Previously, when we invited guests for dinner, I’d get stuck with decision paralysis. There are SO many good recipes out there. Which recipes should I make? Which ones go together? Will my guests enjoy them? I’d spend hours pouring over cookbooks and my saved ideas and then finally set the menu at the last minute right before I needed to go to the grocery store.
I’m happy to say that I’ve nearly recovered from my previous indecision. Now, when we have guests for dinner, I stick to a handful of tried-and-true menus. It takes so much pressure off. And because we have guests over fairly regularly, it also saves a lot of time.
Here is my criteria for these menus:
1. The dishes pair together nicely
2. They’re not too expensive
3. They’re allergy-friendly if needed (or can be adapted)
4. My guests have enjoyed them in the past
5. I happen to really like them myself
Notice I said that I nearly recovered from my previous indecision? I’ll still change things up from time to time. I’ll make a different salad, or a different dessert. I’ll use flank steak instead of skirt steak. I’ll make green beans if I can’t find baby bok choy. I’ll add a cocktail or mocktail option to the meal. But for the most part, I stick to these menus that work. All of these recipes are written for anywhere from 2–8 people, but can be scaled up or down accordingly.
Also one note: a “dinner party” for us can just be one or two friends coming for dinner. It doesn’t have to be an expensive affair with tons of guests. So whether I’m cooking for three or cooking for eight, here’s what I make for them:
1) Chicken Souvlaki with Golden Rice and Tzatziki and Classic Greek Salad
This is my #1 go-to meal. Almost everyone will eat grilled chicken and rice, and it’s economical. And best of all, it feels a bit out of the ordinary. The meal is actually a re-creation of the food that Longe and I enjoyed on our honeymoon to Greece. The kabobs are a fun way to enjoy grilled chicken, and everyone loves the homemade tzatziki for dipping.
Guests want to know how the rice gets so yellow (turmeric), and it’s mild enough for children. It’s also completely gluten free. It can be entirely dairy-free with the swap of a dairy-free yogurt to make the tzatziki (if I have a dairy-free guest I’ll make both the traditional tzatziki and a dairy-free version).
2) Cuban Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Sauce, Arroz Moro, and Church Lady Salad
This meal is a particular hit with the guys. Skirt steak is so flavorful, and though it’s slightly higher priced than chicken, the inexpensive sides (rice & beans, salad) offset the cost. The chimichurri sauce is a fun addition—everyone loves a dipping sauce. And I’ve had people who aren’t big salad fans gobble up the Church Lady Salad.
The steak and rice recipes are based off two dishes that Longe and I adored at a Cuban restaurant in West Palm Beach, and we love re-creating our restaurant experience again and again (this time with friends to join us!). This menu is also gluten-free and can be made dairy-free by leaving the cheese out of the salad.
3) Italian Marinated Steak & Vegetable Kabobs, Wild Rice, and Mississippi Mud Ice Cream Pie
This inspiration for this meal comes from my Mom, who serves this meal every Father’s Day. Our family has been enjoying it for years, and now Longe and I are happy to share it with our guests, too.
The skewers threaded with beef and vegetables look really impressive with just a little effort. The wild rice comes from a box—can’t get easier than that. The Mississippi Mud Ice Cream Pie is slightly more time intensive, yet still simple. It just needs some time to set up in the freezer before serving. Everyone loves the pie and it’s especially ideal for a summer meal.
The menu can be made gluten-free by using gluten-free chocolate sandwich cookies for the pie. Make sure that your Italian dressing is also gluten-free.
4) Grilled Salmon Kabobs with Asian Barbecue Glaze, Sesame Scallion Rice, and Grilled Bok Choy with Ginger Brown Butter
If your guests enjoy salmon, this is the meal for them! I always check with guests before I serve seafood just to ensure they don’t have any aversions or allergies to it. There are a surprising number of people who don’t like fish!
But if they do—they’ll love these kabobs. The sesame scallion rice is packed with flavor thanks to the toasted sesame oil. And the grilled bok choy with ginger brown butter is a fun side dish that isn’t in many people’s usual dinner rotation.
5) Seafood Paella, Raw Zucchini Salad, and Sparkling Sangria
This meal is also for seafood lovers, though you could easily swap in chorizo and chicken for the seafood in the paella. I’ve made it both ways and each option is delicious. The menu is a throwback to the time I spent in Spain, and it’s such a fun and creative dinner party option.
In fact, I’ve made the paella for the past two New Year’s Eve parties that we’ve hosted. Another pro: it’s a low-cost option to feed a crowd—the most expensive item is the paella rice! The recipe makes makes 8–10 hearty servings, so when served with a few sides, no one will leave hungry.
Do you have any tried-and-true recipes that you make for guests? I’d love to know—tell me about them in the comments below!