I love hosting parties! Birthdays, baby showers, book club, a friend selling a product as a little side gig—I love it all! There's just something so fulfilling about opening my sacred space to others and gathering around the kitchen island for food and fellowship. I used to rely on prepackaged foods like chips, cheese and crackers, frozen meatballs in the crockpot, and store-bought desserts for these events because they required minimal prep . . . because, honesty bomb, my house is usually a disaster from raising three little ones, and no matter how long I stare at the dishes piling up since breakfast, they still refuse to wash themselves. (Insert Gif of Stephanie Tanner saying, “How rude!”). This template worked for me (and maybe you can relate?) until I completed my first Whole30 two years ago. Those thirty days not only changed my life but also set me on a path toward helping others break free from unhealthy habits.
I remember the first party I hosted after my Whole30. It was my son's 2nd birthday party, and, having picked baseball as his party theme, we decided to serve "ballpark food" to our guests. So during the most glorious part of my day—nap time—I got out my trusty G-2 ink pen and planner and started making a list of what we'd serve:
- hot dogs.
- chicken fingers and fries.
- peanuts and Cracker Jacks.
- cotton candy.
- cookies decorated to look like baseballs.
As I stared at the list, I started to feel conflicted about serving our family and friends those foods. It had only been a few weeks since I’d completed my first Whole30 and my family had permanently transitioned to a Paleo diet as part of our food freedom. My energy was through the roof (even with a nursing baby keeping me up at night), and my husband and I could finally fit into our wedding rings again! Suffice it to say, we were loving our new lifestyle! As I sat there planning the party, I decided I needed to live by example and choose healthy, wholesome foods for the party.
We ultimately stuck with the ballpark food theme but made Whole30 versions instead. Our menu ended up looking like this:
- compliant hotdogs without buns.
- build-your-own-nachos bar with grilled chicken, ground beef, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, jalapeños, guacamole, and plantain chips.*
- fresh fruit tray.
- fresh veggie tray with homemade dump ranch.
- baseball cookies.**
* At the time, plantain chips were compliant, but they have since been blacklisted (and for good reason). I think they're great for part of your food freedom and keeping house guests happy, though.
** Because food freedom is something I hope my kids learn, I let them decide from time to time if indulging in a treat is "worth it" to them.
We had a lovely time celebrating, and our guests commented on how delicious our “healthy” food was. When my husband and I finished the 387,429 dishes from preparing such a feast, we sat down to debrief the day (okay, and post our pics to Instagram). We decided that, while our food was delicious and it felt great providing mostly compliant food to our guests, we'd need to come up with food that required less prep (and fewer dishes) for our next party. Finding something that my husband wouldn't have to grill outside in below freezing temperatures or that could be prepped ahead of time would be our goal for the next party.
A few months later I found myself removing all the blue decor and hanging up pink and purple for my daughter's 1st birthday party. In an effort to simplify the cooking and cleanup process, we settled on the following menu for her party:
- homemade chicken salad with walnuts, celery, and grapes.
- deviled eggs with homemade mayo.
- fresh fruit tray.
- veggie tray with dump ranch.
- plantain chips* with guacamole and salsa.
- bacon wrapped dates.
- marinated kale salad.
- Paleo chocolate cake.**
* I know, I know.
** Not Whole30, but my baby girl’s birthday was worth indulging.
In the days leading up to the party I started to worry that my guests wouldn't be happy. I mean, we did JUST throw an epic birthday bash for my son, and now all I'm offering is some chicken salad, fruit and veggies, and a few finger foods? Would that be enough? Would they eat, drink, and be merry?
The short answer is YES! So let me break it down for you and show you how we nailed it for my daughter's party and how you can too at your next event. I now present to you 5 tips for making your next house party a Whole30 success:
1. The fridge is your friend.
All but one item on our menu was fully prepared ahead of time, so that all I needed to do was set it out five minutes before the party! The day of the event included none of the stress of last-minute cooking, cleaning, and hiding dirty dishes (tell me I'm not the only one who does this?). As you plan your party, focus on foods that can be at least partially prepared ahead of time: just pop it in the oven, warm it up in the slow cooker, or set it out on the counter as is!
2. The magic is in the meal prep.
Utilize the party’s menu as part of your weekly meal prep leading up to the event. In my case, I roasted two whole chickens a few days before the party, and we ate part of one for dinner and then shredded the rest to make chicken salad. Doing this allowed me to avoid an extra cooking (and dishes) session just to make party food. What can you cook earlier in the week that would make perfect party food? This may be a main dish, a side dish, or even dips and dressings that you’ll need for your party. You know you’ll already be in the kitchen on the days leading up to your event, so you might as well make the most of each time you cook.
3. Leftovers are life.
Cook way more food than you need so you have leftovers, and develop a plan to make sure you eat everything in the days after your party. I always plan on having leftover veggies and will typically roast them or add them to a frittata so I don’t have to worry about cooking breakfast each morning. Another favorite use of leftover veggies is to finely dice and sauté them for a homemade Bolognese sauce. I’ll serve the sauce over spaghetti squash, add it to zucchini boats, or use it to stuff bell peppers for meals later in the week. Regarding my menu, kale salad gets better with time, and I love eating the leftovers as a breakfast side or adding protein on top to make for a quick and easy lunch. Should there be any leftover chicken salad, it makes for a quick and easy meal after a busy weekend celebrating. What leftovers do you love? Simplify the days after your event by planning meals around them.
4. Consider what’s “worth it.”
Every food and drink you serve at your party will force your guests (and you) to decide if indulging is worth any potential consequences or not. Consider who will be at your party and where they are on their journey. Really ask yourself if, for example, cotton candy is worth it (for me, no), if Paleo chocolate cake would be a better option, or if the fruit tray will provide enough sweetness to satisfy your guests. You may find that having good, nutritious food at your event leaves your guests satiated and not wanting the salty crunch of chips or the sugar high of dessert. Or you may deliberately choose to serve mimosas to celebrate the fact that you survived your child’s first year of life. However it plays out, remember there’s no shame in your decision. Own it. Enjoy it. And Move on with your food freedom.
5. Include a crowd pleaser.
In my case this is almost always bacon. If there's ever a time when you can justify spending $71.35* on Whole30‑compliant bacon, it's when you're hosting a party. Bacon‑wrapped dates are super easy to make and can be prepped ahead of time. Just throw those bad boys in your oven a few minutes before party time and watch as the smell draws your guests into your kitchen. Don’t plan on having any of them leftover for your weekly meal plan, though, because they get eaten pretty quickly! Maybe bacon isn’t your jam (gasp!); instead, consider who will be in attendance and what foods and drinks they love. Maybe your friend just got back from a year long sabbatical in Vietnam and loves spring rolls, or your siblings have fond memories of your late grandma’s famous sweet potato casserole. Prep it ahead if you can, make it compliant if possible, or just consider it “worth it” and lovingly serve it to your guests.
* Slight exaggeration. Most compliant bacon can be purchased for around $6–$7.
Whether I am currently doing a Whole30 or not, I love providing real, wholesome food to my guests. Doing so has allowed me to practice what I preach and to encourage others to improve their life by changing what’s on their plate. Do keep in mind, however, that not everyone coming to your event will have bought in to your lifestyle, and that’s okay. Remember why you’ve gathered to celebrate and let the food speak for itself. You don’t need to dust off your megaphone from your varsity cheerleading days and announce that all of the food is Whole30‑approved. Let them enjoy the party, and when they ask for your chicken salad recipe (because they will, trust me), you can use that as a springboard to a deeper discussion about eating real food. You never know; they might just decide to join you on your next Whole30!
Food is a central and vital component to our celebrations and relationships, and I want to demonstrate my love for the people in my life by serving them great food. Admittedly, my example menus are by no means exhaustive and could be modified to fit your next party’s food goals. Hit me up in the comments with what you would serve that could be prepared ahead of time, could be part of your meal prep, or would produce leftovers. I hope you found my tips helpful and that your next party is a success!