Dinner party tips

Hi friends! How are you? I hope you’re having a wonderful week. Sorry for disappearing on ya yesterday. So much of Monday was spent getting things together for our little shindig that I didn’t have time to blog. Since the girls are out of school for the summer, I’m still trying to navigate my summer work schedule. They’re signed up for a couple of fun camps, so I think I’ll be able to get back in the work groove while living up every moment with these amazing little nuggets.

We’ve spent a lot of time at the splash pad,

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playing outside,

going on “Nature Walks,”


and watching movies. Summer is the best ever. It’s about to get even better because we’re headed to Tucson for a little while and I CAN’T WAIT. Even though I have to admit I’m a liiiiiittle terrified of the heat. At least my hair won’t be super frizzy? It will be perfectly smooth and styled, even though I’ll be a red, sweaty tomato. You win some, you lose some.

Monday night, some friends came over for a little wine and cheese party. I wasn’t sure how many of the girls would be able to make it since so many people plan summer trips, but 16 people RSVPed yes. YAY. Thankfully, I stocked up on allthecheeses during our last Jacksonville trip.

I made two cheese boards,

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Cheese board 9

and to go along with it, some fresh sourdough bread 

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(toasted in the oven with a little butter and garlic)

Greek quinoa salad (cucumbers, tomatoes, kalamata olives, mint, parsley, quinoa, lemon juice, garlic powder, salt and pepper)

marinara for bread dipping

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(with goat cheese and fresh basil)

and I didn’t even get a picture of the main course: this garlic herb shrimp from Ina. I made three pans worth – this recipe is clutch because they go from fridge to the oven and are DELICIOUS – and they were almost gone by the time the night was over.

For dessert, pizookie (chocolate chip cookie cooked in the giant cast iron) with ice cream. 🙂

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Cocktail-wise, I didn’t do anything super crazy (usually I make this sangria when we have guests over), but we had my favorite easy cocktail + lots of red wine, rosé cider, and champagne.

Rose and prosecco cocktail

Since hosting friends is one of my favorite things ever, I thought I’d share some of my top dinner party tips. It took a LONG time for me to get in the swing of dinner parties. I cringe to think of the early days, when we first moved to Valdosta, and I’d tell the Pilot, “Let’s have people over for dinner!” He’d put the call out to our friends, and then I’d START COOKING. They’d be sitting at our dinner table awkwardly while I was banging pots and pans around in the kitchen trying to make something. I get red-faced just thinking about it.. and telling the internets about it haha. 

Another huge snafu was that I used to be really into Splenda, and I’d make Splenda desserts when people came over. WHY WAS I SO WEIRD? I made them eat bitter Frankendesserts. And somehow they’re still my friends. I really don’t understand. (Thankfully the Splenda obsession died quickly after we moved here the first time.)

Drink marker guys

Anyway, here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way:

-If you can’t make it ahead, don’t. I plan menus solely on things I can make in advance. Some foods taste even better the next day, like lasagnas, enchiladas, and dips. If you need to cook it immediately, marinate it or prep as much as you can in advance. For example, I really wanted us to have fresh bread for dinner, so I made it on Sunday, sliced it, and popped it in the freezer. After a little toast in the oven, it was like I’d baked it that day. Desserts are another great one you can make in advance. Cakes, bars, pies, cookies all do well if you make them (or at least the dough) a day or so before. Anything you can do before the party (like chopping crudités), do it!

-Another huge one is having a plan for what dishes you’d like to use for each item. I got this tip from my friend Sabrina and it’s a great one: set out the dishes the night before and put a little post-it note on each one detailing the contents of that dish. So I’ll have sticky notes that say “Spinach and artichoke dip” attached to a big bowl, another bowl that says, “crackers” etc. This way you know exactly what you need and everything is clean and ready to go!

-Create a signature dish or cocktail. When friends come over, they know at least one of two things will happen: there will be an enormous cheese board and/or this boozy sangria. When you make something constantly you can add your own spin to it, and it also helps you to get really good at making that one appetizer or cocktail.

-Do the dishes and take out the trash before everyone arrives. This way I can put dirty dishes directly in the dishwasher and run it while I’m sleeping. It makes cleanup so much easier.

-Outsource when you can. Sometimes I’ll have a couple of things catered or will buy them online just to make things a little easier. I’m notorious for using boxed cake mix with homemade buttercream frosting. <— the frosting makes it taste homemade. I also love ordering decorations from Etsy because no one wants to see my craft abominations. 

-Have fun!! I think that prepping ahead really helps with this aspect. Since almost everything is prepped in advance, when people arrive, I can pour myself a drink and kick back. Instead of spending the party in the kitchen cooking, I spend it refilling wine glasses, chatting and laughing with friends, and dishing out desserts. 

So, tell me friends: any awesome dinner party tips? Do you have a signature cocktail or appetizer you always make? Please share and feel free to link it up!



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  1. Stacy on June 6, 2018 at 8:03 am

    Hi Gina! I’m curious about the foods you’re incorporating into your diet again – I think you used to avoid most cow dairy and maybe gluten? What made you decide to incorporate them again? Your body doesn’t respond badly, or is it just something you have once in a while? Thank you for any insights, as I’m constantly testing what foods work well and don’t with my body.

    • Jamie on June 7, 2018 at 12:06 pm

      I’d be interested in hearing more about this too!

    • Fitnessista on June 7, 2018 at 5:11 pm

      i wrote a post about it a little while after liv was born. i started eating everything, but still avoid gluten and dairy for the most part because i feel better without it. https://fitnessista.com/eating-everything/

  2. Jessie R on June 6, 2018 at 8:53 am

    Yessss on making things ahead of time! So much easier 🙂 I felt so bad last time we had friends over, my husband was grilling and sweating over the grill while I was relaxing because I did everything the night before haha :).

    As always, those cheese boards are gorgeous!

    • Fitnessista on June 7, 2018 at 5:10 pm

      I always feel the same way when the pilot is stuck outside grilling and i’m drinking sangria and relaxing

  3. Katie on June 6, 2018 at 9:31 am

    Oh man, I also used to use fake sugar for desserts, and weird low fat cheeses that never melted right. Whyyyyy would I do that? I am a big fan of prepping ahead when people come over, and I usually put together some kind of huge yummus(hummus) plate!

    • Fitnessista on June 7, 2018 at 5:10 pm

      haha I think the same thing. why did I do that to people I love?! haha

  4. Nicole Kump on June 6, 2018 at 9:32 am

    Those foods look so delicious. I’m in live with quinoa salads, and yours is making me very hungry. Way to go! Your cheese board is legit as per usual. 🙂 And glad you are coming to Tucson!!

    • Fitnessista on June 7, 2018 at 5:09 pm

      I hope I finally get to meet you!

  5. Sarah Jane on June 6, 2018 at 10:04 am

    Do you get a sitter for the kiddos during dinner parties? We have two little girls (2 years old and 7 months old) and while I would love to have more dinner parties, it just seems like too much in this season of life with working and two little ones.

    • Fitnessista on June 7, 2018 at 5:09 pm

      we host a mix of family parties, girls’ nights, and adults-only parties. when I have a party that’s for the adults, our babysitter is usually with the girls. they play outside until people start to arrive, then go up to the playroom for dinner, baths, and bedtime.

  6. Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious on June 6, 2018 at 10:13 am

    Looks so pretty! Can I hire you to cater my next party? LOL

    • Fitnessista on June 7, 2018 at 5:07 pm

      for sure! haha

  7. Emily @ Pizza & Pull-ups on June 6, 2018 at 10:42 am

    Picking out what dishes to use ahead of time is a great idea! I usually try to go with make ahead, or mostly make ahead (aka finish on the grill) to save time. I also like to go app heavy, so there is plenty to snack on if the main course takes longer than anticipated.

    • Melissa Caulfield on June 6, 2018 at 2:47 pm

      Can I ask how you keep your hair frizz free? Living in South Louisiana..and I’m pick g with my hair in a top knot:/

  8. Sarah F on June 6, 2018 at 12:17 pm

    I am so impressed with your dinner party abilities! I stress out even when we’re having 2 people over- never mind 16! Something I definitely picked up from my mom is planning ahead- I’ll write out a meal plan for the day and then get everything that I can prepped in advance. I love the idea of having a signature cocktail/appetizer- definitely going to try and cultivate this for the future!

  9. Laura on June 6, 2018 at 3:43 pm

    Great tips! I always make a list of everything I plan to serve at the party so I remember to put everything out, and make a list of items that need to be done right before guests arrive (like starting to heat up food at a certain time, etc.). I learned these lessons the hard way early in my hosting days — definitely ended a dinner party and realized I forgot to put out a couple items (I thought the table looked a bit sparse…), and another time I had hungry people waiting around while I heated up lasagnas I prepared ahead of time. With that snafu it was taking so long that I ended up cutting the lasagna and heating everyone’s plate in the microwave… super embarrassing at the time but funny now!

    • Fitnessista on June 7, 2018 at 5:07 pm

      I could totally see that happening! lasagna takes a thousand years to reheat. at least we can laugh at our snafus now 😉

  10. Erika S. on June 6, 2018 at 9:40 pm

    I usually set up my tablescape the week before (for showers etc) and 1-2 days before for regular gatherings. I also take a few pics to see how things will photograph & rearrange the setup if necessary. once happy, I cover the dishes with paper towels to avoid dish & label with post its.

    Another tip is to pull out all ur napkins, straws, cups the night before…nothing worse than running around trying to remember where you put things.

    I don’t have kids or pets so setting up early is easier for me than those with tiny humans.

    • Fitnessista on June 7, 2018 at 5:06 pm

      I have a feeing you host the best dinner parties <3

  11. Stephanie on June 6, 2018 at 11:24 pm

    I am very intrigued by the little dish of swim suites male figures by the beverages. Do tell me more.

    • Fitnessista on June 7, 2018 at 5:05 pm

      they’re called drink markers- you can find them on amazon! they’re always a conversation starter haha. I also have the holiday ones

  12. Devon Layedra on June 7, 2018 at 6:42 am

    Where is that cheeseboard from, I’ve been on the hunt for a big one.:-)

    • Fitnessista on June 7, 2018 at 5:04 pm

      it’s from a super cute restaurant downtown, birdie’s market. it’s my favorite purchase from Valdosta 🙂

  13. Amanda on June 7, 2018 at 9:55 am

    Like you and other commenters, I agree with the value of setting up in advance — labeling serving dishes, setting the table, having multiple lists, etc. For easy clean up (and to encourage guests to take food home), I have empty containers set aside and ready. I also put dishwashing detergent in the machine so all I have to do is press start once it’s loaded.

    • Fitnessista on June 7, 2018 at 5:03 pm

      oh love the tip to have empty containers aside and ready!

  14. Reghan on June 9, 2018 at 6:25 am

    Moving from a small-ish basement apartment into our new dream house in 4 weeks and I can’t wait to finally host some awesome get togethers, and a house warming party! I put all of my nice serving dishes, utensils etc in storage, figuring I wouldn’t be hosting many family holiday dinners here, and it’s going to be like Christmas taking them all out again 🙂
    I’m a huge “get everything ready ahead of time” person as well. Makes life so much easier and like you said, when people start arriving I can pour a drink and hang out with my friends.
    So happy for you that you get to go back to Tuscon, even if temporarily. I can tell how happy that’s making you! xo

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