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So for fun, you decide to invite a few friends over for dinner… and then it dawns on you that you have to figure out what to feed them! 

This may be especially tricky if one of them is a fussy eater or has dietary requirements that you need to take into consideration.

At first, you may start to stress out about planning your menu and what you are going to serve, but it really isn’t that hard to do. It can be as simple as cooking (or buying) your favorite dish and side items.

For me, I like to create at least five dishes that make for a great gathering:

  • Appetizer
  • Main dish
  • Starch
  • Vegetable
  • Dessert

It’s That Simple. 

If you want to add more items to compliment the meal, you can certainly do so. For me, I would also include a leafy green salad and some dinner rolls.

I love to cook, so I would make everything from scratch, but if you want to buy ready-made food from your local market or store, that’s a great choice too.

Here are some handy hints for planning a perfect party menu.


Assorted appetizers

I love appetizers! They’re an awesome way to start off your meal.

Serving an appetizer as guests arrive is a great way to get the party started. If your guests don’t know each other too well, it’s a fantastic way for them to get acquainted.

Here are a few of my favorite appetizers to serve:

  • Shrimp cocktail
  • Stuffed mushrooms
  • Assorted cheese platter
  • Vegetable crudités (e.g. carrots, peppers, celery) with dip
  • Antipasto platter, with lots of different meats, cheeses and olives
  • Pigs in a blanket

If you don’t have time to cook, your local grocery store has a wide variety of pre-made appetizers that can be a great time saver. Buy dips and cheeses that you can pair with bags of crackers and chips. Our nearest Publix store has a buffalo chicken dip that is really yummy! 

Boursin cheese with crackers is also a favorite with guests when they come to visit.

Main Dish

Grilled chicken on skewer

My top tip when deciding on what to make for the main dish is to make something that you’ve made before. You don’t want to make something you’ve never done before on the day!

Ask yourself these questions to help you decide:

  • What do I love to make? 
  • What dish do I make that everyone enjoys?  
  • What dishes do my guests enjoy?

Some of my favorite Main Dishes that I like to serve at parties are:

  • Grilled chicken
  • Steaks
  • Steak and chicken kabobs
  • Baked ziti
  • Shrimp scampi
  • Hamburgers and hot dogs

Once you decide on the main dish, it will be easy to figure out your side dishes. 

Speaking of which…

Starch Side Dish

Roasted Potatoes on Serving Platter

I’m a meat and potato girl, so I love potatoes. Whether mashed, baked, fried or scalloped, they’re an excellent choice for any party.

If you don’t want to serve spuds, or you want a lighter alternative; your side dish could be rice, couscous, quinoa or pasta.

I like the convenience of the boxed rice, quinoa and couscous mixes. There are so many different flavors to choose from, that you will undoubtedly find the right one to go with your main dish.

Pasta salad and macaroni salad are both crowd-pleasers and are my go-to starchy dish when hosting summer BBQs. Macaroni and cheese has also become one of my favorites since I moved to the south. 

Here are some great ideas for main course and starch combos:

  • Pasta goes with Italian dishes
  • Rice, tortillas and chips go well with Mexican dishes
  • Pasta salad or potato salad go great with grilled chicken and steak
  • Rice is a great side dish when serving fish
  • Roasted potatoes go well with steak and chicken

Vegetable Side Dish

Roasted Vegetables

Vegetables are a great way to add color to everyone’s plate.

The vegetable you serve will depend on your main course. Going with what is in season is a great way to decide what to make too. For example in summer, serve tomatoes, green beans and squash with your meal. Winter is a lovely opportunity to serve heartier vegetables like parsnips, brussels sprouts and leeks.

Roasting, grilling or steaming are simple ways to prepare your veggies. Adding olive oil, salt and pepper will give them some great flavor.

Alternatively, why not serve a large salad with some crunchy croutons and salad dressings on the side?

If you don’t have time to prep your vegetables yourself, your local supermarket will have steamable bags of vegetables as well as pre-made salad kits. 


Chocolate Cake

Dessert is the grand finale of the night, so be sure to give your guests something memorable!

The great thing about the dessert course is that you can make it ahead of time. Just keep it in the fridge or an airtight container before you are ready to serve.

When choosing a dessert keep your main course in mind. If the main dish is time-consuming to make, a simple dessert will work just fine. If the main dish is simple and quick to make, you can spend more time on an elaborate dessert.

If you aren’t confident in making dessert or you don’t have time, why not order a delicious dessert from your local bakery?

Here are a few great dessert choices:

  • Cake
  • Pie
  • Cobbler
  • Cookies
  • Brownies
  • Assorted Fruit Platter
  • Ice Cream or Sorbet

Don’t forget to have extras to serve with your dessert. This could be ice cream to have with your cake or pie, or sauces and sprinkles to enjoy with a scoop of ice cream.

In Summary

This quick and easy guide will help you put together an evening that all your guests will enjoy. Remember the five different courses that you need to serve, and the rest will fall into place.

Remember that entertaining should be fun for both you and your friends. Keeping your food simple and planning as much of it in advance as you can is the key to your party success.