Simple but special recipes for hosting your first-ever holiday party

A menu plan for the beginner, with vegetarian main dish options, easy desserts and key tips too.

A menu plan for the beginner, with vegetarian main dish options, easy desserts and key tips too

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

If this is your first year hosting a holiday party, don't be nervous. It's easy for any of us to take on the stress of the season, but welcoming friends and family into your home for a memorable meal should not be fraught. Sure, throwing a party comes with some work, but finding the right recipes, that are light on effort but still crowd-pleasing, will help make it ten times easier.

Remember that no matter how much you prep and sweat and last-minute grocery shop for that dish you "have to make", the thing your guests will appreciate most is that you're cooking for them. Consider that an easy menu of thoughtful recipes will allow you to actually embrace your role as host this year. You need to be out there with your loved ones, not chained to the stove.

To help you pull this off, here are the quitely simple but splendid recipes on our site that you can build your whole menu with. Choose one or two from each category, depending on the size of your group, and read our tips for pulling off the courses with ease. And a tip for this event or any dinner party: it never hurts to check in with guests to see if they have (possibly newly developed) dietary restrictions this year. 


You'll exude expert host vibes if you have a plate or two of nibbles out for when your guests arrive. If they catch you with your feet up and sipping on this festive sangria when you get there, they'll ask you how you do it!

Holiday Wreath

Slow Cooker Caponata

Olive Oil Braised Tomato Crostini

Olive-oil braised tomato crostini with a sliver of cheese. (CBC)

Salt and Pepper Shrimp


Ditch the delicate, out-of-season greens and opt for solid sides you can make ahead. No one will guess these recipes are so simple, because they're so very satisfying.

Make-Ahead Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Broccoli Walnut Slaw with Ginger Lemon Tahini Dressing

(Photography by Debi Traub)

Winter Pappa al Pomodoro

(Photography by Dennis the Prescott)

Maple Glazed Squash and Carrots

Meat mains

Big cuts of meat, braised dishes and anything that bakes on one tray is the way to go here. A simple recipe with just a few quality ingredients, beats a complicated one, hands down.

Jerk Spiced Ham

Tray-Baked Salmon Nicoise

(Photo credit: Jackson Roy)

Wine-Braised Brisket with Pomegranate Seeds

(Photo credit: Debi Traub)

Ricardo's Slow Cooker Turkey Roast with Cranberries

(Credit: Christian Lacroix)

Celebration Chicken with Sweet Potatoes and Dates

Closeup, overhead shot of roasted sweet potato chunks, dates and chicken thighs and drumsticks on a sheet pan.
(Photo credit: David Loftus)

Vegetarian mains

You'll want to be sure to serve something substantial for those guests that don't eat meat, and this is a time where you'll probably want to do more than serve a faux meat turkey. On the other hand, pleasing everyone shouldn't make you sweat, so please use store-bought pastry where you can and take other just-as-delicious-but-way-easier shortcuts.

Red Lentil Ragu Skillets

Veggie Tourtiere with Tomato Maple Chutney

Stuffed Acorn Squash

Roasted Tomato and Olive Tart


As host of your holiday party, you're allowed to designate tasks to your guests. In fact, we even encourage it. But, while guests are usually eager to bring a baked pie or pick up a pint of ice cream en route, once you see how simple these recipes are, you'll probably say "don't worry about it, just bring wine".

Eggnog Tiramisu

Chocolate Mascarpone Pudding

(Photo credit: Jackson Roy)

Vanilla Bean Crème Brulée​

(CBC Life)

Ricardo's Slow Cooker Maple Syrup Dumplings

(Credit: Christian Lacroix)

Jessica Brooks is a digital producer and pro-trained cook and baker. Follow her food stories on Instagram @brooks_cooks.