A Very Easy Dinner Party

A Very Easy Dinner Party

When I was in my twenties (and dating an older gentleman:), I threw parties at my shoebox apartment all the time. We’d open a bag of chips and ask friends to bring a drink to share. It was all very “cheap and cheerful,” as my Welsh friend says. But then we had babies, and work got busy, and we ended up taking a hiatus. Until recently! Here’s are our four steps to easy dinner parties these days…

1. order a deli lasagna
2. make the simplest salad
3. guests bring wine
4. ice cream for dessert

A Very Easy Dinner Party

Last Friday evening, Alex put on Love’s Forever Changes, and I lit a few tea lights while trying to convince the boys not to blow them out. We threw random toys in a bin, but otherwise didn’t tidy up that much, since a) we didn’t have time, and b) no one cares. (Remember this funny article?)

A Very Easy Dinner Party

A Very Easy Dinner Party

We ordered a pre-made lasagna from our local Italian store (an idea I had first discovered on Momfilter). We picked it up fully cooked and then just heated it up in the oven before serving. You can also get yummy ones from Fresh Direct.

A Very Easy Dinner Party

Our snacks to start were: olives, red grapes, prosciutto, fresh ricotta on baguette slices, and kettle chips (always and forever). We also made a simple Greek salad.

A Very Easy Dinner Party

For dessert: Ice cream bars!!!!

A Very Easy Dinner Party

As people starting arriving, Alex poured wine and mixed martinis. And the key to a truly easy dinner party? Text the invitation two days before. If two people can come, great; if ten people can come, great. Either way! Because TRYING TO SCHEDULE A DATE WITH A GROUP CAN KILL YOU.

A Very Easy Dinner Party

The boys were allowed to stay up for a few minutes to say hello to the grown-ups (as always!) and three-and-three-quarters-year-old Anton impressed the crowd with handstands and “flips.”

A Very Easy Dinner Party

A Very Easy Dinner Party

That’s it! Always a really fun, chill night. How about you? I LOVE hearing dinner party ideas — please please share below! What do you serve? Any go-to meals or snacks? This always looked delicious.

P.S. A reader’s wine tip, and how to say goodbye at a party.

(Photos by Ana Gambuto for Cup of Jo.)

  1. Lisa says...

    We had a great party last week where each couple brought a different type of kebab. The hostess made rice and a salad, we threw the kebabs on the grill and dinner was ready in under 10 minutes. Everyone got to try the different kebab and it was so easy!

  2. Lara says...

    Thank you so much for this lovely article . I may be late to the party but here’s my contribution . Being a foodie , i enjoy cooking ..a lot ! Whenever i invite friends over dinner i prepare everything ( almost) the night before .when work is done , i just get into my kitchen , pour myself a glass of spritz or whatever happens to be around and start working .i always listen to some kind of music or podcasts while cooking .i make sure that i have homemade crackers , savory cakes , foccacia to entertain my guests while i reheat the rest of the dishes .i LOVE to bake so desserts are always homemade too .cheesecake , tiramisu , carrot cake , pies … You name it . There’s nothing wrong with ordering dinner , buying prepackaged food but i believe that when you make that extra effort people notice it. Cooking for people i love is an absolute pleasure for me and i love it when people cook for me too !

  3. Thank you for your great ideas! I love spending quality time with my friends and less time in the kitchen. A few years ago I started serving gelato in ice cream cones for dessert – we buy a few flavours of locally made gelato and it always goes down so well! Seconds seem to be very popular too. I always have a lovely bunch of flowers on the table as they help create a great vide and are appreciated by the guests – even a single flower from the garden is so special.

  4. JN says...

    Question: Second last photo, guy second from the left: Jon Hamm??? Is that you??? (And bonus question: Red-haired guy in the last photo: is that DOMHNALL GLEESON???)

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your great ideas I think you are so inspirational and a big motivator, we just moved into our home and I had been wanting to have a simple dinner party and had no ideas where to start but coming across your site and seeing all of your great tips really helped me Thank you so much.

  6. Judy says...

    Choco Tacos!!!! I love all of this and am planning an easy dinner party a-la-cup-of-jo right now! Love you and your blog <3

  7. i learned this from food52’s a new way to dinner: oven-roast marshmallows to put atop coffee ice cream. a few minutes under the broiler and you’ve got an impressive dessert! bonus: it requires no prep work AND feels fancy and whimsical. when was the last time you were served a marshmallow at a grown-up dinner party!?

  8. Cynthia says...

    Another easy dessert is a gelato bar: Several small containers of different flavors of gelato with brownies or cookies. Guests like choosing their own flavor and for those of us in the Midwest, it’s always an unexpected treat.
    I buy Talenti as they are the right size and the empty containers are so handy to use later.

  9. Kathleen Keating says...

    I like roasting kebabs
    in the oven. They accommodate different diets, I make some veggie and some meat and they are great for the gluten free crowd:)

    • Darcelle Henry Pearson says...

      I love this idea. Being both celiac and veggie in a family of meat and bread eaters, this idea makes me so happy. Thank you.

  10. Leslie says...

    I loooooove the idea of whoever shows up, shows up – doing that from now on! Stat!!!

  11. I love this easy dinner party. It can be make the party more effective and can be do without preparation first.

  12. I love the 2-day notice rule. That’s something we’ve started doing for meet-ups at the park or rainy day playdates at the house for kids + moms. At first, I felt bad giving such short notice, but then I realized that’s the only way it was going to work. Otherwise, there is too much (re)scheduling. Going to try it with dinner parties now.

  13. I must say, I’ve been a reader for more years that I want to think about and I consistently love the the dinner party advice you give! I’ve started throwing more ‘crappy’ dinner parties this year than ever, and this weekend I’m trying the simple dinner party tricks.

    2-day advance notice is just about the best. advice. ever.

    My hosting has been forever changed for the good, so thank you!!

  14. KV says...

    I’d love to hear people’s thoughts about socializing with friends who have kids. We love kids and try to see our friends and their babies and toddlers often. But the constraints of the kids routines–which are so important!–mean that we can’t hang out late into the evening unless we’re at the house with the kids. This is fine with some of our friends, who have just decided we’ll socialize at theirs for the foreseeable future. But it is limiting–and we can’t invite other mutual friends with kids over. Obvious solutions include babysitters ($$) and daytime hanging (only on weekends). Is there something else I’m missing? Would love to see a post on this. In general, I’m very interested in posts like this one about how to make time to see friends in our busy lives.

    • Alice says...

      with close friends we just bring the pjs and toothbrush and put them down at their house (with their kids) and then at midnight or whenever we pick them up and drive/stroller/carry them home to their own bed. They love their ‘sleepovers’ and we get to spend time with out friends.

    • Vicky says...

      We were in the same position – trying to figure out how to hang out with people after we had a baby, living far away from grandparents and the like. And then a couple of friends who had a toddler and had recently had a second baby suggested the most awesome thing: that we go early – the kids could have a little play and then have bathtime together, and then go to sleep in a travelcot in their guest bedroom. It worked a treat! The kids LOVED the shared bath/playtime, and after they had all gone to sleep, we poured drinks and had a relaxed dinner. It was awesome! Then at midnight we swooped the kid up and put her in the car, took her home and put her straight in her bed. She barely woke up. It does take a bit of organising, and we are lucky that the kid doesn’t mind new surroundings – but it was great, as it was like a half-slumber party for the kids, and it felt so good to hang out with our friends past 8 – which is otherwise all but impossible these days.

    • Oz Zey says...

      We invite people around 4pm and that way we start our dinner at about 5pm, which is our usual dinner time. When it is time for our little girl to sleep, I (mama) sneak out of the dinner for about an hour, while my husband carries on the conversations. Also, we sometimes skip the bath if everyone is having fun. I go back to the dinner table right in time for the desserts.

  15. Maria says...

    I absolutely love this idea! I always stress out, buy way too much food, worry about every little detail! This is marvellous, I’ll be adopting it today as we have friends coming over this afternoon!!

  16. Elise says...

    We have a 3 month old but still want to get together with friends so dinner parties at home are great! We like to make homemade pizzas that we can make and clean up all before guests arrive. Then when we are ready we put them in the oven and keep visiting with our friends. When they are done we all get to eat and enjoy together without anyone stuck in the kitchen. It’s great!

  17. Hilary says...

    Excited for apartment tour as well! Where is your print of the wheat field from? Love your blog!

  18. I love this! I love hosting but don’t see the need in having an elaborate do each time. This is perfect!

  19. Malia says...

    Just wondering–who puts the boys to bed and does it take a ridiculous amount of time because they’re jealous of the party?

  20. DebiMH says...

    Do you love your counter stools? I’ve been looking forever and would love a link to the cute ones you chose. Wish I read this post earlier this week and my Friday night would’ve been way more fun! :-)

  21. Kendra says...

    at my old place i had a lot of friends who lived near by. Most were fresh out of college and not a lot of money. My house was the central hub. They would just pop in whenever, sometimes without even a text warning. I kept extra boxes of my favorite brownie mix ( ) and would just make some up real quick. I’d brew coffee or have cheap beers in the fridge and we’d talk, play games, watch something on TV. It completely cut out the stress. As long as there was a roll of toilet paper in the bathroom and my bras weren’t lying around nothing else mattered

  22. I teach English to international college students (freshmen and sophomores). When I found out a number of them were “stuck” on campus during spring break this week, my husband and I invited them to our house for dinner last night. We marinated chicken overnight and grilled it, threw together a large salad, and made our favorite crowd-pleaser rolls from frozen dough. For dessert, we had ice cream and homemade-from-a-mix brownies. After everyone was stuffed, we sat around and played cards and the conversation flowed in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

  23. Blythe says...

    I threw an impromptu dinner party over the weekend too! I texted everyone about 24 in advance and expected not many people to be able to make it and lo and behold everyone showed up! We asked everyone to bring a bottle of wine and a frozen snack to share. We had frozen pizza, frozen puff pastry, bagel bites, pizza rolls, pain au chocolat, a cheese board – a real snack smorgasbord.

    We played television, have you heard of it? It’s the most amazing game to play with adults who’ve had a few. We played until 3:30am and laughed so much our faces hurt.

    • Martha says...

      Can you explain how to play the game ‘television’? That sounds fun and I always need good party game ideas!

  24. Jennifer says...

    I always pop a huge bowl of popcorn (just regular kernels, popped in a big pot with melted coconut oil). I do it for kids birthday parties, family get togethers in the afternoon, or in the wee hours of an adult party when everyone is getting hungry. It always gets devoured almost instantly. It’s so cheap and so easy. And if people are still hungry you can just do it again.

  25. raissomat says...

    While I’m still in my 20’s for a few years, we do the spontaneous pizza party. I prepare cruditées or miso soup, drinks and a cake, the men order (and pay) delivery pizza. All over the place, but fun. My friends actually introduced this, since I love hosting but get stressed out about it not being perfect, to a point where my guests felt actually sorry.
    Dishes for a non-spontaneous crowd I have nailed down by now: whole wheat pizza, curries, pasta dishes, coconut chocolate mousse, brunch.

  26. Amanda Gilchrist says...

    I’m really into chicken mole negro in the slow cooker. I buy a pre-made paste from the mexican market and stir it into tomato sauce with broth. Cook on low for 6 hours and keep warm. Add tortillas and toppings…taco night…SO good!

  27. This is inspiring. I remember being very young and my parents pulling out the “card table” and throwing pillows on the floor, making small bowls of nuts, chips, and getting cocktail makings ready and then I had to go to bed. They were going to play cards with friends and have fun for 2-3 hours of adult conversation. The din of them talking and laughing lulled me to sleep. This was probably 1971-72?!

  28. Crockpot chicken!

    Two lbs of chicken, one jar of salsa and a half cup of balsamic vinegar. Cook all day, then shred and throw into tacos, fajitas, over brown rice, on sammies… We have guests bring toppings, open a few bottles of wine and relish in your guests instead of sweating in the kitch!

  29. I’m just a huge fun of the enormous-charcuterie-and-pickies-board for dinner. Because cured meat and/or cheese is all that any of us really wants for dinner, so why not just fully embrace it for a night? It’s so un-intimidating for guests (I love everyone hovering around talking and leaning into each other :), it’s family style by design (the best), and it addresses all the important tastes, especially if you make it extra abundant with fresh berries, dried fruits, olives and pickled veg, good bread, and my newest favorite addition: dark chocolate! It couldn’t be easier to throw together on a big cutting board or wood block (while still looking beautiful), it’s filling, and it’s the best pairing for wine or cocktails!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “talking and leaning into each other” = i love that :)

  30. I love, love easy prep dinner ideas!
    one dessert I do a lot is vanilla ice cream, and a chocolate milk bar which I melt in the stove with some milk and a little coffee – easy peasy ice cream with coffee chocolate topping, always a hit :)

  31. Kelly says...

    What shirt are you wearing?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thanks, kelly! it’s this silk blouse:

  32. Emily says...

    yes yes yes!! i usually do enchiladas that i’ve made already. we invite people over around 7, serve store-bought guac with chips and margaritas from a pitcher. put kid to bed by 8, while enchiladas finish baking and we’re eating by 8.15! and we SWEAR by klondike bars for dessert. it is such a big hit!

    for friends with babies / toddlers, we have the pack and play and guest room made up and invite them to bring the kids over in jammies. little ones can sleep in a dark room in their bucket carseat : ) a possibly bungled transfer is so worth a night of real conversation over hot food!

  33. Jen says...

    YES. I have been shouting the praises of frozen lasagna to anyone who will listen! With a 1 year old and 3 1/2 year old I have finally decided to be kind to myself and lower my expectations and serve frozen lasagna. You can get really nice ones from Italian stores, someone can bring a salad or bread, and gelato makes an easy and compatible dessert. Hallelujah to frozen lasagna, it sure beats never seeing your loved ones.

  34. michelle says...

    You can’t go wrong with a cheese plate, something braised the day before (coq a vin; short ribs, brisket, lamb shanks), salad and a simple dessert like a cake with creme fraiche or whipped cream, pie or even chocolate chip cookies (which I always have frozen and ready to bake).

    Also, a simple roast chicken, fresh pasta or risotto and salad with creme brulee for dessert.

  35. Deidre says...

    We love doing brunch parties! We get a big bag of bagels from a local bagel shop, then put out spreads, toppings (cucumbers, onions, capers, etc), some hard boiled eggs, and fruit. We make coffee and put out juice and champagne and the kids can run around in the yard while the adults relax and eat. It’s so easy and really fun!

  36. Meg says...

    Love all these ideas! With a nearly teenage step-daughter, we have a friend over for her and our friends/their parents. The kids go off and do their own thing, but we often reconvene for games after dinner – Anomia, Yahtzee, Pass the Pigs, Doodle Dice, etc. Favorites to serve:
    1) spaghetti and meatballs – I noted another reader also remembered a post here or maybe on DALS about meatball Fridays which inspired us.
    2) Trader Joe’s potstickers (seriously takes 7 min to make!), frozen veg and brown rice in the rice cooker
    3) enchiladas or make your own Mexican/tacos/bowls + beans and rice
    4) soup – veg chili, lentils and cauliflower, meat chili, minestrone, or sausage, beans and greens, etc – serve with toppings, bread, etc.
    5) grilled pizza – a summer classic! Our favorite is figs, goat cheese, a sprinkle of rosemary and balsamic reduction. We make the dough in a bread maker but you can buy it.
    I love these options because you can serve options in terms of toppings and make it veggie as needed. Almost always a cheese plate and wine to start! I’m getting better at not caring what the house looks like especially since we had a tradition going for the summer into the fall last year of doing this every Friday! It was so fun and a great way to start the weekend.

  37. Nickie says...

    This is an inspiring post! It makes me want to have a dinner party tonight! I want to also comment on how much I love your new place!! Can’t wait for the tour!!

    • Emma says...

      seriously, house tour please

  38. Olivia Neal says...

    My partner and I are moving into our first house in a few weeks. We’ve been renovating it top to bottom for almost 2 months now. Basically, our goal has been to create a space where we can have family + friends over constantly. We’re moving from a small basement apartment where 4 is a crowd and 6 is a sardine can. This post is the perfect reminder to keep it simple as we move into this next phase of our adult lives, thank you!

  39. SarahSarah says...

    How do you deal with kids for stuff like this? Your kids are all taken care of, because they go to bed, but what about your friend’s kids, if they have them? thanks!

    • Leanne says...

      We have our “dinner parties” at 3-4 p.m. The kids run around and the adults have adult conversation and adult beverages. We do something simple (one time we ordered the best pizza in the city and friends brought salads; we barbeque in the summer a lot). Best part? At 7 p.m. the kids are exhausted, and everyone goes home.

    • Robin says...

      What Leanne said, except usually it’s sandwiched between work and bedtime. Whoever is coming over picks up the takeout (chicken and veggies from the local Portuguese place maybe). Hosts do a salad/dessert. Dinner by 6, head home around 7:45. We live downtown, so no long drives makes it doable. Otherwise, brunch! I look forward to the day when we can have late nights again but with a three year old and 5 month old those days are going to be a while coming.

    • Nataly says...

      How do you get your guests to leave on time by 7?! We’ve tried this so many times, guests inevitably overstay, even with little ones! And we as exhausted parents of a 6 month and 2 and half year old become so frustrated. Kids get cranky, bedtime is overdue, a mess! We’ve had to resort to no more hosting or the occasional brunch or coffee.