I grew up in a party house. My mom was always a big entertainer, so if ever there was a reason to celebrate, celebrate we did. Dinner parties, holidays, barbecues, or birthdays–whatever the occasion, food was always the common theme. And props to my mom, and all the wonderful hosts of the world, for making it all look so easy! Because let me tell you something about party planning: it is anything but easy. If there is anything I have learned from her over the years about entertaining, it’s to prepare as much as possible ahead of time.

Throwing a party takes a lot of work. Timing is a critical element to the success of any party and also one of the most challenging skills to master in the kitchen. Preparing your food in advance will ensure you’re not slaving away at the stove or scrambling to get everything to the table at the right moment. Making your dishes well in advance will also serve as damage control. You will have time to make adjustments and solve whatever problems may arise, so you can socialize with your guests and enjoy your own party and spread as much as everyone attending does.

Party Planning Tips

  1. Stick to what you know. Make dishes that you’ve prepared at least once before, so you have time to work out the kinks. If you want to wow your guests with something new, test out the recipe a couple of weeks ahead of time to avoid any last-minute surprises.
  2. Menu for success. Avoid made-to-order dishes that will trap you in the kitchen while your guests enjoy the party without you. Sometimes simplicity is best. Plan your menu strategically, keeping (mostly) clear of items that require tons of last-minute prep, super exotic ingredients, or extensive prep and/or cooking times. Casseroles are great for feeding a crowd. Not only are they an excellent way to extend the value of more expensive ingredients like meat and seafood; as one-dish meals, they are ultra convenient. Plus casseroles can generally be frozen or refrigerated for a period before serving and often improve with time, as the flavors meld. Mind-bogglingly versatile, casseroles are the perfect solution for planning a party or even a hectic weekday dinner.
  3. Hard work comes first. Get as much prep work as possible done as long as you can before the event. Look for recipes with “make ahead” instructions. Chop veggies, mix dips, prepare dishes, set the table and decorate early. If your menu items need to be baked fresh, complete as much of the recipe as you can, leaving the oven-time as the only step left on party day. There are many items you can par-bake, as well, so a simple and short reheating is all that’s required on party day. For example, if you’re making a bunch of bacon for your brunch party, slightly under-cook it in the oven a couple of days before, store it in the fridge, and simply pop it back in for a few minutes just before the event. If you’re baking a dessert, either bake it completely a day or two before the party and store it at room temp in an airtight container (cakes, cupcakes, and bars are perfect for this), or prepare the dough of batter and bake it the day of the party if you want it to be hot or crispy (cobblers, crumbles, cookies, and warm desserts).
  4. Clean up as you go. You will save yourself the pain of having to get through an overwhelming mountain of dirty dishes and kitchen surfaces if you clean as you go. If you have a dishwasher (good for you!), start the party off with it empty, so you can fill it up along the way.
  5. Be flexible. Sometimes plans change. Some guests who RSVP’d might not show, and others might bring a friend you hadn’t planned for. Just be sure to go with the flow if something unexpected happens and give yourself some wiggle room so your plans are not totally annihilated just because there is one more or less guest than you expected. It is also important to remember to take it easy on yourself. If something goes wrong, don’t sweat it. If there’s a red wine spill on your rug, or if you burn the pie, just let it go. The party will be much more enjoyable for everyone if you just take it as it comes than if you fuss over something that’s been done. Problem-solve if possible, but be flexible regardless.

Below are some great make-ahead recipes for your convenience.



Artichoke Dip with Fontina

Gorgonzola-Thyme-Stuffed Olives

Marinated Antipasto Platter

Fresh Tomato Bruschetta

Mushroom Turnovers

Sundried Tomato Polenta Bites

Bacon and Cheese-Stuffed Dates


Enchilada Casserole

Coastal Kale Salad

Baked Ziti

Chicken Pot Pie with Biscuits

Classic Lasagna

Vegetarian Quinoa & Squash Casserole

Tex-Mex Lasagna

Roasted Delicata Squash with Quinoa Salad

Deb’s Kale Salad with Apple, Cranberries and Pecans


Life-Changing Brown-Butter & Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies

Plum Raspberry Crumble

Lemon Curd Tart

Blackberry-Peach Cobbler with Praline-Pecan Streusel


Premixing cocktails in big batches will save you a lot of the time you’d spend playing bartender, so you can spend more time drinking with your friends. You can simply pour the beverage or leave it to your guests to pour for themselves.

Philly Fish House Punch

Plum Sangria

Greek White Sangria

Champagne Punch

Sunset Punch

Sweet Tea Bourbon

Ruben’s Cooler No. 2

Next time you’re planning a party apply these tips and tricks. Prepare recipes that you can make ahead to spare yourself stress and please your party-goers and yourself!

Originally published at on April 10, 2015.



  1. Sam Million-Weaver says:

    Those delicatas with quinoa look freaking delicious!

    We were pretty pro at planning parties in college, too. Except that our pre-made punches were pretty déclassé. I think I’ll take plum sangria over rockstar and popov any day of the week :).


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