You never know when someone is going to drop by, thus forcing you into some last-minute party planning. Whether your college roommate drops by when she’s zipping through town, or your frazzled brother and his kids forgot to tell you they were coming over for dinner on Saturday, life will often drop your loved ones at your doorstep with little to no notice.
In the Fridge:
For casual gatherings, like watching sports or a backyard barbecue, few things are more suitable than beer. Keep a six-pack of something interesting yet universally enjoyed on hand, like a lager from a local craft brewery.
You don’t have to be fancy with an assortment of brie and blue cheese on hand. Hard cheeses, like Swiss, Gouda, and Cheddar, are perfect to serve with crackers, creating a quick and easy snack everyone can enjoy. Spreadable cheeses, such as herbed cream cheese, are also great to keep around.
Sure, deli meats such as ham, salami, and prosciutto have a short shelf life, but they’re good staples to keep on hand for a quick meat and cheese tray. Buy them up for your weekly lunches, and then if you have any leftover — bam! — instant appetizer.
Jams are a perfect, sweet complement to deli meats and cheeses, rounding out your deli platter. Want to make your party a little spicy? Stock some hot pepper jelly on hand for an extra boost of flavor.
Lemons and Limes
An easy way to make your last-minute party classy is to offer a slice of citrus with your standard tap water or soda. This little touch will make you seem super thoughtful when really it was just in your fridge all along.
Keep a few basic veggies on hand both for healthy eating in life and for instant entertaining. Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, and radishes are delicious, nutritious, and perfect for a quick snack.
With salsa and its best friend tortilla chips, you have an instant, irresistible party snack. Whether you make the salsa yourself or just keep some of the jarred stuff on hand is your call, but your guests will never turn down this ultra-easy dish.
Whether you’re having a last-minute girls’ night or a Game of Thrones binge-fest, it never hurts to have a bottle (or two) of wine on hand for true emergencies. If you really want to boost your pantry supply to the next level, keep something bubbly on reserve, like prosecco, for ultra-special occasions.
In the Pantry:
Chips and Crackers
Remember the cheese, jams, and salsa from your fridge reserves? They would be terribly lonely without something to be spread on. Dump tortilla chips or potato chips in a bowl and you have an instant snack. As for crackers, keep a small variety, including water crackers, bagel bites, and the classic butter cracker, to have something for everyone.
No party would be complete without dessert, right? Whether you have expensive truffles or just some simple candy-coated chocolates, your guests with a sweet tooth will appreciate this one.
Coffee and Tea
If someone drops by in the morning or early afternoon, a hot pick-me-up is a must. Offering your guests some coffee or tea will instantly make them feel welcome and help wake them up. Coffee and tea are also great to serve at the end of your last-minute party to signify the end of the night.
Whether you prefer your nuts mixed, cashew-only, salted, roasted, or covered in honey, keep something on hand to go with your beer and wine. Pro tip: Store them in the freezer to prevent them from going rancid.
In the Freezer:
Keep a few boxes of spring rolls, mini quiches, or mozzarella sticks in the back of your freezer. These bite-sized treats are a more tasty option for something a little more complex and need to be baked for only about 10 or 15 minutes.
Keeping a small bag of frozen fruit can take your party to the next level. Frozen fruit plus a bottle of wine equals a quick, easy, and delicious sangria perfect for summertime lounging on the deck or a late-night gab fest with your best friend. Also, feel free to toss some frozen fruit in a blender with some yogurt or juice for simple smoothies.
This basic ingredient is a life-saver for last-minute entertaining. You can make a variety of appetizer treats with puff pastry, such as baked brie, flatbreads, or tarts. Though puff pastry dishes will take a little more work, the result is guaranteed to impress.
This article was originally published in November 2010 and December 2015.