how I host dinner without losing my mind

Last weekend, we invited my husband’s family over to our place for low-key birthday dinner. It was a lot of fun to spend time with family and our house was soooooo clean. There’s nothing like having guests over to make me wanna do some serious damage to the dust bunny villages!

Anyway, I figured I might not be the only one out there who is new-ish to hosting dinners, so I wanted to share a few tips I have found useful as I exercise hospitality in our home as well as improve at preparing meals for larger crowds.

Before we dive in, I definitely want to affirm that you can always buy prepared food and still provide a yummy dinner when you host. The idea that you have to make a meal from scratch shouldn’t ever stop anyone from opening their home to others. I personally often opt to do the cooking myself to save money and be able to customize food as I wish…but be confident in whatever you choose!

So, with that said, here’s some quick tips for ya!

Choose a make-ahead menu. There are plenty of people who really excel at being to cook while entertaining, but this isn’t me. I don’t want to be stuck watching chicken in the oven or trying to frost a cake while guests are present. I always find myself with plenty of last-minute tasks anyway, but it’s easier to focus on my guests when I know the food is ready to go. I think half the struggle here can be finding recipes that reheat well, or don’t require tons of last-minute steps, so keep reading for a few more of my favorites. For my husband’s birthday, I made chicken wild rice soup and chicken enchilada soup. These are both slow cooker soups that always get rave reviews in my house, and they are oh-so-simple to prepare. For sides, I like great loaf of bread and a fruit or veggie tray (easy to prep ahead or purchase ready-made). I love to cook and try new recipes, but I’m honestly not afraid to keep my dinner menus relegated to simple fare. As far as desserts, my favorite make-ahead dessert is definitely cheesecake (they can be kept about a week in the fridge, so it’s wonderful to make early and check it off the list). Here’s that short-list of a few of my current favorites:

Delegate cleaning. Don’t be afraid to ask your spouse and kiddos to help out with cleaning! My hubs is always willing to vacuum, so I assign him that task while I tackle the bathrooms and dusting. Team together, and just remember that no one ever notices the dust in our homes like we do!

Make sure you have enough dishes. If you are like me and aren’t already equipped with a full set of dishes…you might find you don’t actually have enough dinnerware to serve everyone you are inviting over! We only had four soup bowls before this past weekend, so I hit up TJMaxx last-minute to add to our collection (always a bummer when I have to buy something there, haha). You can also go ahead and use plastic flatware and paper plates, but I do love the feel of setting a table with real dinnerware.

Set the table before your guests arrive. It’s one less thing to do before you serve dinner; besides the fact that a set table makes a beautiful impression. Sometimes I also like to leave my serving dishes out on the table too before I fill them. This helps jogs my memory to grab last-minute items from the fridge and also prevents me from using my serving dishes for the wrong side dish (I have an unintentionally minimalist collection of serving bowls, so this can be pretty important!)

Focus on welcoming, not impressing your guests. I tend to get caught up in all the things about myself or my home that “aren’t good enough” and through that I talk myself out of inviting friends or acquaintances into our home. It’s easy to focus on negatives and decide that everything has to be Pottery Barn perfection before inviting a soul into your home, but really that’s not what hospitality is about. It’s about giving freely of what we do have, and inviting others in with the desire to share life together, even if just for a few short hours. Hospitality is a powerful way to strengthen old friendships and kindle new ones. Great hostesses like Ina Garten (love her!) are inspiring, but don’t let the comparison game prevent you from sharing the blessing of your home with others!

As my husband and I are becoming more established in our home, I’m really looking forward to being able to invite others over for meals and deepen friendships through simple hospitality. There is something so beautiful about being welcomed into someone’s home to share a meal and friendship together.

These are simple tips, but I hope that you will find them helpful and encouraging! And let me know what your favorite tip is for hosting a stress-free meal for others!

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  1. Such good tips Ellen! I especially like your perspective of hospitality. I often have to remind myself that people are coming to spend time with me and my family and not to review my home or food. Thanks for all the links to recipes too–very helpful! xo