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Cater Your Own Wedding: Easy, Delicious Party Food Ideas

Updated on August 30, 2013

wedding planning - wedding receptions

I'd had a lot of experience with party food and with coming up with party ideas. I wasn't sure, however, that I could pull this one off. When my oldest daughter got married, my husband and I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on a wedding or on a wedding reception. There were some things, of course, we couldn’t avoid spending out hard-earned cash for, but there were other areas where we could save by doing the work ourselves. I decided that I would prepare all the food for the wedding reception myself. Well, actually, my mom and aunt helped, too, but at least we didn’t have to pay a wedding reception caterer.

Like most women from the Old South, the ladies in my family were all good cooks and were used to preparing party foods. We also had a good bit of creativity and imagination, so I felt sure we could pull this off. I believed we could make the wedding reception enjoyable for all our guests, which was my main objective.

A couple of months before the big event, my daughter and I made a tentative menu. I then listed all the ingredients we’d need for all the dishes. When I saw any of our listed items on sale, I bought in bulk. Every time I made a trip to the grocery store, I’d pick up something for the wedding reception. Sometimes I'd get more party ideas while shopping. Before long, I had everything I needed.

A few days before the reception, I began preparing the food. Some I placed in the freezer, and some was fine in the fridge. Below are the foods we served at the wedding reception, along with some serving ideas.

Sweet and sour meatballs: Buy already-made frozen meatballs. Let them thaw. Place in a large pot on medium-low heat. Add small strips of red and green bell peppers. When the meatballs are warm, add canned pineapple tidbits and jars of commercial sweet and sour sauce. If the sauce gets too thick, add a little of the pineapple juice. Serve in a chafing dish.

Boiled shrimp: I bought cooked, peeled, deveined shrimp from Walmart whenever it was on sale for $5 a pound. It came in 1-pound bags, so it was easy to store in the freezer. On the big day, we just threw the frozen shrimp into a pot of boiling water with some seafood seasoning and let them boil for about two minutes. Then we chilled them in the fridge. We served them in a large silver punch bowl with a bowl of cocktail sauce in the center, over a layer of ice.

Sandwich meats: I bought sliced ham, turkey, and roast beef and layered them on a serving tray, with each slice rolled up. Next to the meats, we placed small bowls of mustard and mayonnaise. Next to the meats and condiments was an assortment of rolls. I had purchased a large basket with a handle at Michael’s, and I spray-painted it white. I placed the rolls in the basket and turned the basket on its side so that the rolls were spilling onto the table.

Seafood salad: I bought already-made seafood salad and “jazzed it up” with sliced green onions and some real crab meat. This I served in a footed trifle dish.

3-bean salad: This is super easy, and it makes an attractive dish. The ratio is one can of green beans, one can of yellow wax beans, and one can of dark red kidney beans. Add thinly sliced red onions, and cover with bottled red wine vinegar dressing. Add sugar or Splenda to taste, along with salt and pepper. The salad needs to sit in the fridge overnight for the flavors to mingle.

Hot crab dip: Mix together cream cheese, refrigerated canned crab meat, butter, garlic, diced onions, diced bell pepper, ground red pepper, and salt. Heat it in the microwave until hot, then add finely shredded Colby and jack cheese. If the cheese doesn’t melt completely, pop it back in the microwave for a few seconds. Serve it in a chafing dish, and place a basket of thick crackers or toasted bread rounds next to it. This was a definite favorite!

Macaroni salad: Buy the big containers of commercial macaroni salad and add black olives, sliced green onions, and grape tomato halves for a colorful dish.

Raw veggies and dip: You know how to do this!

Fruit and cheese tower: This was so cool! Get different sizes of cardboard boxes. Place them on the table in pyramid fashion. Drape the pyramid with a tablecloth. Now you have several levels on which to place fruit. I used a whole pineapple on the top. On the other layers I placed small bunches of grapes in different colors, letting some fall over the edges. I also used fresh cherries with stems, strawberries, little pineapple wedges, and sliced starfruit. Around the base, I used more fruit and small slices and cubes of different cheeses.

Chicken salad tarts: Buy the frozen mini-phyllo cups and store them in the freezer. The morning of the event, take the cups out of the freezer and leave them at room temperature. About an hour before serving, place a teaspoon or more of the chicken salad into each cup. Garnish with little springs of fresh parsley.

Cheese cakes: Place standard size cupcake liners in muffin tins. The silver ones are pretty for a wedding reception. In the bottom of each liner, place a vanilla wafer. Make the cheesecake filling with Jello instant cheesecake and fill each liner about half full. Leave the little cheesecakes at room temperature for about an hour so that the wafers will soften, then place in the fridge to set. Once the filling has set, the liners can be removed from the muffin tins. Just before serving, top each mini-cake with a dollop of blueberry or cherry pie filling. These are delicious!

Powdered cookies: I learned this from a professional caterer. Buy Fig Newtons, Strawberry Newtons, and Cherry Cheesecake Newtons. Slice each cookie into three sections and shake in powdered sugar. They make dainty little cookies that look homemade. I served these in a three-tiered silver serving dish.

Thumbprint cookies: We made dainty little thumbprint cookies and filled them with icing colored to match the wedding colors. These can be made ahead of time and kept in the freezer.

Cheese and jam ring: Make your favorite cheese ball mixture and add ground pecans to it. Shape it into a ring, like a donut, on a large round silver or glass serving plate. Fill the center with raspberry jam. Place a line of crackers in a ring around the cheese.

Mimosa punch: Here’s the ratio – a 2-liter bottle of ginger ale, a quart of orange juice, and a fifth of champagne. All the liquids should be ice cold before serving. Keep it cold with an ice ring made of the orange juice.

Raspberry-lemon punch: We served this punch for the guests who didn’t drink alcoholic beverages. I bought the gallon jugs of lemonade from Walmart. I added already sweetened raspberry Kool-aid mix or tubs of Crystal Light raspberry mix to the lemonade. Then I added ginger ale. Add finely crushed ice just before serving.

Hint: Place your foods at different levels. Use books, boxes, or whatever under the tablecloths to place some of the dishes on. It makes for a more attractive display than for everything at table level.

I have more to tell you about wedding receptions, but I think it will have to be in Part II. I’m tired.


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