What To Bring To A Potluck

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Being a frugal person sometimes puts me in an awkward position, especially when it comes to potlucks.

A potluck is an event where people bring their own dishes to share with others.

It’s supposed to be fun and stress-free. I personally love potlucks because I can make one dish but be able to enjoy a wide variety of dishes.

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If the event is small (4-5 people), we know who will be at the potluck, and that everyone else will know what you bring.

You don’t want to look bad or stingy by bringing something cheap or not tasty.

However, when the event is big (20-30 people), you run into a public good problem.

A public good is a good that can be shared by anyone no matter how much or whether they contribute to making it.

In the case of a potluck, you can bring a $50 dish, but others may bring $1 bread or $ 3 cookies.

For a frugal person, $50 can easily mean a week’s worth of their groceries.

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If you’re only into the fun, it probably doesn’t bother you a bit. But if you care about the division of labor, you probably think it’s unfair that you have to contribute more while others who bring less can enjoy the same outcome as you. This can easily ruin the fun you originally hope for.

I have been to potlucks where people dice up a pickle cucumber, put it in a bowl with diluted vinegar, and keep telling others how much they love it.

I have seen people bringing a tiny bowl of scrambled eggs, diced potatoes, or pasta that probably can’t even fill up one person.

I have also seen people bring an elaborate tray of grilled Korean pork ribs that tasted delicious. Some would bring two huge buckets of KFC chicken or 3-5 pizzas.

If you’re frugal and trying to feed your family on a one income, I think it’s totally reasonable to be budget-conscious. But sometimes when I look at the dishes brought to a potluck, I feel a little sad and disappointed.

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Fried dumplings & chicken stir-fried with chickpeas – What I recently brought to a potluck

I was once guilty of this when I was a poor graduate student. I’d bring cheap dishes that would cost me less than $3.

Now that I’ve had a stable job, Mr. FAF and I are still paying off our mortgage for our future goals. It seems like there’s always a need to be frugal.

But Mr. FAF and I have decided not to embarrass ourselves at potlucks by bringing dishes that can feed only 1-2 people or that no one wants to touch.

If the two of us go somewhere, we will bring at least two dishes. For example, for Thanksgiving, we would bring a pumpkin pie and a Rossetti chicken we bought from the grocery store for $10.

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Sometimes we also host hotpots at our home and invite our good friends. We also remind them not to bring anything since that’s when we just want to get together and thank them for their help.

Recently, I was invited to a potluck. I bought French bread and had some canned tuna in the pantry, so I made an appetizer and brought some pumpkin seeds together with it. You can also get creative with a lot of inexpensive ingredients. You just need to invest some time into the making of the food, and voila!


Tuna bread & tuna wraps


Deciding what to bring to a potluck is sometimes not easy. You want to bring something delicious that a lot of people can enjoy but won’t ruin your monthly food budget. Instead of stressing about it or deciding not to go at all, we can can try to cook a frugal but delicious meal.

Bread and rice together with a side dish can always make a low-cost yet fulfilling meal for everyone. If you don’t feel like cooking, a pie or Rossetti chicken at the grocery store can save you both time and money as it has helped Mr. FAF and me.

And most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy the good company. That’s what get-togethers are for.


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26 thoughts on “What To Bring To A Potluck”

  • My favourite dish to bring is a fruit salad. It’s easy to prepare and everyone needs a serving of fruits in their diet anyway. My favourite fruit salad is made with a watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew.

    At other times, when I am not feeling lazy, I will make spring rolls. I also host an annual BBQ at my house where my friends just come and relax. My wife and I do most of the work. We just had the BBQ last weekend. It was a great time to spend with our friends.

    • I love spring rolls and BBQ! We’re hosting a lunch with some neighbors this weekend. Mr. FAF said we will make some Chinese dishes, so I’m excited to see what my MIL and Mr. FAF will come up with! 😀

  • When I worked in our CA office, I always brought the salad. It was pretty easy to get a decent mix of greens, veggies, maybe some fruit and cheese all for around $10-15. Plus, it helped to have something semi-healthy with the platters of cookies and heavier snacks 🙂

  • My favorite thing to bring is a vat of vegetarian fried rice! I make it with egg, but omit meat. I also like to bring cookies if it’s going to be a larger event. I know some people “cheap out” and bring just a bag of chips to an event, but I like to share my cooking with others.

    • I love fried rice! It’s so delicious and easy to make. I like it when Mr. FAF puts some pickled cabbage in the fried rice. It makes a HUGE difference!

    • Haha moms always come to our rescue, especially when it comes to food. I love the price and the deliciousness of pasta salad! 😀

  • Thanks for sharing. Love the dishes! We really love this sausage and cream cheese dip, it’s basically 2x packages of cream cheese, 1x can of rotel, 1 lb sausage. 2-3x bags of chips. If we’re looking for a low-cost dinner to share, it’s red beans/sausage and rice. If it’s a breakfast potluck, we bring cheese grits (with sausage), and people literally die right there while eating it because it’s so good. These all make a lot of food, but are easy to make and super affordable, like $5-$12 a pop.

    • Wow $5-$12 sounds like a great budget for a potluck dish! I might copy some of your ideas because they sound great hehe. 😉

  • We were just talking about this the other day! We host a lot, using potluck style meals. Many people don’t know what does into hosting and end up bringing very small amounts of food, causing us to have to cover the unfilled needs of the meal. My hubs struggles with this because we are frugal. But my natural nature is to feed everyone tons of food (I’m southern, we like to feed people). So we are struggling with the balance between frugal but not being cheap in these situations too.

  • Hello I’m the person that brought the delicious BBQ pork platter 😀 thanks for the compliment lol. It was delicious!

    I want want to be frugal with others. We don’t go to potlucks very often so I like to go all out. I brought thai and mango sticky rice and BBQ pork to my last pot luck and it was a hit.

    • OMG I need to invite you to our next potluck, Lily! I’m a huge fan of Korean BBQ and mango sticky rice. I can eat them all day every day. Why can’t we live in the same city?? *crying*

  • Those tuna wraps look delicious! I do run into dilemmas like this too. I find Pinterest to by quite helpful. Many times I would choose to bring mix drinks such as sangria rather than food. You can (almost) never go wrong with alcohol.

  • Gosh – we had a potluck at the last show I did and I’m sure I annoyed everyone by fretting and fussing over what I should bring. Eventually it was agreed that I would bring juice, which worked out pretty well. It’s hard when you’re the only one in the room making a fraction of what everyone else is making – I think in the future I’ll try to bring ‘fun’ food. Or watermelon. Everyone seems to love watermelon, for some reason.

    The potluck I went to had about twice as many desserts as real food too! Gonna stay away from bringing the sweets too, next time I get invited to one.

    • Nice. I haven’t heard the term party chip before. I once did this..and will no more! They tasted like old salty cardboard and when people had a bite, they would either:
      a) leave them on their plate and throw them away is discreetly
      b) do the thing where you put the napkin up to your mouth and pretend to wipe your mouth…but actually put the food from your mouth in the napkin. Does that have a name?

  • For a dinner – style potluck I love to make roasted seasonal veggies – potatoes, winter or summer squash, mushrooms, carrots, whatever else is on sale. It’s so easy to just cut everything up, season and drizzle with olive oil and 45 minutes in the oven. Usually goes well with most mains and is vegetarian friendly of course. It also can be served warm or cold for either summer or winter. For a more casual get together it’s hard to go wrong with hummus, crackers, and carrots. The scrambled egg thing really stuck out to me…can’t imagine eating scrambled eggs that someone made an hour later…even simple hard boiled eggs would be better..

  • Nice post! I feel the same way. I hate to be the person who brings items directly from the store, but sometimes I don’t have the time to prepare food in advance. When I do buy it directly from the store, I try to get a fruit tray or something similar. I leave it in the same container so I’m not hiding the origin. I have known people who will get store bought cookies, put them in a cookie tin container and act like they made them themselves….and not admit it when they get compliments!

  • Ha! I never have thought about this. I think the biggest thing is prepping in advance. Like Palmetto Millennial said above, sometimes you just don’t have time, but that’s when I end up bring Levain Cookies at $4 a pop (yes, four bucks per cookie). You can easily create a shareable meal that’s delicious for just a few dollars if you plan ahead.

    And a single cucumber in vinegar just made me sad. Definitely LOL’d, but pouted simultaneously.

  • I usually go to brunch potlucks and I always bring grits and collards in a slow cooker. If you have a slow cooker with your dish in it, it will be the hit of the party because everybody else made something that is meant to be warm and gets cold during the party…but not you! Yours stays hot, which makes it taste better. I make the grits with earth balance instead of butter, which makes the whole dish both vegan and gluten free. Vegan and GF people are always happy if there is something not only edible but tasty. Grits are really cheap (get 5 min grits not instant) and collards are 99 cents a bunch. Sautee them with onions and throw hot pepper vinegar on top. It is a tasty dish that takes 15 mins to prepare and costs less than $4 for enough to serve 10 people.

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