Ultimate Guide to Party Foods

Food is a major component of any party. Whether you’re planning an intimate get-together or a large party for a crowd, your party will suck if you leave the guests hungry. We all know a thing or two about food, but if you’re not much of a host, you probably wonder about what kinds of food to serve for your party. Here’s a comprehensive party food list to give you some ideas, tips, and inspiration.

Party Food Tips

Hosting a party and serving a variety of foods can be a challenge. You will have lots of things to keep in mind, so here are some tips to keep you sane and to keep foods fresh for the party:

Plan your menu.

A table with foods served at a small dinner party
Dinner party with homemade lasagna and quiche

Plan your menu well in advance to keep you organized and give you the chance to plan and figure out what to do ahead of time. When you prepare some food in advance for parties, easy dishes are the best options. Recipes that have fewer ingredients and are quick to prepare make food prepping done faster. You can serve food with multiple ingredients and complicated cooking methods if that’s your specialty dish, but make sure you got an extra set of hands to help you take care of the less complicated dishes. Also, ordering food platters from restaurants and caterers would help you simplify your food preparation.

Plan to choose a few essential dishes to serve instead of serving tons of food. Yes, you don’t want your guests to go hungry, but you also don’t want to prepare 20 different recipes and end up with a fridge full of leftovers.

Consider the amount of preparation and cooking time that goes into each dish. To make the best use of your time, choose recipes with short cooking times and minimal preparation to make the best use of your time. Write out every component of your party menu, including appetizers, desserts, and side dishes. Analyze and decide how much you can prepare early.

Practice the dishes.

A woman preparing her meal in the kitchen
Healthy food at home. Happy woman is preparing the proper meal in the kitchen.

It’s always a good idea to stick with the dishes you know well. If you’ve made a dish multiple times, you’ll know which steps to do ahead and what you can complete before the party. You can also be more confident to serve a dish that you have a level of mastery with.

But if you decide to try something new for the party, give the recipe a test run days before the event. It gives you enough time to master the recipe and lets you work out the kinks.

The same goes with your party drinks. If you want to play bartender and mix up a cocktail you haven’t tried yet, practice it before the party.

Make everything and prepare in advance as much as possible.

Chopped up greens and fruits on plastic food containers
Close up of woman preparing plastic food boxes with fresh green onion, strawberry and blackberry for freezing on the wooden table.

Make-ahead as much as possible to save your sanity on the day of the event.

You might want to chop, dice, and assemble foods before you serve them for the party. You can trim, season or marinate all your meat a day before. You can also make salads, cook meat, cut-up vegetables, and make dips the day before the party. Then pack the foods in containers and refrigerate or freeze accordingly.

Consider these ingredient prep tasks:

  • Wash, peel, and slice veggies for vegetable trays and recipes. Chopping and dicing can take a lot longer than you think, so do it ahead of time as much as possible.
  • Cut up fruits for fruit trays and salads.
  • Mix the dry ingredients for recipes to easily pour them into the mixing bowl when you actually make the recipe.
  • Measure the ingredients you need for recipes and put them in containers.

Partially prepare the recipes until you need to serve them. For instance, you can make the sauce for your dish ahead of time and cook the rest of the meal before the party. If you’re serving a casserole, you can assemble it ahead and refrigerate it, then simply put it in the oven to bake it on the day.

Most main dishes need a lot of time and effort, so it’s best if you handle much of the prep work ahead. Some meats are best cooked right before you serve them, while others reheat well if cooked in advance.

When it comes to pasta dishes, they can remain fresh when you cook them before a party. Cook the noodles hours ahead of time, and with a storage bag and some water with olive oil, the noodles will be fine.

Meanwhile, most desserts are suitable for prepping ahead of time, especially those that need to be served cold. Baked goods like cakes, cupcakes, brownies, and cookies are best baked the day before, as these can be time-consuming to prepare.

Write a to-do list.

A person writing a to-do list on a note sticker on the fridge
person write reminder text on the note sticker on the fridge

With all the things you may need to do ahead of time, it helps if you keep track of them on a list so you won’t forget anything. Make a list of specific things you need to do for each dish, when you plan to do them, and who is responsible for doing it (if you’re employing the help of your family members and other guests). The list will become your timeline for the party to help you keep track of your preparations.

Don’t forget to prepare items for serving drinks.

Martini cocktails and a shaker on a tabletop
Martini cocktail with green olives, shaker on marble table background

With all the focus on party food, it can be easy to forget about drinks and how you’ll serve them to your guests. Before the party, stock up on ice and remind your guests who will bring drinks to remember their contributions. Place your shaker and corkscrew in a spot that you will remember the night before so you can open and refill drinks easily. Of course, you have to make sure you have enough glasses for all your guests to drink on.

Make sure you have enough serving platters.

A holiday dinner table with lots of serving dishes with food
Top view of hands of family members holding plates with homemade food and desserts while serving festive table before Christmas dinner

Don’t forget about your serveware. When planning a party food menu, make sure you have enough platter, bowls, dipping cups, and other kinds of serveware to plate everything properly. Grab serving utensils for each item as well. Some items can even go in the serving dishes ahead of time. For instance, you can put dips into their serving bowls as soon as you’re done making them. Simply cover the bowls with

Have a plan for reheating.

A stew served in a slow cooker pot
Photo of Irish Stew or Guinness Stew made in a crockpot or slow cooker.

Some party foods that you need to make in advance may need to be reheated before serving to your guests. If you have many dishes to reheat, consider the timing and the methods of warming up. You can heat foods on the microwave, oven, or stovetop.

If you’re serving a hot dish that you’d cook on the day, consider using a chafing dish or slow cooker, so you don’t have to keep reheating the food during the party.

Foods to Serve at a Party

Simple Appetizers

Appetizers on a table
some people having some different appetizers, such as hummus, potato chips and salmon and cod carpaccio, served on different colorful plates and bowls placed on a table set with a blue tablecloth

Appetizers are basic when it comes to party food. Sometimes, it’s all you need to serve, especially if you have a drinking party. Know some simple and easy party foods to serve that don’t need anything more than a nice platter or bowl for serving.

  • Tortilla chips with guacamole, salsa, and queso
  • Pita chips and hummus
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Roasted nuts or mixed nuts
  • Crudite and ranch dip
  • Potato chips and French onion dip
  • Sliced prosciutto, salami, and other cured meats
  • Crackers and jam
  • Olive tapenade with crackers or crostini
  • Pesto and vegetables or breadsticks
  • Deviled eggs
  • Onion rings
  • Soups
  • Empanada

Filling Party Foods

Pulled pork sliders
Homemade Pulled Pork Sliders with Barbecue Sauce

If you want to make your guests feel full, especially if you’re hosting a luncheon or dinner, you have lots of options to serve.

  • Tacos
  • Hamburger sliders
  • Pulled pork sliders
  • Pigs in a blanket
  • Chicken wings
  • Meatballs
  • Steak
  • Gourmet pizzas
  • Sausage bake
  • Quesadillas
  • Baked brie in puff pastry
  • Pull-apart bread
  • Whole chicken or turkey
  • Flatbread
  • Submarine sandwiches
  • Pasta salad
  • Hot dogs
  • Sloppy joes
  • Sliced baguette bread
  • Cold cut roll-up sandwiches
  • Sausage balls
  • Grilled barbeque
  • Lasagna
  • Pasta dishes
  • Fajitas
  • Tamales
  • Chili and cornbread
  • Dumplings
  • Spring rolls

Side Dishes

Traditional Thanksgiving side dishes
All traditional Thanksgiving side dishes, roasted carrots, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce and stuffing

Sometimes, the main dishes are just incomplete without sides. Here are some side dishes to serve to complement your dishes at the party:

  • Rice pilaf
  • Roasted vegetables
  • Caprese salad
  • Casserole
  • Mashed potato
  • Baked beans
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Au gratin potatoes
  • Stuffings
  • Sauteed beans
  • Bean salad
  • Cream corn
  • Couscous
  • Cooked carrots
  • Coleslaw
  • Taters
  • Dinner rolls
  • Risotto
  • Potato wedges
  • Candied sweet potatoes

Cocktail Party Foods

a set of bruschetta and a glass of red wine
Brushetta set for wine. Variety of small sandwiches with prosciutto, tomatoes, parmesan cheese, fresh basil and balsamic creme served with glass of red wine on rustic wooden board over dark background, top view

Cocktail party food is a step up for your chips and salsa, but it doesn’t have to be super fancy. At cocktail parties, it’s customary to serve finger foods that can be eaten without lots of mess.

  • Finger sandwiches
  • Charcuterie board
  • Mini quiches
  • Mini crabcakes
  • Bruschetta
  • Crostini
  • Shrimp cocktail
  • Mini prawn tacos
  • Mini shawarma
  • Loaded potato skins
  • Savory profiteroles
  • Bacon-wrapped date
  • Thai chicken meatballs
  • Baked oysters
  • Savory tartlets
  • Baked mac-and-cheese bites
  • Onion rings
  • Ricotta-stuffed phyllo rolls
  • Mozzarella Bites
  • Spinach artichoke squares
  • Buffalo chicken meatballs
  • Mini pizzas
  • Chicken parmesan bites
  • Deviled eggs
  • French onion cups
  • Sushi rolls
  • Tuna tartare
  • Savory pinwheels

Brunch Party Foods

A brunch table at an intimate gathering
Glass of champagne close-up on the table with different breakfast and brunch dishes like croissants, eggs benedict, coffee and fruits. Selective focus

Brunch parties are so much fun, but the prep time is very limited because it starts early in the day. Most preparations must be done the day before the event. Your other option is to serve super easy food ideas.

  • Cinnamon rolls
  • Croissant sandwiches
  • Scones
  • Egg cups
  • Hash
  • Pudding
  • Casserole
  • Loaf bread
  • Quiche
  • Oatmeal cups with yogurt and fruit
  • Puff pastry twists
  • Avocado toast
  • Chicken and waffle sliders
  • Breakfast potatoes
  • Cheesecake bites
  • Mini pancake skewers
  • Mini waffles
  • Scramble cups
  • Breakfast tots
  • Fruit salad
  • Fresh salads
  • Frittata
  • Hot cross buns
  • Fruit tarts
  • Brie bites
  • Brie flatbread
  • Cookies
  • Torte

Vegan Party Foods

Roasted pumpkin salad with spinach and nuts
Roasted pumpkin salad with spinach and walnut on a black plate on a stone background.Top view.

If you have some vegans or vegetarians in the crowd, consider their dietary restrictions. Here are some things you may want to serve to cater to them:

  • Veggies with dip
  • Vegan pesto
  • Hummus and pita chips
  • Steamed edamame
  • Roasted vegetable salad
  • Cherry tomato and mozzarella skewers
  • Kale chips
  • Guacamole
  • Fruit salad
  • Green salad
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Tomato bruschetta
  • Vegan pizza margherita
  • Vegan pigs in a blanket
  • Baked breaded cauliflower
  • Potato cakes
  • Zucchini pasta
  • Broccoli balls
  • Spinach artichoke dip
  • Crispy tofu fingers
  • Black bean burgers

Desserts

A dessert table with cookies, tarts, cakes, cupcakes and cake pops
Brown wooden table with various cookies, tarts, cakes, cupcakes and cakepops. Studio shot.

People would be hankering for something sweet after the yummy and savory main course and the sides. Desserts are essential for a party for it completes any meal. Here are some desserts you can serve:

  • Sweet pies
  • Brownies
  • Cake
  • Cake pops
  • Cupcakes
  • Ice cream
  • Popsicles
  • Tart
  • Donuts
  • Muffins
  • Cookies
  • Cheesecake
  • Tiramisu
  • Lemon bars
  • Toffee bars
  • Cobbler
  • Mousse
  • Profiteroles
  • Cannoli
  • Panna cotta
  • Crème brûlée
  • Flan
  • Baked apples
  • Truffles
  • Sorbet
  • Candy bars
  • Homemade chocolate bark