Easy Entertaining: the Snack List


In college, having friends over meant making a tray of brownies or coordinating a potluck dinner. If you cooked the meal by yourself, it meant your friends would be gathered in your living room with a plate of spaghetti balanced on their knees because spaghetti lets you feed five people for a dollar.

After college and when my friends started buying houses, having friends over became replaced by entertaining. “We like to entertain,” people explain when they want to buy a house with a big kitchen and living room. The college-style gatherings don’t seem fancy enough, and the frequent casual gatherings at friends’ houses are replaced by parties with appetizers and wine glasses a couple of times a year.

I want my home to be a gathering place. I need easy snacks that let us invite people over often, even at the last minute. Two or three times a year we invite thirty people over for a big meal and party. Sometimes we have people over for dinner. Usually, though, our plans are “Let’s feed the kids an early meal, and then come over and eat snacks while the kids play.”

Last month when we had some friends over at our house, I tried to fix a snack for all the kids, and I started a small kitchen fire. “Fire!” I yelled, glad I don’t try to impress my friends. Usually I open a bag of chips.

Making people feel comfortable in your home means having easy snacks that don’t look like you made a big fuss or went to a lot of trouble. I always stay ready with coffee, beer, chips, and salsa. For the kids I have bananas, popcorn, and yogurt.

Some people have asked how I stay budget-conscious with our groceries while also providing a lot of snacks for other people, and the answer is easy: we almost never go out to eat. The main reason is that it’s difficult to eat gluten-free at restaurants, and we also need to bring our kids or pay for a babysitter. It’s easier to stay home. For the price of an appetizer and drink at a restaurant, I can buy snacks for everyone from the grocery store. It saves us money, and it saves our friends money too.

What do you like to keep ready to easily serve guests?
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Great ideas, Rachel. Do you keep homemade or jarred salsa on hand? Do you mind sharing the recipe if you keep homemade on hand? Thanks!

    I like to keep the following on hand: ingredients for cheese quesadillas, green salsa from Trader Joe’s, and a couple drinks. Dark chocolate chips in the freezer have always sufficed for a quick dessert :)

  2. We keep our entertaining pretty low key too, Rachel. Our completely unscientific study has shown that when we plan a menu that’s more complicated, we actually make our friends feel less comfortable. It looks like we’re trying to impress them, instead of just enjoying some time with them. We deliberately keep it all very low key. Our biggest success has been having kids eat early, with a “make your own pizza” menu. Then we grown ups will sit down and have a quieter, civilized meal of something a bit more adventurous.
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    • We also do pizza night, but we do it with the adults too. We get the more “fun” toppings rather than just pepperoni – we break out a couple of cookbooks (Jamie Oliver’s Italian book is a good one) and try the combinations listed there, based on what we have in the house. We’ve definitely broken out of the usual with our pizzas! We also make our crusts only about the size of your hand, so everyone can try multiple combinations without filling up on only one thing.

  3. Good suggestions, Rachel, thanks! I also try to have a few things on hand for the company. Here is a quick dessert recipe that hasn’t failed me yet. Put 2 boxes of cake mix into a ziplock bag. One must be angel food, the other can be any other flavor you like ( I use dark chocolate brownie mix). Shake well. Put 3 table spoons of dry cake mix into a coffee mug or a tea cup, add 2 table spoons of water and put in the microwave for 1 minute. A little whipped cream or a couple of sliced strawberries on top and voila! a warm cake for your guests in no time. Perhaps you’d find it useful :)

  4. I have found the immaculate bakery cranberry-orange scones are so easy to keep on hand. Our oven preheats quickly enough that we can crank them out in 30. As soon as friends call, we preheat and they are ready by the time we all get cozy on the couch!
    –another tip, I cut all the scones in four. So they are bite sized and we all eat less but feel like we are eating more.

  5. We are pretty casual too. Chips and salsa are always on hand and because I bake I always have something in the freezer. B/c we have 5 kids we always have something kid friendly on hand.

    For suppers I have been known to serve soup, spaghetti, lasagne and in the summer hamburgers with a few salads. They are usually coming for the people, not the food.

  6. I always keep the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies on hand. Everyone loves those. I also stock up on the good ‘ole Rotel and Velveeta tailgate dip when those ingredients go on sale – that stuff is insanely fast, easy, and crowd pleasing!
    Kristin @ Young & Southern´s last post…Christmas-prepping with a cut-off date

  7. I am a firm believer in having people in our home as well. It is much cheaper for us and everyone if we just feed them ourselves. Plus it’s healthier and more comfortable! I also like having certain things consistent. For example, I host a monthly craft day with my girlfriends and there must always be coffee! They look forward to the consistency and can rely it. Nothing fancy but still hits the spot!

  8. vermontmommy says:

    Popcorn- This summer my almost teenage son had lots of friends over. I cannot tell you how many batches I popped on our stove top. I also had a supply of pretzels for our friends with braces that could not eat popcorn. This was a huge hit, healthy, affordable, and easy to make.

    This time of year I like to have a stash of hot cocoa to make playdates feel special. I also always have the ingredients to make cookies. I can whip up a batch in 5 minutes and bake them in 8.

    We too find chips and salsa are always loved by adults.

  9. I am wondering if I was crazy to tell my husband we could invite 20ish people (plus their young kids, in some cases) to our teeny tiny apartment tomorrow. My plan is to make two giant pots of vegetarian soup (one with dairy, one without) and tell other people to bring bread and crackers. I’m also making a big batch of cut out cookies, but I’m not decorating them. That’s going to be the kids’ job while the grown-ups talk.
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    • denise in dallas says:

      cool idea, Alyssa!

    • That’s a great idea. For my twin’s birthday party we had snacks and play time (mostly running around my house, lol) and since I don’t “do” games and such and my girls are only 3, we set out plain GF cupcakes with bowls of (almost) homemade frosting and lots of sprinkles and let them all decorate their cupcakes. It was a big hit with the 9 preschoolers we hosted and the adults got to hang out while the kids played. That’s my kind of get together!

  10. my son eats apples like crazy, so we always have those. with a pie sheet in the freezer i can whip up a super quick apple tart in my quiche pan, or better yet, large slices of ham i diced up and froze makes a quiche. tomato soup and grilled cheeses makes everyone happy, and homemade tomato soup is SUPER easy as well. pasta and grilled sausages. are my favorite “oops! there’s company” meal. snacks we usually bring out cut up veggies (my favorite staple) and some dressing. toasted baguette and just about any quickly sauteed veggie or legume with garlic and olive oil makes a great 5 minute bite.

  11. We like to have coffee, tea, wine, hummus, pita bread and baby carrots on hand for unexpected company. I will often bake up some chocolate chip cookies or muffins if I know friends are coming an hour or so ahead of time – mostly just because I like baking.
    We also have great bagel shops close by, so sometimes we’ll pick up a dozen fresh bagels for $4.

    For supper, my favorite meal for entertaining is stew. You can put it in the crock pot in the morning and have a satisfying supper ready for a ton of people without being busy when they show up – carrots and potatoes are always cheap around here, and most kids like them. In the summer we barbeque almost every night, so when we invite friends over we just add more potatoes and corn and make a bigger salad. We usually have juice freezies or popsicles on hand for everyone in the summer, too.

  12. Soup is a favorite here for parties. Easy to make, easy to stretch, and if no one shows or if I over-cook then leftovers go in the freezer. If I’m in a cooking mood, I like to focus on one special recipe and then keep the rest easy. At my son’s birthday I had fun making cupcakes from scratch, but the rest of the menu (fruit tray and cubes of cheddar cheese) was super simple. My husband makes a batch of baklava a couple times a year, and we invite people over to eat it–add some coffee and it’s a party. I like the mix of having fun with one recipe but not needing to go overboard to create a full spread.

  13. Homemade pesto works wonders! I spread it on pizza dough and add whatever we have on hand for pizza. Or it can be the base of a veggie or chip dip. Lately I’ve started picking up jars of marinated artichokes and adding them to creamed spinach, tossing in some pesto and parmesan, and baking it for a great spinach & artichoke dip. If I have leftover dip I roll it up inside some pizza dough and bake it in a loaf pan for a substantial, bready snack. I also decided to buy more wine at a time so I’d always have some on hand. Wine + bread = instant party!

    I keep my own mixes on hand for muffins & cookies; that way a great muffin is only 25 mins away. And I’m a southern girl, so biscuits and butter and jam are pretty quick for me to rustle up if someone’s coming over for coffee.

    One great snack my sister makes: french bread toasts slathered with goat cheese and drizzled with honey. A revelation!
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  14. I like to keep chocolate or cookies in the freezer. I can pull it out if a friend can come by for tea or wine, as a quick addition. When I’m off work, I love to bake and will sometimes invite friends or neighbors over to help us eat up the recent batch. My son will eat chips and salsa for dinner (guess he sees me do it!) and I try to have olives or make guacamole for a quick snack. I’m learing that if kids come over, they will be hungry. It is so fun to have impromptu handouts with other families. I love your simple list of what to keep on hand. Maybe it’s being from Texas, but I feel a happy obligation to feed my guests!

  15. stove popcorn, apples, cheese for very quick snacks, especially with kids around.

    If I have invited someone over that I know is foodie-ish like we are, then I have fun cooking a meal, although I do still avoid ultra-fussy or expensive foods. For example, tomorrow night we are hosting 12 people for supper. I am making a neat Colombian soup, homemade French bread, and a lime-cabbage slaw. We’re having the Christmas cookies the kids and I made last weekend and fresh fruit (cut up at the table on demand) for dessert. I think it’s a nice menu, but several parts I will do ahead of time so there’s no stress at the last minute. We’ll set the table nicely, too, with candles and cloth napkins which always complement any meal.
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  16. Chips and salsa are always here too – as are grilled cheese ingredients and squeezy applesauce pouches. We have a small beer/soda fridge in the garage that we keep stocked.

    And then because I love baking we always have some sort of baked good, or dough in the freezer that can easily be baked quickly.
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  17. Spiced nuts, pita and hummus, and a bottle of wine.

  18. I like to have people over for ice cream. Everyone eats dinner before they come and ice cream is fairly cheap and very easy.
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  19. In the summer I can around 100 quarts of dill pickles, same recipe every year because I haven’t found a better in 20 years. It’s definitely the favorite snack, and often 2 or 3 quarts will be opened on a Sunday evening when people drop in. Unexpected guests are the norm at our house. Pickled okra and dilly beans hold a close second. Chips and salsa, and always a huge dishpan of stovetop popcorn will be the evening meal’s foundation.

  20. I don’t think that serving food more elaborate than chips and salsa means you are trying to impress your friends, or that it will make your friends uncomfortable. Chips and salsa are fine, but some people really enjoy cooking and creating delicious food for their guests. Nothing wrong with that!

  21. Soup is our favorite “company” meal here too. I’ll often make one meat and one vegetarian soup and then serve it with either homemade or store-bought bread (my husband makes yummy breadsticks if he has time!). It’s cheap, can be made early in the day and kept warm or reheated, and most people love soup. And if they don’t, they can eat more bread and the veggies or apple slices I usually put out too.

  22. the trouble with going out to eat, the food is never as good as I can make at home. or, perhaps, I just can’t afford to go to the expensive restaurants where the food is supposed to be better than home (but almost never is…). for snacks, nuts are kept on hand and I can always make brownies, shortbread or cookies, make ice tea or offer beer or tot of Scotch. none of my friends or family have food allergies or problems, thankfully. for a meal, my kilbasa white bean stew is a standard and when paired with home made bread, folks enjoy.
    people remember a good time, filled with kindness, love and laughter, far longer than the food.
    Merry Christmas!

  23. We have our best friends couple or my parents and brother over about weekly. We keep it casual, and sometimes do dinner, just whatever we had planned to cook for us that night, just add an extra portion or two. We also keep beer, and drinks handy. I found through this season a tray of “crack your own” nuts and the tools to do so, not only create a fun pre-dinner snack, it is an activity that creates a place to gather, and a conversation.

  24. My favorite entertaining meal is Paula Deen’s Fajitas – they go together quickly, are delicious and keep warm in a low oven forever. I usually make steak and chicken and add extra onions and peppers because that is the best part! Great for gluten free friends as you can do both flour and corn tortillas. . . that goes perfectly with chips and salsa and I usually get Wholly Guacamole (buy at Sam’s and freeze). Trader Joe’s fresh Pico de Gallo is delicious but doesn’t stay fresh long – their corn salsa in a can is a great thing to have in the pantry.

    I have been told I am a good cook but I really don’t enjoy it much and would much rather be at the party ;) I like party food that doesn’t require prep from me when guests are here . . .

  25. Chips and salsa are a great staple. I also like cheese {slice it up} and triscuit crackers. And I usually have sour cream and just mix in some Lipton onion soup for a yummy dip.
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  26. Hi. I realize that my fiends and family love to come to my place because I often serve comfort food, the kind of food that my mother cooked for us. The come in and they say that it smelles like when they were young.
    I also serve what is in season. During summer time, appetizer will be a plate a watermelon, strawberries, salsa with fresh tomatoes. During winter, a bowl of nuts, devilled eggs. I adore chips but I try to not eat too much; it is a good excuse to buy chips as an appetizer.
    Have a good day.

  27. We had a friend over for Christmas dinner at our house this evening as a thank you for picking us up from the airport (on Christmas!). The problem was that we’d been away for 10 days and my normal guest-appetizer staple, mixed nuts, was nowhere to be found! I always have some on hand for this sort of event so I was aghast, but at least I had been to Trader Joe’s before we left and had frozen chicken potstickers and could whip up a dipping sauce from the random Chinese ingredients in the fridge. How embarrassing!

    So anyway, mixed nuts. Just keep them high on a shelf in the back of the pantry so you know where they are when you need them!

  28. I’m not fussy about food, but as a non-drinker I get a little undone when people have a lot of alcoholic offerings and not much in the way of non-alcoholic beverages. Brewed ice-tea can make me a happy guest.

    What I absolutely don’t like it to be served food from Costco.

  29. Popcorn is my go-to entertaining snack. I air pop it, add butter, a dash of hot sauce, truffle salt and parmesan cheese and toss it all together. It’s the bomb! Kids enjoy helping to make it too. There is almost always a stash of Crunchmaster crackers in out home to put out with slices of cheese along with olives, pickles, carrots, celery and I can always whip up a quick batch of homemade dip. And of course, I always have coffee and wine. ;)
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