Labor Day Weekend means we’re soaking in the last bit of summer, and it’s the perfect time to get together with friends and family before the rush of the school year sets in. I love entertaining and truly enjoy putting together parties- it’s really become a fun hobby for me in recent years. From planning my kids’ birthday parties to last-minute backyard get-togethers with the family or neighbors, it brings me joy to see people I love gathering over great food and drink and see my guests mingling and making memories together. With that said, it can also sometimes be a bit stressful, especially fitting the planning and prep work into our everyday lives and family flow. So I’m sharing my top 5 tips to make entertaining- whether impromptu or pre-planned- a bit easier!
Our recent ‘TWO Sweet’ celebration for our daughter’s birthday- backdrop and decor by The Effortless Affair, cake and cookies by Willow & Olivia, sweets board DIY’ed by me.
Choose a Theme
I promise, I’m not saying this to be extra- hear me out! I actually find choosing a theme helps cut down and streamline things, rather than having the opposite effect. It does not have to be anything complicated, it just helps to have something in mind to get your train of thought flowing in terms of menu, decor (if you’re even doing any!) and overall feel of the party. For birthday party themes, we’ve done characters like Mickey Mouse and Paw Patrol, but I’ve also done more generic themes like a fall harvest or our recent ‘TWO Sweet’ celebration for our daughter. For more impromptu or casual get-togethers, you can still do a simple theme. Think wine & cheese, make-your-own pizza night or a patriotic backyard BBQ- even establishing that just helps give you lots of ideas for food & beverages. No matter the occasion, having a general theme really gives you a place to start and direction for where to go, which actually cuts down planning time along the way.
Use What You Have
Once you have an idea of the direction you want to go, take a look at your platters, serveware and party stash to see what you have on hand that fits your theme. I find I’m very often including something red- it’s a color that is so easily repurposed and re-used, no matter the time of year. A holiday brunch? A red platter is perfect. 4th of July? Red and white patterned straws are so fun. A Thomas the Train themed party? Red paper plates or napkins are the perfect compliment to the color palette.
Similarly- I always search my pantry and freezer to see what ingredients I have extra back stock of before I plan my menu. A great jar of olives or mixed nuts can be perfect charcuterie additions. Extra corn in my freezer means a great corn salsa for a BBQ. This can really help cut down costs when it comes to food.
Make Ahead Menu Additions
When I’m thinking about my menu, I always include at least two items I can make ahead of time- even if it’s a casual party. The whole idea of a get-together is enjoying time with people you love- so we don’t want to be spending too much time preparing things that we miss out on the fun. Some of my go-to apps are skewers- I’ve done them caprese style with tortellini, grape tomatoes and mozzarella pearls or a fruit-salad-on-a-stick for the kiddos. These are an easy make-ahead option that hold and present well. Pasta salad is another obvious make ahead go-to for summer, and for fall or winter- think something like meatballs or chili in the slow cooker. Put out some festive cups beside it and let your guests serve themselves. Hot dips are another option that you can prepare ahead of time then pop in the microwave right before party time.
Not everything has to be homemade. I always incorporate store-bought shortcuts, particularly if it’s a last minute get together. It’s no secret I love Trader Joe’s and I find it has some incredible options for appetizers. The dip selection alone is a thing of beauty. Put their Cilantro-Jalapeno Hummus or Avocado Tzatziki in a pretty bowl with some pre-cut veggies and crackers and you have yourself a really pretty and delicious little platter. You cannot go wrong with a big grazing board or charcuterie platter and their cheese section is THE place to go- affordable, a huge variety and something to please any palate. Their pre-packed Italian meats are also very reasonably priced. Their freezer section offers a plethora of options as well. The Veggie Birds Nests are a family favorite, as are the Spinach Artichoke Dip, Chicken Cilantro Wontons and Pastry Bites with Feta and Caramelized Onions. Another great option- Alexia makes some fantastic frozen potato options. Pop them into the air fryer and to make them ‘party-ready’- serve with sriracha mayo or even ranch dressing as a dipping sauce. Easy peasy and a total crowd pleaser.
Simple Signature Beverages
Keeping options streamlined makes throwing a party easier. Choose a few signature beverages to keep it simple. For wine, pick one type of red wine and one type of white or rose and use time of year, weather and your menu to guide your choices. Grab a few bottles of each and call it a day. Same goes for beer- one lighter and one darker option, again, seasonally appropriate. If you want to do a cocktail, make it ahead and serve in a glass beverage dispenser for guests to help themselves. The options for that are really endless- from homemade hard ciders in the fall to effervescent and refreshing lemonades or iced teas in the summer. In a pinch, you can make your own spiked seltzer with some flavored sparkling water, vodka and seasonal fresh fruit. It’s a fun and easy addition that can really pull a party together!
Alright, are you ready for a little entertaining now or what? Follow me on Instagram for more tips and ways to make your time in the kitchen more enjoyable and always delicious.