(ARA) - Whether entertaining throughout the season or inviting your closest friends and family over for an evening of fun, every host strives to impress their guests. But sometimes the stress and steep costs of shopping, cooking and entertaining can derail plans of being the hostess with the mostess. This year, use a few simple tips and tricks to make your gatherings special, memorable and affordable.
"Costs and quality don't necessarily have to compete," says Melissa d'Arabian, cook and celebrity chef who focuses on creating meals for the family that cost less than $10. "When entertaining, I like to keep things creative, without breaking the bank - especially if you have a big family or a large group of guests. By being savvy and finding creative ways to save, I'll have extra funds to put towards party essentials or gifts."
Celebrity chef d'Arabian offers these expert tips to add flair to your next special occasion without letting costs add up:
* Allow eager guests to bring their signature dish, in lieu of bringing a bottle of wine. This will help you to focus on your plates and ensure everyone feels part of the special occasion.
* If kids are attending, set aside a table with fun games like Disney Puzzle Packs, Green Lantern Hot Wheels Set or Music Ink Guitar. Stop by your local Family Dollar store to pick up these games and toys, which are sure to entertain for hours. If kids are young, hire a local teenager for an hour to lead the games, freeing up some adult time.
* My favorite tradition is to use pretty greeting cards and envelopes as place cards, then write a personalized note inside. I love to have my visitors feel like their presence matters as they sit down at our family table.
* Instead of splurging on premade snacks, make your own. Spiced Herbed Nuts is an easy and festive recipe. Sprinkle herbs, spices, a teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of salt with a bit of butter into a saute pan. Toss in the nuts and cook until fragrant. Serve as an appetizer, garnish a salad or accompany a cheese platter. Stocking up on these simple ingredients at your local discount retailer like Family Dollar will go a long way for a reasonable price.
* Buying preshaved toppings can be pricey, instead, purchase inexpensive bars of chocolate and use a vegetable peeler to create elegant garnishes, giving a final touch to any dessert dish.
As you're focused on creating an unforgettable gathering, don't lose sight of the most important part. "When you welcome people into your home, it's about the people. Your guests want to see you more than anything else," says d'Arabian. "Keep your menu simple so you can give your attention and energy to your guests, not just the food."
For more value-priced entertaining and gifting ideas, visit www.familydollar.com or check out Family Dollar on Facebook at www.facebook.com/familydollar.