Suddenly it’s the holidays. Is your to-do list a mile long? Are you scrambling to fit in Santa visits and prep for your holiday party? Yes, this season can feel totally harried. But guess what? Entertaining this time of year doesn’t have to be complicated or stressful. (I know, but hear me out!)
Hosting this time of year is all about inviting family and friends into your home and serving them good food with simple ingredients. If you’re not slowing down to connect with people you love, what’s the point of the holidays? This season is built to foster relationships, gratitude, and giving back.
Here’s my challenge to you: If you haven’t done so already, invite some dear friends or family over for a no-frills holiday dinner. We’re talking good, clean, simple food. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the past few years about how to open up your home to low-stress entertaining.
What’s the best number of people for a low-stress dinner party? I have an answer for that! No more than six people. With six, you can have one intimate conversation around the same dinner table and feel like everyone gets a chance to contribute. It’s also easy to cook a recipe for six without feeling too stressed (and you don’t need to borrow plates from your neighbor!). Of course you can have a dinner party for any number of people you like. But if you go past 8, try it pitch-in style for less hassle.
You know how a shelf with few things arranged thoughtfully looks 100 times better than one crammed to the brim? Let’s take that design principle and apply it to food. A menu doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated or extensive. A few great dishes paired together can be the model of elegant simplicity.
A menu doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated or extensive. A few great dishes paired together can be the model of elegant simplicity.
For this no-frills dinner party, let’s go with the best cozy winter theme there is: soup! Orienting a meal around a soup lets it flow easily: soup with a side of salad and bread. It’s a formula I use often in the fall and winter and it has thousands of variations. Here are a few great recipe options for this simple, cozy menu:
Best Wild Rice Soup This creamy soup (pictured above and below!) is a major crowd-pleaser and fan favorite this time of year. It takes about 1 hour to make, and you can make it ahead and keep it warm on the stove. (Or try the Instant Pot version.)
Other options: Best Kale Salad, topped with an Italian-inspired lemon vinaigrette and Parmesan shavings.
Best Homemade Cornbread is one of the easiest, coziest sides for a crowd you can whip up in minutes and bake while you’re simmering soup. It’s perfectly moist and lightly sweet. (Or try our vegan version.)
During holiday time, you might already have some decorations around to spruce up your table! But if not, think seriously simple. Candles are a must: They’re decorative and set the mood. Often I simply use branches of fresh herbs as table decor: It looks lovely to set them on top of the napkins at place settings.
What I’ve learned from years of entertaining: a signature drink really sets the tone for the rest of the evening! Of course if this feels stressful to you, wine or beer will do just fine. Here a few simple drinks perfect for holiday entertaining:
Mulled Cider One whiff of this simmering in the kitchen and your guests will be filled with holiday spirit! Try it straight up or spiked with rum for a little warmth.
Cranberry Champagne Cocktail This 3-ingredient cocktail takes just a few minutes to mix up and is tangy and festive. Bonus: the rosemary and cranberry garnish work as table decorations, too.
One myth about hosting is that you have to have all your ducks in order the moment the guests ring the doorbell. Wrong! One thing my husband Alex and I like to do is invite our friends to cook with us. That way, we can enjoy each other’s company while we make the meal: and while we eat it! Of course this doesn’t always work logistically. But don’t be afraid to give your guests a cocktail as you put finishing touches on the meal.
“What can I bring?” is the socially acceptable answer to “Want to come to dinner?” But often I’m not prepared with a good response, especially if I haven’t yet thought through the meal. A good bet is asking your guests to bring dessert. That leaves you to worry about the main meal, and be pleasantly surprised at what comes in as a sweet treat. It also saves you the effort of baking! Though if you’re truly eager to bake, this easy apple crumble is party perfection.
Remember: as host or hostess, you’re the one who’s energy carries the show! If you’re stressed or feeling pulled in many directions, your guests will internalize it too. So, free yourself from any expectations! Give yourself grace, and loosen up to have fun and enjoy the ride. Certainly no one is expecting perfection (and perfection is no fun anyway). Keep your eye on what’s important: those beautiful faces around the dinner table.
Sonja is author of award winning food blog A Couple Cooks and the cookbook Pretty Simple Cooking. Together with her husband, Alex, the two are leading voices on plant-based eating, and authors of a recipe series with Washington Post Food called Voraciously: Plant Powered. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
BY Sonja Overhiser - December 8, 2019
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.