WE’RE now in the best part of the year for long, light evenings and with that comes a bit at home al fresco dining.

However, if you’re catering for a big party, the price can rocket so here are a few ideas to help you stay on budget.

Start off with filling appetisers, one of the best is cheesy garlic bread. Thick slices, covered in homemade garlic butter and a sprinkling of tasty cheese, pop under the grill and hey presto a plate of tangy, garlicky deliciousness.

When it comes to the mains, try mixing it up a bit. Barbecued aubergine, peppers, courgettes and veggie kebabs add colour, flavour and texture to steaks, sausage, burgers and chicken. When buying meat, opt for a family pack of stewing steak and marinade overnight for delicious kebabs. These are tender, tasty and work out much cheaper than the regular cuts. And sides? Coleslaw, rice and potato salads are really quick and easy to rustle up and there are none of those nasty little plastic pots.

If you want to include pudding try meringues and fresh fruit, quick to make and if you avoid the most expensive fresh fruits or simply go for a bag of frozen forest fruits from the supermarket, a little goes a long way.

Finally, what will you give your guests to drink? There is always plenty of cheap beer around but to add a little variety simply fill a large jug with a litre of cranberry juice, add a litre of ginger ale or fizzy water, depending upon how sweet you like it and top off with either crushed pineapple or mango and ice.

Whatever you eat, make sure that meat, fish and dairy stay chilled for as long as possible and that everything is cooked right through.

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