Before the wedding we went back and forth about having our wedding catered versus doing it ourselves. I know many, many people who love to cook (myself included) so I knew that we could pull off a home cooked meal. However, I wanted my parents to be able to enjoy some of our wedding reception. And since the wedding was at their house, I knew if all the food was on them, they would be occupied a whole lot more than they needed to be.
Our compromise was to have the main dish done by a caterer while a group of us did the appetizers and sides ourselves. Finding a caterer to do that was actually much easier than I thought it would be. There aren't many caterers in Redding, so we ended up going with Roots Catering, out of Chico, CA. They use local foods as much as possible, they are family run, and they were cheap.
For appetizers we decided to go relatively simple. I ordered goat cheese from a local goat farm, we bought fruit from a farm stand near my parent's house, and crackers, nuts, olives, and dried fruit from Trader Joe's. I roasted some of the almonds with sugar and lavender, but everything else was just as we bought it. The day before the wedding we put most of the food in the bowls and covered them for the night. And right before the ceremony, my younger sister and mom set everything up on the table in just a few minutes. It was plenty of food, easy to do, and cheap.
For dinner, we had our caterers do two simple main dishes--Mediterranean chicken and mushroom polenta--and then a side of grilled vegetables. Again, we wanted to do something quick and easy to prepare, so the two salads we made were a caprese salad and a simple mixed green salad.
For the caprese we combined cherry tomatoes in a variety of colors from the same farm stand as the fruit (she gave us a deal for buying several flats of them), the small mozzarella balls from Trader Joe's (no need to even cut them up!), basil from my parent's garden, chopped garlic, and olive oil.
The green salad was going to just be mixed greens, pecans, dried cranberries, and goat cheese with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and lemon juice over the top, but in throwing everything together in the kitchen, some tomatoes were put in too.
The salads were prepared by my mom, with help from my sister, and my best friend's mom and sister. I think it took them about twenty minutes to put them together (most of that was spent realizing they couldn't find the dishes I'd set out to put them in and scrambling through my parent's kitchen to find bowls).
We also purchased bread from Trader Joe's and served that with butter that my little sister obsessively pre-sliced for people.
In total we spent $1700 on food ($17/person) for excellent, mostly local, organic food. From what I priced other caterers in California to be, I think that's a pretty good deal. The caterer charged us $10/person for what they did (including tip), and our food came out to $700 total. And we did have a ton of food leftover, including about $100 worth of goat cheese that we happily ate for about a month afterward and enough dried fruit that we are still working on it.
Some things that made doing our own food easier included:-Being flexible. We showed up at the farm stand on Thursday before the wedding and basically bought the fruit and veggies they had. That saved us money and we were able to support a local business.
-Using Trader Joe's. I originally wanted only local food. When I realized that it was going to be cost prohibitive, I settled for Trader Joe's organic. Which isn't really a bad thing to settle for all things considered.
-Not doing anything too crazy. Originally we wanted to make this awesome corn salad, but after thinking about how much work it would be, went with the caprese salad. And nobody missed the corn salad they didn't know they'd missed! Doing simple food for appetizers was also a huge time saver. The most complicated thing we did for that was to cut up the plums.
-Setting up all the dishes ahead of time. I made a box for each portion of the meal (salads, bread, appetizers, etc), with all the serving dishes and utensils in it and directions for each dish. Although the salad box apparently went missing, in general the system worked and I didn't have to worry about setting anything up on my wedding day.
Let me know if you have questions about the food or doing your own food for the wedding. It was a great experience for us, and I'm really happy with the way it all turned out. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.