Easy Entertaining: 3 Fabulous No-Prep Menus

When life gets busy, it’s hard to make time to prep a meal for guests. So I thought it would be fun to come up with a few menus that are entirely store bought, requiring no prep, plus totally gorgeous and majorly delicious.

The idea is that you can swing by the grocery store on the way home from work, or after school (or you could even use a grocery delivery service), and pick up an instant meal that tastes amazing, is fun to eat and serve, and requires no apology.

Does a no-prep, grocery store menu sound right up your alley? Then you’re in luck! I’ve got 3 for you today. One French-themed, one Scandinavian themed, and one filled with All-American flavors. A stop at the store, a few minutes opening bottles and packages, and boom, you’re hosting a stress-free dinner party.

No cook, no prep! French Style Menu for an Instant Dinner Party.
No cook, no prep! American Style Menu. Perfect for late summer entertaining!
No cook, no prep! French Style Menu for an Instant Dinner Party.

MENU ONE: Paris Picnic

The first menu loosely follows a French theme featuring some favorite, easy-to-find classics. The great thing about this menu is that it’s really satisfying to your tastebuds and it’s filling too. Bon Appetit!

No cook, no prep! French Style Menu for an Instant Dinner Party. Grocery list included!
No cook, no prep! French Style Menu for an Instant Dinner Party. Including figs!

Menu One Grocery List:

Cured Black Olives with Herbs
Lightly Salted Almonds + Honey Roasted Almonds
Soft Cheese (such as Brie, Camembert, or similar ripened soft cheese)
Herbed Goat Cheese

To drink: Sparkling French Lemonade

No cook, no prep! French Style Menu for an Instant Dinner Party.

Doesn’t that look amazing? Sophisticated but simple and full of satisfying flavor combinations. The perfect mix of savory and sweet.

No Cook, No Prep! Scandinavian Style Dinner Party Menu - just a quick stop at the grocery store and you're all set to entertain.

MENU TWO: Summer Smorgasbord

The second menu is based on several classic flavors and items from Scandinavia. Think of it as a lighter version of the beloved smorgasbord. It’s something you could imagine yourself eating on a warm night in the Swedish countryside as you enjoy the late sunset. This menu includes a few types of pickles in addition to salt n’ vinegar almonds, which help cut the richness of the cheeses and salmon.

No Cook, No Prep! Scandinavian Style Dinner Party Menu - just a quick stop at the grocery store and you're all set to entertain.
No Cook, No Prep! Scandinavian Style Dinner Party Menu - including fresh berries.
No Cook, No Prep! Scandinavian Style Dinner Party Menu
No Cook, No Prep! Scandinavian Style Dinner Party Menu - including quick pickled cucumbers.

Menu Two Grocery List:

Flatbread Crackers (these are whole grain rye)
Pickled Beets
Capers (rinsed well and drained)
Whole Grain Mustard
Salt n’ Vinegar Almonds
Hot Smoked Salmon
Jarlsberg Cheese
Soft, Spreadable Fresh Cheese (such as cream cheese)
Assorted Fresh Berries

To drink: Cherry juice + Sparkling water + Sparkling apple cider

No Cook, No Prep! Scandinavian Style Dinner Party Menu - just a quick trip to the grocery and you're ready to host.

Oh my. This one tastes as fresh as it looks. Yes to picked everything!

No cook, no prep! American Style Menu. A quick stop at the grocery store and you're ready to entertain.

MENU THREE: All-American Flavor

The third menu is based on American BBQ or picnic flavors. Blue Diamond Smokehouse almonds are so addictive! They go splendidly with the cheeses, ham and turkey, apples, pears, and cherries, and other items. This is totally a meal to put together when you’re in the mood for something a little spicy — like pickled jalapenos and habanero cheddar — to go along with sandwich fixings.

No cook, no prep! American Style Menu. Bring on the last-minute dinner guests!
No cook, no prep! American Style Menu. Bring on the last-minute dinner guests!
No cook, no prep! American Style Menu. Including pickles and olives!

Menu Three Grocery List:

Potato Rolls
Whole Wheat Crackers
Dill Pickles
Black and Green Olives
Smokehouse Almonds
Aged Cheddar Cheese
Habanero Cheddar
Sliced Maple Ham
Smoked Turkey
Muenster Cheese Slices

To drink: rootbeer

No cook, no prep! American Style Menu. It's an instant dinner party!

Is this one my favorite? I’m not sure, but I LOVE these flavors. In fact I might have to serve this combo for dinner tonight. Doesn’t it look festive?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these no-prep dinner party menu ideas. Have you ever served a casual meal like this to guests? Or prepared something like this for your own family? I’m a big fan, because it comes together so quickly and there’s something for every kind of taste bud. Do you have a favorite among the 3 options featured here? And one last question: If there was a future post with more of these no-prep dinner menus, what sort of themes would you want to see?

Photos by Lindsey Johnson for Design Mom. 

25 thoughts on “Easy Entertaining: 3 Fabulous No-Prep Menus”

  1. Great ideas! And I LOVE Lindsey’s photos (the food looks like I can reach out and touch it). I’m a big almond eater but I can’t serve them at home with my son’s nut allergy. Would have to find an alternative.

  2. Why on earth do you think it takes so much more effort to make a dinner? By the time you’ve opened all the packets, got all the different serving dishes arranged, etc, a fresh tomato sauce, pasta and a huge salad could have been prepared! Let alone all the things that could have been quickly assembled and put in a slow cooker, the oven….

    1. To me, it doesn’t really matter why someone finds prepping a party meal daunting. If buying lovely fruits, pickles, meats, breads and spreads takes away the mental block and makes it easier for someone to entertain when they are feeling otherwise swamped, I say, “Hooray!”

      Even when I don’t feel like it’s a big effort, I love these picnic-style meals of shared dishes. This is the format for my family’s Christmas Eve dinner, except we make the bread. But we buy cheeses, pickles, olives, etc. and then just boil shrimp for a protein. It feels festive and fun and no one feels like the got stuck in the kitchen!

    2. I don’t know what it is, but sometimes cooking is such a mental block for me — especially when I’m entertaining. Something about the pots and pans waiting to be cleaned after dinner, timing the main dish and side dishes to finish at the same time, following the recipes (if needed) while trying to chat with guests.

      But hey, if you love cooking and hosting, then awesome! More power to you. Please do not think I’m trying to force you to use these menus.

      1. For me there’s stage fright! Sometimes it’s scary to imagine cooking food for lots of people, particularly if they are people you don’t know well. And that, all by itself, has kept me from hosting parties before. My last party (it was appetizers, not a full dinner), I did a mix: lots of store-bought goodies and 2 homemade appetizers. That way, I knew if something went wrong with mine, there would be no problem.

    3. I serve a lot of meals like this in the summer because we don’t have A/C (Seattle). Sometimes it’s too hot to cook!

  3. I love this style of light eating especially if its been a hot day! I loose the will to cook when its hot and hate heating the house up with turning on the stove.

    This almost feels like vacation style food. Id be happy to see more features on this topic.

    1. Ham and Paté. If you’ve never had a chance to try it, paté is like a spreadable, ground meat — think the texture of tuna fish mashed up with mayo — though from what I understand, it can be made from any meat (not just fish).

  4. We call this “snacks for dinner” and serve it all of the time in the summer! Pre-child, we called it “happy hour” :) Ours is most similar to the French version, though we add some sausage, maybe some shrimp, melon and prosciutto, etc. We often take it to our community pool to share, and just did it for our dinner turn at the beach with two other families. We think it’s the PERFECT summer dinner!! I love the Scandanavian one since we used to live in Finland, and I’ll have to try the American one as we move into back to school in 10 days!

      1. Glad you like it! We figured once we had a talking little one, we needed a rename since we didn’t think he should be asking for happy hour! Now that he’s 5, it was a wise decision since he often requests it!

  5. This sponsored post is so tiring. I would read what you had made had it not been sponsored, but this just rings so trite because of its sponsorship. Same goes for the incessant sponsored posts on all those family members on your blog roll.

    1. I agree, and in addition was really apalled by the fact that this post came just one day after the post on families and children going to bed hungry in the US!

      1. Susan and Katja, As a long-time Design Mom reader, I can say that Gabrielle balances sponsored posts with non-sponsored ones better than anyone out there. This is her livelihood—the way she supports her family. She has an incredibly authentic and personal voice, but this is a professional publication. Gabrielle invests tons of time, energy and talent into this blog and deserves to be compensated for her work—just like any other professional in any other field. Frankly I’m glad Blue Diamond sponsors these posts so I can get great ideas from a pro…absolutely FREE to me.

        1. Josie, I agree. I don’t really care at all that this post was sponsored. It felt to me that I was being passed some handy ideas in the way you would share them with a friend. Gabrielle has huge integrity and I am sure would only accept requests from sponsors whose products she truly liked and was happy to promote.

    2. Susan, maybe you’re thinking of someone else? I don’t have a blogroll and haven’t had one since 2010.

      As for feeling the content of this post is tired, I’m not sure what to tell you. I know other readers feel the menu ideas are helpful, and I think the photos included lots of great ideas for serving and styling food. I certainly try hard to make my content (sponsored or otherwise) useful, relevant and interesting, and I stand by this post — I think it’s all 3 of those things.

      I realize seeing “sponsored” at the top of a post can bug people, but of the 47 posts I’ve shared in July and August, only 5 were sponsored. That’s not a ton. And I label them clearly, so you are certainly welcome to skip any posts that don’t appeal to you. But please don’t come here and leave rude comments. If you’ve been reading here for awhile, then surely you’ve seen readers sharing their thoughts (even opposing thoughts) without being rude. Design Mom Readers are some of the best internet conversationalists out there.

    3. Creative and fresh come to my mind more so than tiring and trite. Simple idea for feeding a busy family that happens to include almonds. Oh no!

  6. And Katja, I’m honestly impressed with your sensitivity to the hunger issue—it’s really admirable. But I’m sure we all read the post on hunger and proceeded to eat good meals that same day and go about our daily activities…maybe we even hosted friends or went out for dinner. Just because we are concerned with or involved in an important cause doesn’t mean we don’t engage in (and enjoy) our own lives. The order of Gabrielle’s posts doesn’t have any bearing on the issue, and it certainly doesn’t mean that she’s any less concerned or involved.

  7. Love these ideas. Maybe I’m not overwhelmed by this ‘meal prep’ b/c I, too, have several children and it is just nice to have items on hand to throw together utterly stress free for the family or guests.

    Josie, well said!

    Susan and Katja, two of my sons were starving for the first 4 and 6 years of their lives…truly starving in a 3rd world country…no cell phones or tvs- I’m talking legitimate starvation that has greatly and negatively affected their development. We eat in this home and try to appreciate foods from around the world. (The current house favorite is a kale, sweet potato and salmon salad!) Anyhow, I love that Gabrielle’s posted these and so will my once starving sons. If your logic was followed, nobody should express happiness in marriage b/c many are in abusive relationships.

  8. Late catching up on some posts, but I legitimately love this sponsored post. We often have “smorgasbord” for lunch with a toddler- pulling out a wide variety of foods on the days when we don’t have leftovers or a big plan. I love the post because it’s given me tons of new ideas for lunch, but also for dinner. We don’t have AC in the PNW so this is fantastic and such a great idea.
    BTW, I think you do a great job of making sponsored posts I want to read. I’m glad to read them, to keep up one of my favorite blogs. :)

  9. I love these ideas! I don’t mind cooking so much but I hate the cleanup- these sound delicious and fun- my kids would be thrilled with these dinners too- thank you!

  10. I LOVE these ideas, because I love to host parties, but I become paralyzed and overwhelmed by cooking for a group (I barely scrape by in the kitchen with my own little family!) and usually just end up picking up some take-and-bake pizzas. (Which are delicious, but, it’s nice to change it up sometimes!) I really want to try these!

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