The holiday season is upon us, and with it comes weeks of holiday activities. From holiday parties to Christmas dinners, there’s no shortage of festivities at this time of year. And what with all of the gift shopping and planning you have to do, it’s a good idea to get a head start on the preparations for the dish (or dishes!) you are bringing to the Christmas potluck dinner.
Potlucks are a great way to structure a holiday party because it removes a lot of the stress and work from the host and transfers it to the party guests (not all of it, but every little bit helps!). Everyone brings a dish to share with the whole party so that the host doesn’t have to cook everything on their own. Typically the party host will make the main course so you’ll be in charge of something like a tasty appetizer or side dish, but you never know—if you’re a good cook they might delegate the main dish to you too (and if you’re really bad they’ll just ask you to bring the cranberry sauce.
The secret to choosing which dish to bring to your Christmas party is to pick something that will be a crowd pleaser, but uses simple ingredients that you can find at home or that won’t be hard to find at the grocery store when everyone else is out buying their holiday ingredients. Plus, focusing on a simpler recipe that requires minimal effort will save you lots of time—and let’s be honest, time is a precious commodity at the holidays. So here is a list of ideas and easy appetizer recipes for side dishes that will make the perfect addition to your next potluck or holiday dinner.
A good rule of thumb cheese goes with pretty much everything. Seriously, you can never go wrong with cheese. Here are some cheesy appetizers you can make with cheese for the Christmas season:
- Cheese balls: These are the perfect appetizer because they allow everyone to take as much or as little as they want. They can pick at it cracker by cracker during the pre-dinner chatting period, or they can add a pile of crackers and a heaping spoonful of cheese to their dinner plate. The crucial components are cheese (usually in the shape of a ball or, if you’re feeling really artistic, a Christmas-themed figure) an assortment of crackers. Cream cheese works really well for this, but Taste of Home has a delicious recipe for a cheese ball with cheddar cheese, Swiss cheese, and bacon if you want some savory flavors.
- Pretzel stick: The saltiness of a pretzel and cheese is the perfect combination. Putting them together is a great idea for holiday appetizers. You can stick some pretzels into cheese bites, or just put the pretzels on a cheese platter.
- Charcuterie board: Cheese spreads are what all the cool kids are bringing to their next party. Seriously, it is one of the best potluck appetizers for your holiday gathering because it is easy to assemble once you have all of the components. Just grab all of your favorite cheeses in different fun shapes — parmesan cheese, Monterey jack cheese, goat cheese, cheddar cheese, even a nice camembert. Then gather everything that goes well with those cheeses. Red bell pepper, sweet potatoes, and other fresh vegetables are a great place to start. Sun-dried tomatoes, white chocolate chips, fresh fruit, meats like salami or pepperoni, and crackers also pair really well with cheese. A charcuterie board makes a delicious appetizer and great addition to your holiday table because it gives everyone a sweet snack before dinner and a lovely presentation to marvel at. If you need some inspiration, The Pioneer Woman has the definitive guide on how to make the perfect cheese board for a holiday potluck party.
Bread and pastries
Bread is the other classic staple of any dinner party. here are just a few Christmas appetizers you can make to take to your holiday potluck.
- Crostini and toast: What’s better than melted cheese on toasted bread with little toppings? Absolutely nothing. Cranberry brie bites are a classic, yet a very delicious, option that’s the perfect holiday recipe, and Taste of Home has a great recipe that also adds chicken. They also have an intriguing recipe for a version with cream cheese, pistachios, and pomegranate seeds—which sounds so delicious you’d want to eat it every day of the year. Or stick with a classic bruschetta—mozzarella cheese, cherry tomatoes, and basil all covered in balsamic vinegar. There’s a delicious recipe on Sweet Potato Soul for a sweet potato and onion toast that’s begging to be made for the holidays.
- Puff pastry: Puff pastry is probably the greatest thing since sliced bread. And the best part of it is that you can make lots of festive appetizers with it. Wrap it around some hot dogs to make some pigs in a blanket, or make sausage rolls by filling pockets of pastry with pork sausage, onions, and bacon according to this recipe from The Pioneer Woman.
- Empanadas: Empanadas can be filling, but they’re also delicious. They’re kind of like sausage rolls: half moon shaped pastry pockets full of meat and vegetables. The Modern Proper has a great recipe if you need some help!
- Breadsticks: Everyone loves breadsticks, and for good reason: they’re warm, delicious, and the definition of comfort food. You can fill them with all kinds of delicious fillings and cover them with lots of different festive sauces. And if you want to get fancy, you can bake them into fun Christmas shapes like you’re on The Great British Baking Show. It’s Always Autumn has a fun recipe for a Christmas tree shaped pull apart breadstick flavored with spinach and parmesan cheese. The recipe calls for a store bought pizza crust so that you don’t have to make the bread beforehand. The result is a beautiful bread creation that looks like a Christmas tree! Everyone at your party will love it and ask how you pulled it off.
Like with cheese balls, dips are a perfect, quick appetizer that are great for any part of the dinner — before, during, or after. Dips are good to have around for all of the party guests to eat whenever they want, for chit chat, and party games. Of course, cheese makes up some of the best dips, but there are lots of cheese free dips out there as well. Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Salsa: Salsa is a fan favorite for a reason: it’s easy, versatile, and delicious. You can take this Christmas potluck as an opportunity to share your favorite store bought salsa and tortilla chips on a cute, festive platter. Or gather all the ingredients and try your hand at making your own. There are hundreds of recipes online, so just pick your favorite one based on the salsa you prefer—do you like runny, smooth salsa, or more of a chunky salsa with fresh tomatoes and onions? Watermelon isn’t typically in season around the holidays, but if you can find it there’s a fun watermelon salsa recipe on tbsp that features watermelon, red bell peppers, onions, basil, and jalapeno peppers.
- Guacamole: Staying on theme here, guacamole is another excellent dish option that pretty much everyone will love. Like with salsa there are plenty of recipes to use that you can find online.
- Spinach artichoke dip: You can’t go wrong with this classic dip! It’s typically made by combining spinach and artichokes, as the name implies, with a mix of cream cheese, parmesan cheese, and mozzarella cheese. Put some crackers and slices of pita or toasted bread on the side to eat with it.
- Shrimp Cocktail: Ready to level up your holiday pot luck offering? Shrimp cocktail has been a staple of fancy parties for decades, and now you can bring your own shrimp cocktail dip. You can whip up a quick version with some cream cheese, cocktail sauce and, of course, shrimp. But if you want to give it a real go, why not try making your own cocktail sauce from scratch? The Modern Proper has a delicious recipe and easy to follow instructions on their site, featuring ingredients that you can easily find at your local grocery store.
- Cheese dips: Like we said, there are probably more cheese dips out there than there are types of cheese — each cheese probably makes lots of dips! But the fact always remains that cheese always makes a good dip (after all, that’s what fondue is!). So if you’re at a loss, just think of your favorite cheese and go from there. Of course, there are fan favorites that you can always count on. Queso dips or pots of fondue cheese are always popular. Carita has a delicious whipped ricotta and goat cheese dip recipe on her blog, Seasoned to Taste, which also features pancetta and honey.
- Cream cheese fruit dip: This dip is an excellent way to bring out for the transition from dinner to dessert, or for your fellow party guests who have a sweet tooth. Eat Well 101‘s recipe includes cream cheese, Greek yogurt, and orange juice and makes a fluffy, delectable dip. If your party is on the bigger size you might want to double or triple the recipe and make sure to add plenty of fresh fruit on the side.
- Veggie or relish tray: Veggies are a staple of appetizer spreads, and you can find everything you need in the produce section of your local grocery store. You typically want to include fresh, crunchy veggies that go well with a creamy or yogurt based sauce, like carrots, bell peppers, snap peas, cucumbers, and broccoli. Slice them up into bite sized sticks and arrange them on a tray around a dip. Homemade ranch dressing is popular, or you can find a nice dill dip recipe online, like this one at The Pioneer Woman.
Options for Meat Lovers
Many of the recipes we have shared here already are vegetarian friendly or can be made that way with one or two modifications. Most of them will not be vegan, except for the salsa and maybe some of the dips. Making these accommodations for your friends and family with dietary restrictions is very considerate, but there is just no denying that sometimes meat just is too good to be excluded from the holiday appetizer table.
Roasted turkey and ham are the traditional Christmas main course, but that doesn’t mean you can’t add other meats to the rest of the menu — especially the appetizers. So many of the holiday appetizer recipes you can find feature bacon, chicken, or other meats. Here are some ideas for meat filled appetizers:
- Bacon wrapped dates: These are the simplest way to win the Best Appetizer prize at your holiday potluck. They only have three ingredients and they are easy to make, but they are so delicious that everyone will be fighting over the last one. Cut some Medjool dates in half and stuff them with goat cheese, and then wrap a strip of cooked bacon around each half and secure it with a toothpick.
- Meatballs: These might not be as simple as bacon wrapped dates, but they can definitely be just as good. There are endless combinations of flavors you can make, but Taste of Home has a delicious recipe for cranberry and brown sugar meatballs that are perfect as an appetizer or part of your main Christmas meal.
- Breakfast muffins: If your holiday party is starting on Christmas morning, you might want to bring something more suitable for a breakfast. Many families like to make something rich and sweet for the celebrations, but to add variety for your family members you can bring these yummy ham and egg bites.
These appetizers don’t necessarily fit into any of the above categories, but they’re so popular and delicious that they deserve to have a place in any list of holiday appropriate meals.
- Deviled eggs: You’ll find deviled eggs at pretty much any holiday party you attend. They’re made of the yokes of boiled eggs mixed with mustard and spices and piped into the hollow in the boiled egg whites. There are thousands of recipes online for deviled eggs, but Genevieve’s recipe on She Keeps a Lovely Home is simple but delicious, and she even gives some tips on how to garnish your eggs with some pink peppercorns and parsley to look like holly berries for the holidays.
- Macaroni and Cheese: Everyone’s favorite comfort food certainly belongs on your Christmas feast table. Everyone makes mac and cheese differently, depending on where they’re from and their family traditions. Some add breadcrumbs, others make it with a specific cheese or multiple kinds of cheese. It can even be deep-fried in little balls. No matter how you present your mac and cheese, it’s sure to be a hit with everyone who wants to stay warm and cozy on cold December evenings.
Christmas time is the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also possibly the busiest time of the year. Everyone is throwing parties, from family to friends to employers. You have gift shopping to complete, and if you have children that take extra time to find all the gifts from Santa. Plus there’s the rest of normal life to add onto it — the school schedule, the grocery shopping, the sports games, and ballet performances, etc. So really, the last thing you need to add to that is a difficult, complicated assignment to bring to Christmas dinner.
This list of dishes and appetizers is by no means exhaustive — there are hundreds of different dishes you can bring to your holiday party and even more ways to prepare them. Everyone has different traditions and memories of what they like to eat with their loved ones for the holidays. That is the beauty of potluck parties, though: when everyone gets to contribute and bring their favorite dish, you get to partake in everyone’s favorite holiday traditions and create some new ones of your own.