Christmas is the perfect time to reconnect with friends and family over dinner. Sarah Deveau of Money Smart Mom shares some of her tips on how to put together a lovely dinner party on a budget:

Rosemary Clooney had it right when she sang, “Come on-a my house… I’m gonna give a you figs and dates and grapes and cakes.” The power of food to comfort, nurture, and connect people has been understood for centuries. So why have dinner parties fallen out of fashion?

In this age of fast food, hosting a dinner party is an enjoyable way to catch up with friends and family, sharing food, wine, laughter and stories. And it doesn’t have to be expensive. By following the tips below, you can revive the art of dinner parties with your circle of friends, creating wonderful memories and strengthening relationships in the process. Your children will also enjoy seeing friends they don’t see at school or in their sports groups.

The KISS principle
Since when did dinner parties become such formal affairs? Follow the KISS principle (Keep it Simple Silly) to ensure you and your guests have a great time. Forget preparing braised lamb with roasted avocado salad. For your first soiree, have the kids create construction paper Italian flags and scatter colourful dried pasta across a white tablecloth. Put on a little Dean Martin, prepare a huge pot of spaghetti, and put the garlic bread in the oven to broil. You’re having your first fabulous dinner party (and serving food even the little ones will eat). Enough pasta, sauce and bread to serve an army is inexpensive. Forgo the steaks and no one will miss it.

All together now
Involve your guests in the making of the meal and it will become a labour of love for everyone. Suggest a bi-monthly potluck, and assign each guest a different course. Or plan a dinner party that allows guests to contribute something to the preparation – a fondue, Asian wraps, BBQ, etc. Kids will love decorating for the event, and it makes it that much more special. Everyone will spend far less than what they would in a restaurant (even on beverages alone).

Be spontaneous
You don’t have to plan a dinner party weeks in advance. We all know what it’s like to try and schedule a night out – every body has their calendar, daytime, or PDA out, and no one can agree on a single date. But if you have the courage to throw a dinner party on a day’s notice, you’ll find it’s easy to get at least one family over. Skip spending time and money on invitations – just pick up the phone.

Do it now, then do it again
In her poem, If I had my life to live over, Erma Bombeck writes, “I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained, the sofa faded or the kitchen is being remodelled.” You don’t need a spotless designer home to enjoy the company of good friends. During the first years of our marriage, my husband and I had a 600 square foot apartment and a kitchen table that could barely seat two adults. We didn’t let that stop us, hosting dinner parties for four, six, and even eight guests. We didn’t care if we had to eat with our plates in our laps – and neither did our guests. Now dinner parties are mad affairs with children underfoot and parents popping up from the table and conversation to go settle arguments and get more ketchup, but it’s still a blast.

Your family may soon find restaurants are a thing of the past – dinner parties are more fun, cost less, and can last as long as the children do, without the dirty looks from other diners or management!