Our Holiday Open House Menu Is Elevated, but Easy to Pull Off (and Eat!)
You have big plans for your holiday party—and while your visions of sugarplums and twinkling lights, an elegant table laden with sumptuous treats, and cocktails sipped by a roaring fire are dreamy, pause and take a deep breath. It's important to be realistic about what you can actually accomplish without stress. An easy way to bypass some of the anxiety a sit-down dinner might bring? Host a house party—and encourage guests to stop by, nibble, mingle, and leave as they please—instead.
Whether you're throwing a casual house party or more formal affair, the best advice any seasoned host will give you is to plan carefully. Do so, and you'll find yourself cool and composed in a room that rings with good cheer.
To help you get there, we're sharing a perfect menu for an open house feast that includes dishes to make ahead and tips to keep you organized and on schedule.
Start the party with a selection of easy-to-eat nibbles.
The classic cheese ball is a retro party trick that works—it's a total crowd pleaser. Use a mild cream-cheese base to make two different versions: A fresh goat-cheese blend is rolled in chopped parsley and chives, while a creamy blue cheese, like Maytag Blue from Iowa, is covered in crunchy, golden breadcrumbs. Both can be made two days ahead. They are perfect for spreading on your favorite crackers.
Shrimp Relish Tray
Another hit of every party is this Quick Shrimp Relish Tray. It's a marriage of two favorites: shrimp cocktail and the timeless holiday relish tray. Lemony marinated shrimp are served with caper berries and celery. The shrimp can be cooked one to two days in advance or bought precooked.
Who doesn't love popcorn? Kids and adults alike will go for this savory-sweet Rosemary-Caramel Popcorn.
Cocktail: Spanish Negroni
For your signature drink, serve a cocktail that can be made ahead and served from a pitcher. This Spanish Negroni is a twist on the classic cocktail that uses sherry in place of gin, which results in a stunning jewel-like red tone.
Main Dish: Honeyed Ham with Pears and Cranberries
A holiday ham is a classic for a reason: It's delicious, simple to prepare, easy to serve, and can sit out for the duration of the party. Our Honeyed Ham with Pears and Cranberries is party ready and dressed up with glazed winter fruits. Alongside the ham, provide small rolls (store-bought) for sandwiches.
Consider guests who might not eat meat or dairy when you plan your side dishes. There's no need to cram the table with lots of options; a couple of well-chosen sides will round out your menu nicely. Bonus points if you can make at least one of them ahead of time.
Escarole Salad with Celery and Pine Nuts
We always think a bright, crisp salad is a refreshing addition to a buffet, especially one without creamy dressing or added cheese. Our Escarole Salad with Celery and Pine Nuts stands up to the task—it's seasonal and crunchy, and the sturdy leaves won't wilt.
Roasted Carrots and Red Quinoa
Here's a substantial side dish you can prepare up to two days ahead. Quinoa is a protein-rich option and when paired with roasted vegetables, like in our Roasted Carrots and Red Quinoa, it adds heft and color to the table as a side dish or main. Roast the carrots and red onions and precook the quinoa up to two days ahead; combine them on the day of the party.
Keep it simple for dessert and choose two cookies that will please most guests: one soft and one crunchy or one dark and one light. Have some fresh and dried fruit on the table, too. Clementines are an easy addition, and they pair well with dried figs.
Our irresistible Ginger-Chocolate Brownies are made with dark chocolate and have fresh ginger in the batter for a seasonal twist. Cut them into small squares if you're hosting a crowd.
Lemony Brown-Butter Crinkle Cookies
For a kid-friendly cookie that adults will appreciate, too, make our Lemony Brown-Butter Crinkle Cookies. They're also simple to roll and bake—no cookie cutters required.
Holiday Open House Planning Tips
- Make smart swaps: If you want to use our menu as a starting point, but need to swap out dishes or add more, choose options that can be served at room temperature. For your sanity, be sure they can be prepped in stages. Make a three-day plan that includes grocery shopping.
- Consider your guest list: Do you have children on your list? Are you hosting loved ones with special dietary needs? If so, try to balance the menu to provide something for everyone.
- Pick one signature drink: When it comes to drinks, don't offer a full bar or cocktails unless you have a designated bartender. Instead, pick one signature drink and make a big batch; serve it in a pitcher. Put ice and garnishes on the side so guests can help themselves.
- Make it easy for everyone: Choose dishes that can be picked up with one hand and eaten without sitting at a table, as guests will be eating standing or balancing plates on their laps. Make sure your menu doesn't include sticky or runny sauces or foods that require two-handed cutting.