How much is too much to spend on teacher appreciation celebrations? A community member recently raised a question on our Message Boards about spending $1,000 for a catered teacher luncheon. She mentioned feeling pressure from some parents and the principal and felt the price tag was too high.

Let’s just say her post touched a nerve. More than 140 comments were posted on the Message Boards and an associated Facebook thread with some of you annoyed that anyone would pressure a parent group (we’re with you!), and many of you wondering why any group would spend that amount on just one meal.

The flood of responses shows just how passionate leaders are about supporting teachers. Many of you have found ways to provide tasty meals—and other gifts of appreciation—while being smart with your budgets.

Here are 14 helpful hints and tips pulled from the dozens of responses that this question received.

  • We do a potluck for teachers twice a year during parent-teacher conferences. Parents bring in food like baked ziti, meatballs, rice dishes, and spiral hams. Teachers love it, and parents enjoy doing something special. At most we spend $100 for additional items such as drinks, subs, and paper products.

  • Our PTO does two teacher luncheons a year. We spend about $170, make everything ourselves, and feed about 70 people. You have to have a good group of volunteers to cook the food and do things like cut up veggies and fruit, but it is pretty inexpensive.

  • We do a potluck lunch and the teachers love it. We send out a flyer and have willing parents bring in the food. The parent group serves and cleans up. Teachers also love having the leftovers the next day.

  • We ask a few local businesses to donate food, buy a $15 cake from Costco, get a few parents to bake desserts, make a pot of coffee and buy some soda, and we're done.

  • We always do a nice potluck. We have it during the day, and volunteers cover student lunches and recess so the teachers can all sit together for once.

  • We are doing a salad bar for our teachers and giving them insulated lunch bags that we earned for free from Scholastic.

  • We ask the local meat market to sell us lunch-sized steaks at cost, and we make the sides. This year the cost for 70 staff members will be around $450.

  • We have about 50 staff and we do a monthly lunch for them. Most of the time parents volunteer and it is a potluck, with a different theme each month: baked potato bar, soup, sandwiches, etc. The teachers love it. In May we do a cookout. Our total budget for the year is $500.

  • We get families to contribute favorite recipes and it has become a community event. The chairs indicate what they need to put on a successful event, and families are happy to contribute.

  • We had a beautiful breakfast for our teachers last year and spent $30 of our own money. We had no money at the end our school year last year, so I went to bagel shops, grocery stores, and a bakery. Everything was donated. I simply asked.

  • We did breakfast last year instead of lunch. We had it catered and it cost us under $200 for 50 teachers and staff. We asked for donations of snacks and filled the teachers lounges with fruit, snacks, and desserts. It was well-received and cut our spending!

  • We have had parents donate crackers, chips, snack packs, candy bars, and drinks. I teach special needs, and my kids loved to take the "snack cart" around during appreciation week and let the teachers choose a snack.

  • Our solution was to ask for restaurant discounts or donations so we could cater for a smaller cost.

  • Look into a culinary school in the area to do the catered lunch. We have our VoTech cater our lunches!

For more teacher appreciation help, try these resources:

Teacher Appreciation Resources List

Teacher Appreciation on $100 or Less

Creative Twists on Teacher Appreciation