Throw a Holiday Dinner Party Stress-Free

Maria Marlowe to the rescue—recipes included.

From Maria:
Anytime is a good time for a dinner party, but fall and winter, when our inclination is often to stay home and hibernate, are especially good times to get your friends together over a good meal. Beyond the fun of catching up, breaking bread with friends and family on the regular is actually better for your health than eating alone. Research shows it can help reduce stress (laughter is the best medicine, after all), help you feel a stronger sense of community (which leads to less depression and stress) and even make you more altruistic (you learn the benefits of sharing and not hogging the cake for yourself). It’s also believed to be a large part of the reason people in Mediterranean countries tend to lead longer, healthier lives, than people anywhere else in the world. It’s not just the Mediterranean diet (which is great!), but the Mediterranean lifestyle – almost always dining together, taking an hour or more for lunch and other meals, eating slowly, etc.—that allows the people of certain parts of Italy and Greece to commonly live past 100. On the flip side, constantly eating alone has been shown to produce a quantifiable negative effect both physically and psychologically, especially for children. So, fire up the group text and invite your friends to dinner. Here are my top tips for throwing a stress-free dinner party:

1. Make it manageable

Keep the dinner party small and intimate, 4-6 people max, especially if you’re not used to cooking for more than one. This also means you’ll actually get to have meaningful conversations with everyone at the table.

2. Eat slow

Plan two to three courses—a simple soup appetizer, followed by an entrée and sides and then a healthy dessert plate—to naturally slow down the meal, allowing people to chat and digest between courses. You’re almost guaranteed to eat slower in front of other people, regardless, as conversation (and etiquette) takes precedence to chowing down. Eating more slowly is one of the simplest, yet profoundly effective ways of improving digestion and avoiding overeating.

3. Prep your kitchen to serve as a stress-free zone

At dinner parties, guests inevitably end up in the kitchen, which inevitably stresses the host who is trying to put the finishing touches on the meal. To make everyone happy, set up an appetizer station, like a crudité plate with a few dips, at the far end of the kitchen, where guests can still chat with you without getting in the way.

4. Welcome help

The whole point of a dinner party is that it’s a community affair. Allow early birds or those who are shy and don’t know other guests to help out. Let them set the table or do easy tasks, like filling water pitchers, chopping, plating or lighting candles. If you have a music buff in the house, allow them to choose the playlist and plug it into the speakers.

5. Great meals are simple meals

There's no need to be a Michelin star chef to throw a dinner party; simple dishes are often the best. When you choose high-quality ingredients, like farm-fresh vegetables and animal products, they already have a lot of flavor, so you don’t have to do much. See the recipe ideas below for a few dishes you can whip up in a snap.

6. Don’t clean up until the guests leave

This not only stresses you, but your guests, too. As adults, we seldom spend such quality time with our loved ones, so don’t squander it with your hands in the sink. Soak up every moment, then start the scrubbing when they leave. Throw a Holiday Dinner Party Stress-Free

Lemon Pepper Cod

Serves: 4
Prep: <5 min
Cook: 12 min
Total: <17 min

  • 4, 4 oz. wild cod fillets
  • 2 organic lemons – zested and cut in quarters
  • Salt and black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Place cod on a baking sheet, squeeze a generous amount of lemon juice over both sides of the fillet, then sprinkle both sides with a pinch of salt, generously with black pepper and, lastly, with the lemon zest.
3. Bake about 12 minutes or so, until thoroughly cooked through and fish flakes easily with a fork. Squeeze additional lemon over the fish just before serving, if you’d like.


Throw a Holiday Dinner Party Stress-Free

Shiitake Brown Rice

Serves: 4-6
Prep: <5 min
Cook: 40 min
Total: 45 min 

  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 10 shiitake mushroom caps, sliced
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste

1. In a medium stockpot, bring water to a boil, then add rice and mushrooms. Lower heat to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes, until all the water is absorbed.
2. Fluff with a fork and season with salt and fresh ground black pepper.

Throw a Holiday Dinner Party Stress-Free

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Serves: 4-6
Prep: <10 min
Cook: 45 min
Total: 55 min 
  • 2 pounds Brussels sprouts, quartered
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Toss Brussels sprouts with garlic, oil, salt, and pepper.
3. Bake for 35-45 minutes, and halfway through use a spatula or spoon to move and flip the sprouts, so they brown on all sides. When they are golden and crisp and just starting to brown, they are done.
4. Add additional salt and pepper to taste if needed.


For more from Maria, read her recent columns on the site and visit her online at

Images courtesy of Maria Marlowe.