New meal options for holiday season hosting

By Jenni Wolf

It’s the hosting holiday season! No matter what we are celebrating, many of us will take on hosting duties this month with what we are serving to eat taking the center stage. With plenty of things to think through and plan, let me offer you an idea to make things easier: recruit your guests to help with the meal leaving you with less to do to get the party started. Read on below for a few fun, new meal options for holiday celebrating with friends and family. In my opinion, the gift of a delicious, healthy meal shared with the ones you love is the best gift of all. Now, let’s get to celebrating!

The Cookie Exchange


When everyone brings their favorite cookies and treats, there are plenty
to share and take home for later.. Photo by Jenni Wolf.

A classic for a reason—it’s not the holidays without cookies! Take the pressure off yourself to bake everyone’s favorites and invite guests to prepare and share their favorite holiday cookies and treats at your gathering. Because no one wants to eat a “meal’s worth” of cookies—that would not feel good—prepare a few simple appetizers like crudités and hummus, cheese and salami, and breads with spreads to pair with the sweets for a satisfying meal.

Provide small boxes or ask each guest to bring an extra container to complete the swap and select their cookies to bring home.

Bonus: assign each cookie or treat a number and have guests vote on their favorite. Announce the winner at the end of the party.

The Soup Swap

This is a really great idea for a small group of friends or the neighborhood gang.

Invite each guest (or household) to bring a pot of soup to share. As the host, prepare your favorite soup as well, then also supply bread, crackers, cornbread and a green salad as sides.

Sides help to round out the meal and also offer an opportunity for balanced nutrition.

Bonus: offer small pint or quart containers for guests to take leftover soup home for later.

The Progressive Potluck

Progressive dinners are common around the holidays, but who wants to go tromping from house to house in the icy, cold? Host a “stationary dinner” instead (ha!), potluck-style.

Assign each guest or family to a course and request they bring a dish that fits the bill. Courses to include might be appetizer, soup, bread, salad, vegetable, entrée, cheese, dessert and of course beverages! Ask guests in advance about what they are bringing and create a menu to set the stage for the evening.

Recreate the progressive feel by serving courses spaced apart with games or time to chat and mingle in between. Full-course meals are also a fun opportunity to tune into your hunger/fullness cues and notice how different flavors and perhaps a different pace of eating impacts how you experience the meal.

Bonus: progressive dinners don’t have to be fancy, but they can be! Invite guests to dress to impress and award a best-dressed prize.

The Bring a Board


Make this fun snacking board, using a Christmas Tree for inspiration! This charcuterie was made with sliced cucumber, sausage, red pepper, green apple, a variety of cheeses, grapes and crackers. Photo by Jenni Wolf.

This is great for any age group but works particularly well for kiddos as this allows for a very customizable meal. It is also a great option for a mix-n-mingle party as there is no set time the meal must be served.

Invite guests to bring a themed charcuterie board or snack-board. To make things easier, assign themes in your invite. Classics could include “veggies and dip,” “cheese and crackers” and “chips and dip” themes.

Some of my favorite out-of-the-box ideas include a “taco board,” a “rainbow board” and a “pickle board”—think all the pickle varieties plus pickle-flavored snacks like potato chips and nuts. A great opportunity for guests to have fun and think outside the box.

As the host, supply a variety of beverage options and the “dessert board.” When building your plate(s)—totally normal to be noshing throughout the night—choose foods from each food group: protein, carbohydrate, fat and fiber (think fruit or veggie!) to create a balanced and tasty meal.

Cheers to getting some help with the hosting duties and having a fun and tasty time celebrating this holiday season! 

Jenni Wolf, a registered dietitian, writes about food and nutrition for the Bugle.

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