razo - June 16, 2012

This is what i prepared:
Enchiladas. layered,( cheese ,meat, onions) or ( celery,onion, zuchihi finely chopped with cheese)
Green salad (large bag ) & salad dressing
Veggie plate: celery,carrots, broccoli, zucchini ,& dip( cut into strips)
Fruit plate: watermelon,melon,jicima(cut into squares )
Set cake table:large picture of graduate, (candy, colors of school))

Miranda - July 15, 2012

I graduate next June so in 2013 and my parents told me to start planning and within the last couple days I have pretty much everything done but the food. We are also on a low income and this website really helped me thanks everyone for all of your posts. :)

brenda - April 25, 2013

surprised i dont see anything about mac and cheese or baked beans in bulk form from gordons or sam’s club?? is it a bad idea??

Anita - April 29, 2013

I realize the original post is old, but I think this is an ongoing issue. I have had 4 graduation parties and will have another this year. We have had several of our graduations with my kid’s best friends. We provide the place and share the costs of having to buy everything. We have served as many as 300 and many of the party goers would be going to each of the parties if they were separate, so it helps out there too. Just be sure that you all agree on budgets etc in the beginning. We’ve had some very successful parties this way!

Tara - May 25, 2013

My son graduated this year and really would like a breakfast themed open house. The party starts at 4pm and I’m just not sure if this is a good idea or not. If anyone has any input I would really appreciate it! :)

robin - May 27, 2013

Yes, even though this original question is old, i too have gotten some great ideas. Kind of knew what i was going to make but wanted some other options. I have a tried and true mac and cheese ill be making. inexpensive and easy and serves many. 1 box of elbow mac., i can of cream mushroom soup, diced onion, minced ham(optional)large bag of mexican cheese, cook mac. in rectangular casserol place soup
onions half cheese and ham. mix together. add mac, mix with milk until very creamy and top with rest of cheese. Can add breadcrumbs for top. go far feeds many

Amy - May 30, 2013

I’m having a grad party this June for my dd. My son’s was 2 years ago & I learned a bit through trial & error. Pulled pork. Cheap & yummy. Pork Shoulder, not loin… loin is too dry. I’ll be feeding 100 so this is what I’ll do. 3 shoulders in a roaster. Season with salt, pepper & garlic powder, then cover in rootbeer. Stick in oven at 275 for about 4 hours. Drain & shred. Use Sweet Baby Ray hickory BBQ sauce. Under $30 & EVERYONE asks who catered. I’m gonna try pulled smoked turkey this time, as well, with a light gravy instead of BBQ sauce. Fingers crossed. Hot potato salad with apples & bacon in a vinegar sugar sauce… cheap & tasty as all get out. Baked Ziti… really doesn’t get cheaper than that!! A few Mac salads & a veggie tray. Cake gets wasted so instead I make cupcakes & brownie bites around a centerpiece-ish thing (check pinterest for ideas) with a picture of the kid in the middle. Rolls from Aldis. I can feed 100 for under $100. Beer, wine & pop runs more than the food…

Christian - April 14, 2015

Great ideas, I read all the way to the bottom! I’m having my last child’s graduation party in June (my other child graduated 2 years ago). For his party I did a hot dog bar, potato chips, cheese puffs, pretzels, a sheet cake, and bowls of candy. For my daughter I sought out help because although the first grad party I did was fine, I’m always looking for new ideas and really would like to do something other than your typical cookout food! I did make the mini peanut butter cup graduation caps and they were a huge hit!

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