Last week we talked you through first deciding you actually do want to host this year’s Christmas party and then we discussed setting a budget, picking a venue and a theme, and sending out invitations. Today, we are going to go over how to plan your menu.
If you aren’t sure if your guests have any food restrictions, you should have a couple of “back up” dishes in mind that you can easily incorporate into the menu. On your invitations, you should have included a note about this, asking any guests with restrictions to let you know what they are as soon as possible so you can accommodate their needs.
Although it’s safe to plan on one pound of food per adult guest, measuring can get a little tricky when you add other variables. Check out our guide to calculating how much food you’ll need here.
Make as many dishes as you can ahead of time. Use crock pots and Instant pots (borrow more if you can!) to make your cooking experience as easy as possible. Another great thing about using crock pots is you can line them on your kitchen counters like a buffet, so you save table space as well.
You can find hundreds of easy holiday recipes online really easily. The hard part will be finding recipes that work with your budget, cooking supplies, and space, and avoiding any dietary restrictions your guests may have. Here are some of our favorite low-cost ideas that can be made ahead of time:
- Fondue: combine two types of shredded cheese (for a more complex flavor) in a fondue pot or even just in a slow cooker and serve with pretzels, baguette, apples and pears, sausage, vegetables, etc. Get creative – you’d be surprised what tastes good with melted cheese!
- Rosemarypecans: toss halved pecans in a mixture of butter, sugar, cayenne pepper, and salt, and then bake about 10 minutes. Add chopped, fresh rosemary. These are delicious served either warm or at room temperature, so you can definitely make these early with no worries.
- Crock pot meatballs: seemingly every family has a really good recipe for these meatballs, but if not, they’re simple! You can buy frozen meatballs and throw them into a crock pot with your favorite sauce (anything from BBQ sauce to sweet chili sauce) for a few hours, and they’ll be a huge hit.
Parmesan pastry pipes: breadsticks filled with sour cream and cheese. Need we say more?
- Apricot brie: place a wheel of brie in the bottom of a small crock pot. Spread a layer of apricot preserves and then almonds on top, and then repeat everything until your crock pot is full. Serve with crispy bread.
Cheesy rotel dip: cheese, tomatoes, and sausage, melted together in a crock pot and served over tortilla chips? Yum.
Slow-cooked cherry pork chops: after browning the pork chops in a pan, put them in a slow cooker with cherry pie filling, lemon juice, chicken bouillon, and mace seasoning for a delicious, unexpected main dish.
Creamy Christmas stew: this rich stew is another unexpected but perfect main dish, offering flavors or mushrooms, garlic, onions, rosemary, and red wine.
Mashed sweet potatoes: made with honey, orange juice, sour cream, and nutmeg, these amazing potatoes will wow your guests. Make them the morning of and then put in a crock pot to keep warm until dinner.
Italian mushrooms: fresh mushrooms, onion, butter, and an Italian salad dressing mix combine in the slow cooker for a simple, flavorful dish.
Green beans: beans, butter, brown sugar, garlic salt, and soy sauce cooked together in a slow cooker for a twist on your family’s traditional green bean recipe your guests will love.
Cheesy creamed corn: corn, cream cheese, butter, milk, sugar, and cheddar cheese added to your instant pot or slow cooker and forgotten about is the best kind of cheesy creamed corn.
- Cherry trifle: simmer cherries in brandy and then layer the cherries, ladyfingers, toasted almond slices, grated dark chocolate, and whipped cream in a large, clear glass bowl. Refrigerate until you’re ready to serve!
- Chocolate caramel tart: chocolate cookie crust filled with homemade caramel (just sugar, corn syrup, cream, and butter) and topped with drizzled chocolate and chunks of sea salt. The best part? No baking involved! Make the caramel on the stove, refrigerate the tart, and then top with the chocolate and salt just before serving.
Chocolate peanut butter marshmallow coconut bark: it’s hard to not get excited about a name like that. Knowing you can make this 4-ingredient dessert in a crock pot makes it even better.
Knowing how many drinks you’ll need is a bit more complicated than figuring out the food, depending on what you’re serving. Check out this guide that talks about how many of what kind of drink to serve, and then come back here for fun alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails that will dress up your bar. Don’t be afraid to nix a full bar idea in favor of one or two signature cocktails (along with plenty of non-liquor options).
- Winter Lemonade: muddle fresh cranberries in the bottom of the glass, add 2 ounces of vodka or whiskey, a splash of seltzer water, and top it off with lemonade.
- Boozy apple cider slushie: slushies may sound strange for a Christmas party, but just wait till the venue heats up with all the people, laughter, and food, and you’ll be glad you made these. Combine apple cider, bourbon, a brown sugar-cinnamon simple syrup, and lemon juice in a glass baking dish and freeze it for a few hours. Then stir the mixture with a fork and return to the freezer. Repeat this until it’s completely frozen, then cover with plastic wrap and keep frozen. When you’re ready to serve it, spoon the mixture into punch glasses, top with a dry hard apple cider and garnish with an apple slice.
- Mulled wine: if you’re not sold on the frozen drink at a Christmas party idea, go the opposite route with this wine you can make in a crock pot. You’ll need a full-bodied dry red wine, black peppercorns, sugar, orange peel (cut into strips), fresh ginger, a cinnamon stick, and a star anise. Combine all ingredients in a crock pot on low heat to keep warm. Set out pre-garnished glasses next to the crock pot so guests can serve themselves.
- Spiced apple kombucha: Kombucha quickly became a major trend, and you will be the talk of the neighborhood with this one. Apple cider, spiced rum, lemon juice, apple kombucha, and cinnamon sticks come together to make this delicious, unique cocktail. Make this one a few days ahead of time (in a sealed container) to let the flavors seep together.
Witches’ Coffee: Sumatra coffee, aged rum, Strega, raw sugar, whip cream blend together into the perfect after-dinner drink.
Champagne punch: champagne, grand marnier, vodka, pomegranate juice, ginger ale, and lots of fresh citrus slices and raspberries make a beautiful, festive cocktail.
If you do elect for a full bar, you should have one each of scotch/bourbon, rum, and vodka (with a mixer for each one), plus your favorite beer (one dark and one light) and wine (one red, white, pink, and sparkling), and a few non-alcoholic options.
And once your menu is planned, the hard part is over! Next week, we’ve got our third and final part of this ultimate guide for you: music, decorations, games, and more.