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Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Party Vegetable Tray

This is one of those things that was commercialized, about 15-20 years ago, but that party-givers have been putting together for decades, if not longer.

We probably all remember our mothers putting together a vegetable or relish tray. It was unheard of, in my childhood, to buy a pre-made veggie platter, nicely arranged in a sectioned, plastic tray. They just weren't sold in supermarkets. And now, many hostesses rely on these pre-assembled party trays.

If you simply don't cook, I can see buying some items for a party. But, really, assembling raw veggies takes zero cooking skill. So, I just don't "get" buying these.

Our Cash & Carry has 64 oz. vegetable trays on sale, this week, for $8.95 each. And that is a pretty decent price for that size, pre-assembled vegetable tray. 4 pounds of fresh vegetables, for almost $9, or over $2 per pound for carrots, celery, cauliflower, broccoli and grape tomatoes (the actual cost is $2.23/lb). The most expensive item there is the section of grape tomatoes. However, at the same Cash & Carry, grape tomatoes sell for $4.17 for 2.5 pounds, or $1.66/lb. So, you're paying someone a lot of money to lay vegetables onto a plastic tray.

I wanted to see how cheaply I could put together a similar tray. Off to WinCo I headed. I bought 1 bundle of celery for 98 cents (it weighed almost 2 lbs), 1 pound of baby carrots for 98 cents, 1 12-ounce container of grape tomatoes for $1.48 ($1.97/lb), and 3/4 pound of broccoli crowns, for $1.10 (at $1.48/lb). I also bought Ranch dressing mix from the bulk bins for 58 cents (.10 lb at $5.81/lb). I used about 2/3 of the dressing mix, or about 38 cents worth. from my kitchen I used milk, vinegar and mayonnaise to make the dip, at about 25 cents. And I used a nice dish from my own kitchen to serve my veggie platter.

My cost was about $5.17, for 4 & 1/2 lbs of vegetables and 8 ounces of dip -- an 80 oz tray, instead of Cash & Carry's 64 oz tray. For a price comparison, 64 ounces of my homemade platter cost $4.14, less than half the cost of Cash & Carry's vegetable tray.

Time-wise, it took me about 10 minutes to rinse the veggies, cut the celery and broccoli and mix the dip, and zero cooking skills.

I know you probably already put together your own veggie platters. I just wanted to show you how worthwhile this is, to do yourself.


  1. I usually make my own trays, but the prep time takes longer than 10 minutes. I think I add a bigger variety of veggies that each need prepped. However, in the past I have gotten large trays from Costco when we've had a large gathering that takes a lot of setup--usually a big backyard affair and cutting up veggies is pretty low on the priority list. I haven't done an exact cost analysis, but I do know that what I got at Costco was much cheaper than I could find in any grocery store.

    Seeing your tray makes me wonder if I fixed one and had it around, if any of the carnivores would eat some of it. They haven't in the past, but maybe I'll give it another go and see what happens.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I suppose if you had to peel and cut up carrots, putting these together would take more time. I considered using my whole carrots at home for this, but decided I would do it in a quick and easy fashion. Same for the broccoli crowns. I could have bought whole broccoli, but went with the crowns that only needed rinsing and separating, leaving the length of the stalk on each piece. And I also went with dip mix, instead of creating a dip from my own dried herbs and seasonings. Time-wise, I went with almost everything that was fast. We had 30 minutes to make dinner and eat it, last night, before I had to take one daughter to a meeting. So this tray had to be thrown together in a hurry. While I made the tray my daughters made burritos for everyone.

      I'd like to go to a Costco and price compare, someday. I have always figured that Cash & Carry is pretty close.

      Have a great day, live and learn!

  2. I agree with Live & Learn, if I'm going to buy a veggie tray (which is maybe once every 2 yrs.), Costco is my go-to. And yes, I'm old enough to remember that veggie trays were not pre-made. Neither were salads, or chickens, or meals (other than t.v. dinners).

    I'm rarely assigned a veggie tray for family dinners. That usually falls to someone who doesn't/can't cook.

    On the rare occasion I do cut up veggies for a veggie tray, I like to add red bell pepper, mushrooms and I cut up carrots. I skip the celery because we have a lot of celery haters in our family (although that's probably the cheapest thing on the tray).

    I might add a veggie tray to our Christmas dinner this year. The meal itself is so heavy that raw veggies would be a nice addition. Thanks for the idea, Lili. Melissa

    1. Hi Melissa,
      Oh yeah, bagged salad. I forgot how new that is. I still wash the greens, when I buy them bagged. I always think I do a better job of washing. Ha ha! I remember learning the "correct" way to cut lettuce for salads. I don't think any kids nowadays would know what I'm talking about. We were taught to always tear lettuce and not cut with a knife, so the edges of the lettuce wouldn't turn brown. But maybe that mostly applies to iceberg lettuce, which isn't as popular now.

      One daughter suggested peppers, yesterday. I thought about them, but skipped because they are really out of season and didn't look so great, but also, I was thinking of speed. I think you're right about the celery being among the cheapest. That and whole carrots cut into sticks.

      This time of year, I do like having some sort of veggie tray (often just carrot sticks and celery) with holiday meals, instead of green salads. They are easy to prepare ahead of time, and inexpensive, mostly.

      Have a wonderful day, Melissa!

  3. I love to read these comparison articles! (Yes, I still get out my copy of The Complete Tightwad Gazette and reread it for fun every now and then. ;) ) Though I do normally make our own veggie trays, public schools here now have a rule that everything has to be storebought. What I've done a couple times is sign up for the fruit tray, buy the fruit and wash it myself, putting it on a plastic veggie tray from The Dollar Tree, but buy the dip from the store (though it pains me to pay their prices). I figure if anyone says anything I can truthfully say everthing is storebought (I did buy the fruit at the store after all, and would not be at all surprised if I do a better job rinsing it than store employees might!). So far, no one has ever complained.

    1. Cat, is that the stupidest thing ever, schools insisting on store-bought stuff for parties and bake sales? This was a HUGE pet peeve of mine when I had little ones!

      I imagine it's because of full ingredient lists and such; but as you said, your fruit tray is probably cleaner and your dip would be healthier without the additives I imagine are in the store-bought.

      When our kids' school went to store-bought-only for "bake sales", we stopped participating and buying. Before that, the home-made stuff had always gone the fastest,so made them the most money. A lot of the store-bought stuff languished until some mom felt bad and bought it so it wouldn't go in the trash and the school would get the cash.

      I like your sneaky way of participating. :) Hope your holidays are very merry! Sara

    2. Hi Cat,
      As I was writing this all out, I left out one detail in the price comparison, which I got a kick out of, and maybe you will, too.

      The dish I used for the veggies is a ceramic, open head of cabbage design, in a green glaze, appropriate for the veggies. Anyway, I got it at Value Village a year or two ago, and paid $3.99 for it. At the time I thought $3.99 was a bit of splurge, for me, for this dish. So, as I was assembling the tray, I was thinking of the cost of the veggies, the dip and the cost of the dish, and calculating all of that was still cheaper than Cash & Carry's veggie platter, on a plastic tray. Just something that tickled me.

      I should think that your home-washed fruit and bought dip would fall within the guidelines for store-bought! I understand that some kids have allergies/sensitivities, but some of the rules have been taken too far, if washing and cutting fruit at home wouldn't be allowed. As for the stuff that they put on cut fruit to keep it from browning in the store, your home-cut fruit would at most just have lemon juice on it, which I would think would be better for kids with sensitivities to chemicals.

      Have a great day, Cat!

    3. Hi Sara,
      Wait, wait, wait, are you saying that school bake sales had to only have non-home baked goods?! What would be the point?! That is so absurd it's laughable. I just can't imagine. I can see why you chose to no longer participate!

      Our church had a cookie sale a couple of weeks ago. I'm pretty sure there was nothing that wasn't homemade, there! We are careful, amongst our church members, to label basic allergenic ingredients on all foods set out. We have several people who are GF, allergic to nuts, allergic to peanuts, or can't have dairy. So, we're careful. But then again, so are the individuals.

      Anyways, off-topic, of course, but that was funny in an odd way, thinking about the school "bake sales".

      Have a great day, Sara!

    4. Yes, Lili, it had to all be grocery store baked goods or packaged cookies and things. And that was what I said, "What would be the point?" (sigh)

      I'm VERY empathetic about people with food allergies or sensitivities, especially young children. It's very difficult always worrying about what's in some new/unlabeled food. But promoting processed treats over home-made ones with basic ingredients doesn't seem like it's a good thing, either.

      My feeling is, in all potluck/bake sale situations, if we really can't safely eat together, then maybe we ought to be creating other social and/or money-raising events.

      Paying for packs of Oreos or granola bars which are then going to be sold for less than you paid at a "bake" sale is just silly and wasteful. Several moms and I went to the PTA and principal and said, "How about we just give you the money we would have spent on the pricey, packaged junk food in the first place?", but we were told that was not an option. You can't fight that sort of situation, so we just felt be needed to opt out.

      I'm busy this morning trying to turn some excess pantry ingredients into treats for the neighbors. Hope my experiments turn out!LOL Best to everybody, as Christmas approaches-- Sara

    5. Sara...regarding the bake sale....I have a fried who lives in another state. Her church has an "Unbake Sale". I asked her what that was. She said so many women work and don't have time to bake or don't want to. (She isn't among those ranks.) So, they have this type of sale. They come up with a list of prices they would sell items for. Say, Cookies 2/$1, Angel Food Cake $8, or brownies 4/$3....or whatever. Then each person decides what they would bake if they were baking and donate that amount. No one has to bake, work at the sale or loose money because the item sold for less than it costs. I have real reservations about this....but sounds like a better solution than tossing food or not getting back what the person donating paid for it. Just thought I would mention.
      I personally like to make as much from scratch as possible and also avoid as many waste plastics, etc as I can.
      I have been doing my own veggie trays since I married. I can control what is on the tray and in the dip...while saving lots of money. We have a garden in the summer and often have many things to use from it. Even now I still have carrots and a few stray this and that veggies.

    6. Sara, I tend to agree on the idea of promoting different kinds of events and fund-raisers. Not everything has to be about food. For myself, I often eat at home before I go to an event, if I know a meal will be heavy on dairy (like commercial pizza).

      It's harder with young children, though, to tell them they can't have what everyone else has. For several years, I worked in the kitchen at our church's VBS. We had several kids with food limitations. Most of the time, the parents would try to provide something as exciting as what we were making, but within limitations of the child's allergies.

      Good luck with your neighbor's gifts! Sounds like fun!

    7. Hi Linda,
      I think the homemade veggie platters can be more interesting, especially in situations like yours, where you have a garden to draw from. And you save a lot of money by doing so! Win win!

      Have a lovely day, Linda!

    8. Wow, Linda, that's quite a story about the "Unbake Sale". Thanks for sharing that. Hm. I can't quite decide if I think that's better than people bringing and selling Oreos, or not.

      To say that if I was going to bake, I'd bake an angel food cake --and here's what I would have spent-- seems very bizarre to me; but certainly less wasteful. :)

      But if it's just going to be about the money, seems simpler to just say, "we're raising money for this..." and accept donations. Like fire departments do "fill the boot", for example.

      One of our principals once told me that there was some problem with just asking for money, rather than forcing the kids to sell items no one wanted or needed or turn into a mental pretzel trying to make bake sales PC. I can't remember what it was, but at the time it seemed really silly to us that there wasn't some other option.

      You sound like a good gal to have around for a bake sale or a party. :) Sara

  4. Yum I love veggie trays. I used to bring the more complicated things to gatherings but now sometimes I get to bring a veggie tray. I think it is good for the younger folks to learn to cook. My mom would say if you can read you can cook. I used to buy all the young women that got married Better Homes and Gardens cook books. It is basic, I think even bachelors would benefit from this cookbook. We have 3 parties this weekend one is a birthday. One is a cookie exchange and one is a Christmas party. Maybe I will bring a veggie tray.Lili do you have a Gluten free cookie or candy on your blog.
    Thank You,

    1. Hi Patti,
      I agree with your mom! I have my mother's BH & G cookbook from 1957. It was a wedding gift to she and my father. When I moved out on my own, my mom gave it to me to learn basic cooking skills and menu planning. Most of the cookbooks sold today are more of specialty cookbooks, and don't feature basic techniques and cooking methods, so beginners don't really get a sense of how to improvise on their own, which is too bad. I like your idea to give that cookbook as a wedding gift.

      How about English Toffee? It's butter, almonds, sugar and chocolate.

      Another one I like is candied orange peel. I make it in 2 - 3 inch strips, and after it's dried, I dip the strips in melted chocolate. that is just the orange peel, sugar, confectioner's sugar and chocolate

      Both of those are nice enough that I've given them as gifts.

      You have a busy weekend! Enjoy, Patti!

    2. Thank You those sound wonderful. I am going to
      give them a try. It is always fun to have something I can have. Too much gluten is not my
      Enjoy the rest of your day.

  5. I love throwing together a veggie tray. Easy, tasty, and except for the dip, completely healthy! I think they look pretty, too. My sis-in-law has been known to make one that looks like a Christmas wreath--I don't remember all the details, but broccoli is arranged in a circle with grape tomatoes as holly berries on top of it.

    1. Hi Kris,
      And the dip can be healthy-ish, too, depending on what you use to make it. And you're right, they do look pretty. Oh, your SIL's wreath sounds beautiful!

      Have a great afternoon, Kris!

    2. Kris, your sister's wreath does sound lovely. I have a photo in one of my Christmas cookbooks, with veggies arranged to look like a Christmas tree, which is pretty, too. I think it has some of Melissa's bell pepper strips as garland. :)

      I like veggie plates (my mom always called them "crudite's" --don't think I cam make an accent in this form), and I used to bring them to parties. Then I realized that they were the number 1 choice for folks who were picking things up at the deli or Costco.

      Now I often do meat, cheese, and crackers, and those usually go like hot cakes. :) Merry Christmas, Kris! Sara

  6. Hi Lili,

    I'm back from my 3 day adventure with my parents. Mom's procedure appears to have gone well but time will tell. It was terrible driving both ways with lots of snow, squalls, black ice, accidents, white-out conditions and the days were long.

    Back to your veggie tray and bakes sales conversations--all I can say is that I'm glad I'm done with all of that. My kids' school used to do a Christmas cookie bake sale and then all of a sudden they stopped doing it after it had been so popular. I wonder if someone had a problem with it but we were already out of that school so I don't know.


    1. Alice, glad your mom's procedure went well AND that you survived the roads. They are treacherous! I think the highway near me has finally re-opened. Hope you are staying home the rest of the day!

    2. I wish I could but I have to be at work and stay at work! I am getting a cold but I've been gone from work for three days already and I'm taking three days off next week so I have to work today and tomorrow!


    3. Be safe!

      We are supposed to go to Lansing for my extended family's Christmas, but the forecast doesn't look too promising.

    4. Hi Alice,
      I'm with Kris in sending get-well/speedy recovery wishes for your mother. The roads sound scary in your area. I hope most folks have snow tires, there. I don't know anyone here, who puts on winter tires. So when it snows, the roads are a mess. Stay as safe as you can in this weather.

      Yes, with the bake sales, all it takes is one complaint and the thought of a lawsuit, to put a halt to those things. The cookie sale that our church puts on every year is very popular. So I can imagine how surprising it was when your local school one just disappeared from one year to the next.

      I hope the rest of your afternoon goes well, Alice!


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