Follow these tips to save on food and beverages this holiday season

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- This is the time of year for holiday parties. They can be fun or they can be a headache depending on how good you are at party planning.

It doesn’t have to be difficult. Making entertaining easy and special without blowing your budget is a skill, but we have a few tips from the experts at Market District in Carmel. After all, picking out and setting up your own holiday food and beverages is not easy for some. That fact does not surprise many of the workers at the grocery store.

“That's something we are used to. There are so many options that people don't know what to pick, so that's why we're here to help shoppers with that process,” said Market District employee Jackueline Johnson.

At almost every store, there are plenty of items to choose from for every budget. Just because you see cheese, meat and maybe wine, it doesn't have to be complicated.

“Variety is the key to everything, whether you're going very expensive or inexpensive wines or cheeses, don’t forget to have a variety. A little bit of crunch, a little bit of sweetness, a little bit of savory, something to dip in, and something to complement that spread is key,” said Rick Hopkins, food and beverages director for Market District.

Wherever you shop, save money by looking for items that last longer on the table and in the fridge. Give you and your guests something different! It doesn’t hurt to try something new or ask your friends and family what they would like to try.

“This is a beet hummus, so it gives it a little different profile to hummus and it looks a lot different. Hummus is a huge thing this year. I mean, you have sweet hummus, you have savory hummus. Can you taste it?" asked executive chef Jennifer Bargisen.

We did taste it, and for those who don't like hummus or beats, it's still surprisingly tasty! Most stores have knowledgeable people to help guide you through all the choices on store shelves. The experts are there for the customer, so use them. Many shoppers just go with what they're used to or they simply guess what goes with what. If you have some new knowledge, that will save you time and money!

“I suggest you go down the aisle and pick one or two of the different cheeses, get a couple meats and then we can go to beer wine and liquor area and introduce you to some new wines and see what pairs well with that,” said Johnson.

Of course, if you don't want to walk up and down the aisle while you're shopping, looking for every single thing individually, at Market District they have several pre-made holiday packages set up for you. The ready-to-go platters are full of cheeses, meats and a variety of holiday snacks. Most will feed anywhere from 10 to 40 people, and they are generally reasonably priced. It makes things rather easy for shoppers who don’t know what to get or don’t have much time to shop.

“The pre-packaged plates make it very simple. There is also a buffet style, or hors d'oeuvres where we have experts throughout the store who can really help, so that's really the time factor,” said Hopkins.

Another factor is not being afraid to try something new or different. We discovered one new idea that might make you look like an entertaining guru. Get some chalk, black paper and make a pairing display on your table. It's designed to show what foods go with what beverages. Draw boxes and put the food in those boxed areas. Then draw others small boxes or circles to put the wines in. Then make arrows to show what goes with what.

“The displays are fun. You can spell out all the little different kinds of little things to pair with each other. If you like smoked almonds or your favorite nut, if you have favorite olives, use that for your display. The same thing applies to meats and cheeses. Then you can show what pairs with the items you picked in a fun visual manner. And if you’re not sure, ask. It makes it fun and interactive,” said Bargisen.

And fun, is what it's all about. So remember, there is fundamentally no right or wrong pairings--it’s just a matter of choice. Most stores have employees that know the best bets. Simply dare to pair and try something that's a little outside your normal wheelhouse.