Why do we limit fun to the weekend? There are seven days in a week, yet we save all our socializing for precious Friday and Saturday nights (and the occasional Sunday, when we’re feeling adventurous). Gathering around the table on a weeknight can be a great way to connect with busy friends, practice your cooking skills, and still get to bed at a reasonable hour.
We partnered with our friends at Barilla® to talk about all the reasons you should host a weeknight dinner party—plus show you how to pull one off without stress or hours of cleanup.
Why Weeknight Dinner Parties Are the Best
1. People are more available.
Finding a free Friday or Saturday night that works for everyone is nearly impossible. But a Monday? The only plans you have to compete with are The Bachelor.
“Weekends get so booked for us that it’s nice to make time during the usual weekday schedule to spend time with friends we haven’t seen in a while,” says Erin Gleeson, the best-selling author behind The Forest Feast.
When you aren’t competing for a coveted Friday slot in someone’s social schedule, it’s much easier to get everyone together on the same night.
2. You get to party and get to bed early.
If you’re going out to a bar or restaurant with friends, the chances of making it home for an early bedtime are slim. But when you host your own party, you can end it as early as you like!
“I’m not really a night owl, so I like the fact that most weeknight dinner parties end earlier,” says Brittany Mullins, nutritionist and creator of Eating Bird Food. “That way, I can hang out with friends but still get to bed at a decent hour.”
Food, friends, and pj’s by 9 p.m.? That’s our kind of party.
3. Just about anything goes.
When you have people over on a Wednesday, no one expects you to have slaved over the stove all day. Your friends will be happy enough to eat a home-cooked meal they didn’t have to make.
“I like weeknight dinner parties because they feel less formal, so you can serve something relatively easy and casual, and everyone is still impressed and happy,” Mullins says.
Also, since you’re making the food, it’s easy to keep things simple and healthy. Eating out usually involves hidden salt, butter, and other less-than-ideal ingredients, but by playing host, you can ensure the meal is light and nutritious.
How to Pull It Off
1. Do as much as possible the night before.
“My best tip for hosting is to plan ahead and get as much done the night before as possible,” Mullins says. “You’ll feel organized the day of instead of running around at the last minute trying to get everything together.”
This applies to the cooking and any tidying up you need to do. Wipe down the bathroom, straighten up the living room, and put your laundry away. Also, “make sure your dishwasher is empty before the guests arrive,” Gleeson says. “That makes cleanup easier!” If you don’t have a dishwasher, just make sure the sink is clear.
You can also save time by prepping some of your food in advance. Know you’ll need a lot of diced onions? Slice ’em up the night before. Appetizers and desserts can also usually be made ahead of time.
2. Set the mood.
You don’t have to put together a Pinterest-worthy tablescape to give your dinner party a special vibe. Simply dim the lights, put out a few candles, and throw on your favorite music.
“Ambience, especially lighting and music, are very important for me, and I always try to have those set before guests arrive,” Gleeson says. “Candles are a must! I opt for unscented beeswax ones that are clean-burning and don’t compete with the delicious aroma of the cooking food.”
3. Start with every Instagrammer’s favorite: a snack board.
Setting out a few apps before dinner will keep guests entertained and give you time to put the finishing touches on your entrée. But don’t feel like you have to go all out with fancy bruschetta or a baked Brie. For wow factor without all the work, simply arrange a few of your favorite snacks on a plate or cutting board.
“Not only do [snack boards] look pretty, but you can put them together in a matter of minutes without having to cook anything,” Mullins says.
Start with vegetables like celery, sliced red peppers, carrots, cucumbers, and cauliflower, then add nuts, fruits, cheeses, crackers, or charcuterie.
And don’t be afraid to add something unexpected. Yumna Jawad, creator of Feel Good Foodie, likes to include candied ginger and wasabi sugar snap peas for extra kick. “They are great conversation starters for mingling and to get everyone talking about the different flavors they’ve tried,” she says.
4. Serve a simple entrée that still looks chef made.
When it comes to the main course, you don’t need to try some fancy new recipe with 100 ingredients.
“I usually stick with something that doesn’t require a ton of hands-on cooking time,” Mullins says. “That way I can enjoy time with friends and family the night of the party rather than being stuck in the kitchen.”
Pasta is a great choice for a crowd-pleasing dinner. It comes together in minutes; is made with real, simple ingredients (whole durum wheat and water); and is the perfect base for pretty much any flavor combo. We recommend reaching for Barilla Collezione pasta to make dinner feel extra special. It’s bronze cut—an artisanal way of cutting pasta that gives it a rougher texture, helping it hold onto sauces better. Plus, there’s nothing that brings people (even strangers!) together more than a delicious pot of pasta.
Gleeson recommends this easy recipe: Boil pasta until al dente, drain, then top with shaved Parmesan and sunflower seeds. (Pro tip: For extra flavor and moisture, toss the noodles in olive oil after draining.)
For something unexpected, Jawad suggests making her hummus pasta. The hummus adds a creamy, rich flavor that’s a little like a vegan Alfredo sauce. Just add your pasta of choice, and you’ve got a plant-based, protein-filled dish that will have guests begging for the recipe.
Or make cleanup super easy by trying Mullins’s one-pot vegan mushroom stroganoff. Once all the ingredients are in the pot, you’re pretty much done.
5. Don’t forget dessert.
You don’t have to make a cake that would impress Mary Berry. As with everything else on this list, keep it simple. Set out a variety of fruits and berries with store-bought whipped cream or an easy chocolate ganache (microwave chocolate and heavy cream in 30-second intervals until chocolate is melted, stir to combine, and serve).
Or try make-your-own sundaes. All you need is ice cream, bowls, and a few toppings, and your guests can serve themselves. Gleeson offered up three unique sundae ideas:
- Vanilla ice cream with berries and a thick balsamic sauce for drizzling
- Vanilla ice cream drizzled with a good quality olive oil and topped with flaky salt
- Vanilla ice cream drizzled with honey and finished with a dollop of peanut butter
So really there’s no reason not to get a dinner party on your calendar right now. With just a tiny bit of prep, you’ll be able to spend more time around the table with the people you love.