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Essential Guide to Party Food

Whether you're planning an intimate gathering or a large party for a crowd, one thing is essential: the food!

I've put together a comprehensive party food list to give you inspiration for your next hosting adventure.

Display of party foods on a table

Party Food Tips:

  1. If you're serving something hot, consider using a chafing dish or slow cooker so that you don't have to continue reheating the food during the party.
  2. Place food in a location that can be easily accessed, even if the party gets crowded.
  3. Make ahead as much as possible to save your sanity on the day of the event.
  4. Don't forget about serveware! When planning your party food menu, make sure you have enough bowls, platters, etc to plate everything properly.
  5. If you're not sure how many people will be coming to your event, opt for "no waste" party foods. These are things that can be frozen or stored for a while in the fridge after the party, rather than items like subs, seafood, or guacamole which won't keep as long and might have to be thrown away.

Simple Party Foods:

These are the basics when it comes to party foods. They're easy, everyone likes them, and they don't require anything more than a nice bowl or platter for display. Plus, you can find these things at any grocery store.

  • Tortilla chips with salsa, guacamole and/or queso
  • Salami appetizer bites
  • Pita chips & hummus
  • Potato chips & french onion dip
  • Crudite (raw, cut veggies) and ranch dip
  • Sliced salami, proscuitto and other cured meats
  • Cheese & crackers
  • Roasted nuts
  • Cream cheese topped with spicy-sweet jam with crackers
  • Cookies & brownies
  • Snack mix
  • Olive tapenade with crackers or crostini
  • Pesto & veggies or bread sticks

Hearty Party Foods:

If you want to ensure that your guests won't go home hungry, here are some filling, hearty party foods to serve.

Cheap Party Foods for a Crowd:

If you want to feed as many people as possible on a budget, these are my best suggestions:

  • Pasta salad
  • Pizza
  • Subs* (Many big box stores or grocery stores sell giant party subs that can be cut into small slivers)
  • Bean chili
  • Nacho chips
  • Sausage balls
  • Deviled eggs
  • Hot dogs
  • Sliced baguette bread & seasoned olive oil
  • Popcorn (make it gourmet by offering a variety of seasoning salts)
  • Cold cut roll-up sandwiches

Light and/or Vegan Party Food Ideas:

If you've got some vegans or vegetarians in the crowd, or you just want to have some lighter options for your guests, here are some suggestions:

Casual Dinner Party Food:

If you're having a party that's during a meal time (Say 4:00 - 7:00 for instance) than guests will expect more than just an array of snacks. These meals are simple to put together and cost-conscious as well.

Pulled pork sliders

Cocktail Party Food:

Cocktail party food doesn't have to be super fancy, but it should be a step up from chips and salsa. At cocktail parties, it's also customary to serve finger foods that can be eaten without a lot of mess.

Here are some ideas:

Last Minute Party Food ideas:

If you want to be prepared for impromptu gatherings, it's a good idea to keep some basic foods and supplies stocked in your home. Then you'll be much more likely to say "Come on over!" when you run into a neighbor, or your kids ask if they can bring over a few friends after school.

Here are some foods to stash in your freezer and pantry so that you'll have last minute party snacks available at all times.

Party Foods to Stock in the Freezer:

  • Flatbread pizzas
  • Meatballs
  • Mini quiches
  • Taquitos or mini tacos
  • Spinach dip
  • Shrimp
  • Soft pretzel bites
  • Edamame
  • Potstickers/dumplings
  • Spring rolls

Most grocery stores and  have a section of frozen appetizers, so be sure to check out what's available at your local stores. In addition, see if there might be a catering company in the area that offers frozen appetizers. We have a great one that sells frozen dips and finger foods to keep on hand in case of an entertaining "emergency."

Party Foods for the Pantry:

Dedicate one area in your pantry to these shelf-stable party foods. Then you'll know exactly where to go when you've got unexpected guests.

  • Jarred salsa
  • Jarred queso
  • Assorted crackers & chips
  • Gourmet olives
  • Flavored olive oils for bread dipping
  • Assorted roasted, salted nuts
  • Gourmet jams & spreads
  • Shelf stable cheese
  • Dip mix (something that can easily be mixed with mayo, sour cream or cream cheese)
  • Smoked salmon
  • Pesto
  • Jarred roasted & marinated artichokes
  • Jarred roasted red peppers
  • Popcorn & fun seasoning salts

It's also a good idea to keep a stash of disposable or re-usable plastic plates and cups on hand so that your impromptu party doesn't turn into a kitchen clean-up nightmare after everyone leaves.

Hopefully this post will help take the stress out of party food planning. If there's anything missing, or if you've got a party food topic that hasn't been covered, please drop me an email or a comment. My goal is to take the stress out of entertaining, and to empower you to open your doors to friends and family.

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