What to bring: hostess gifts, side dishes & gift exchanges

what to bring

With each holiday party comes something to remember, each host requesting something different. Planning, shopping, and prepping can start to feel overwhelming when you’re attending multiple parties, especially in the same weekend. Last year, I stressed myself out with complicated recipes and expensive ingredients. This year, I’m doing less.

Here are a few simple ideas to get your wheels spinning:

Hostess gifts

Most parties I’ve been invited to are some form of potluck. In those cases, I don’t feel an additional gift is necessary, but I’m no etiquette expert. If the host hasn’t asked us to bring anything, I think it’s nice to bring a small gift. And I do mean small.

I rely heavily on Trader Joe’s for these gifts, which is another time saver because I can buy them while I’m already there buying groceries. They have a great selection of fun but inexpensive gift items, especially at the holidays.

  • A bottle of wine
  • Fresh flowers: If you have time to pick up a vase from the dollar store, it will save the host from having to scramble to pull one out while she’s trying to greet guests.
  • A tin of holiday candy: English toffee or peanut brittle, anyone?

Appetizers and side dishes

Here’s where I usually go overboard. For some reason, a party seems like a great time to try a new recipe that requires handpicked chestnuts from the Swiss Alps or something. It inevitably doesn’t turn out and costs a fortune.

I asked Mike to help me brainstorm and execute ideas, and he was so helpful. He doesn’t feel the need to overcomplicate or impress; he just looks for the simplest solution.

  • Cheese and crackers: When Mike first suggested this idea, I wanted to turn it down. It’s not even a dish, just some things from the grocery store. But Mike made a great point: who’s not going to put some on their plate? People love cheese and crackers!
  • Spinach salad: I’m adding feta, pomegranate seeds, and a balsamic dressing to mine. And maybe some almonds or walnuts. You can add anything you want: strawberries, goat cheese, pine nuts, dried cranberries. Salads are easy to throw together and provide a fresh option to balance the indulgent foods at most parties.
  • Bacon wrapped dates: I haven’t made these yet, but the recipe is ridiculously simple.

Gift exchanges

  • Gift cards: Starbucks or Amazon are safe bets
  • Bottle of wine and/or holiday candy
  • Coffee themed gift: coffee mug with coffee beans or chocolate and a Starbucks card.
  • Day by the fire gift: magazine, fuzzy socks, hot chocolate packets, mini marshmallows and a mug.
  • Nail kit: I got this from a gift exchange last year and loved the idea. It was a mason jar filled with cotton balls, nail polish, and a nail file. The presentation was cute, and it didn’t cost much.
  • Movie night: a Christmas DVD, popcorn kernels or microwaveable bag, movie theatre candy. (Walmart sells them for $1.)

What tips do you have for keeping party contributions simple?

7 thoughts on “What to bring: hostess gifts, side dishes & gift exchanges

  1. a bottle of wine or forty of a special, local brew is my go to. We have our favorite liquor store at the end of the street so it is always easy to stop :) ALSO, I love stopping by a bakery and bringing a loaf of pumpkin bread or other desserty bread! It is always fun to have with coffee!

  2. We hosted a party recently where we had asked guests to bring a little food something, if they wanted too. One guest didn’t, instead she brought a handwritten card and a jar of locally made candy cane tea. That made a big impression and made me want to be that kind of guest. Great post!
    And cheese and crackers, so simple yet always a winner. Sounds like something my husband would suggest as well. =)

    1. What a thoughtful guest! It didn’t cost her any more than bringing a side dish would have, yet it left a huge impression. ALL the cheese and crackers were eaten, so I’d say it was a hit. I love that Boursin Garlic & Herb cheese. It looks fancy and tastes amazing!

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