You don’t have to splurge to host an epic viewing party.

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Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where assistant nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life

I have always loved football. Growing up, my dad would coach my two brother's teams and we wouldn't miss a game. As we grew up, game days at their alma mater (which became my alma mater, too) Michigan State University were some of my favorite fall memories. When the summer starts to taper off and the weather cools, I eagerly await being able to wear all my Sparty or Detroit Lions gear and cheer on my team. 

To me, football (or any sport, for that matter) is something that is meant to be enjoyed with others. This could partially be due to my affinity for hosting a good party. (For more on that, check out things I wish I knew before hosting my first Friendsgiving.) As much as I love to host, I am on a budget, so it takes a little extra planning to pull off a large get-together within my means.

That said, I have taken it upon myself to become queen of the tailgate. From College Game Day to the Super Bowl, I have a few tried-and-true affordable recipes that complement the big game. I like to set out several appetizers and sides for munching, paired with a few heartier entrees, so people create their own plate with what they like. And don't forget the dessert to satisfy a sweet tooth. Here is my favorite budget-friendly game day menu. 

Appetizers

To me, it's not a party without an array of apps. You don't have to make all of these yourself, so don't be shy about delegating dishes to your friends. It can help you save money and lets people feel involved (regardless of who they're rooting for). Here are a few of the budget-friendly appetizers I turn to on game day. 

Slow-Cooker Buffalo Chicken Dip

Slow-Cooker Buffalo Chicken Dip

If you make one thing for a viewing party, make this Slow-Cooker Buffalo Chicken Dip. I don't like to play favorites, but if I had to this would be it. I make this recipe all the time for a few reasons. It's super easy and relatively fast, with only 15 minutes of active time. It also only takes a few budget-friendly ingredients like chicken, onions, cream cheese and hot sauce. Most of all, it's downright delicious. The first time I made this was for the Super Bowl, and my one roommate at the time took the entire container to the couch with him.

Tequila Guacamole

Tequila Guacamole

Think of this as guacamole that's ready to party! This Tequila Guacamole is perfect for dipping chips, topping nachos or spreading on sweet potato skins. I take a "more is merrier" approach when it comes to dips at a tailgate because of how easy, flavorful and shareable they are. Plus, the leftovers are perfect for snacking or adding to breakfast tacos the next day.

loaded sheet pan nachos with salsa

Loaded Sheet-Pan Nachos

Bags of plain tortilla chips to pair with your guac feels a little lack-luster to me. Instead, make These easy, affordable Loaded Sheet-Pan Nachos. They're an easy way to boost your veggie intake and are ready in 20 minutes. If you are already making guacamole, I'd skip topping with avocados.

The Main Event

You can make one of these, all of them or a combination. I like to have a few options, including a plant-based one for anyone who doesn't eat meat. Here are a few budget-friendly mains that will help fuel you through the big game.

bowl of vegetarian chili

Easy Vegetarian Chili

This is a healthier, cheaper spin on a game-day classic. Our Easy Vegetarian Chili relies on pantry-friendly ingredients like beans and diced tomatoes, so you can have a filling main that won't break the bank. This veg-forward option is perfect for anyone who doesn't eat meat, and it's loaded with nutritious vegetables and fiber, which can sometimes be sparse at a tailgate.

Cast-Iron Skillet Pizza

In this Cast-Iron Skillet Pizza with Sausage & Kale, the skillet can double as a serving dish which helps cut down on the number of dishes to scrub later. And with only six ingredients, this homemade pizza is just as easy to make as it is impressive to serve.

Baked Buffalo Chicken Wings
Credit: Jennifer Causey

Baked Buffalo Chicken Wings

I don't have an air fryer or the desire to deep-fry wings in my one-bedroom apartment. These Baked Buffalo Wings pack all of the flavor, without the hassle (and are healthier because of it, too). If you're not a meat-eater, we have a delicious vegan version that uses cauliflower.

Dessert

Strawberry-Chocolate Greek Yogurt Bark

Strawberry-Chocolate Greek Yogurt Bark

As you can see, this menu covers a lot of bases, so at this point you might be feeling a little full. This Strawberry-Chocolate Greek Yogurt Bark is the perfect light, refreshing dessert as the party winds down. It has only five ingredients and there's no baking required, so you can focus on enjoying yourself instead of waiting on the oven. It's easy to make ahead, too. Try getting creative and swap in berries that match your team's colors. For Michigan State, I might use kiwis. For the Lions games, I'll try out blueberries.