Stash these basics and barbecue upgrades in your pantry, freezer, and fridge and you’ll have party food ready for any surprise guest.

By Real Simple Editors
Updated June 26, 2019
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Last-Minute Party Food Ideas
Credit: Ted + Chelsea Cavanaugh

When it’s time to host a party, often the most stressful part of the process is getting all the party food ready. Even if you’re picking up ready-made food or have a catered situation, making sure everything is ready, tasty, and in enough quantity can overshadow the point of the party: to have a good time. Well, no more. Stocking a few pantry or fridge essentials can make putting together a full spread of party food ideas easier and turn basic snacks or treats into delicious ones without too much effort, even if the party is last-minute.

Specialized condiments can dress up low-key mains, such as sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, or tacos; your go-to dessert can satisfy a crowd when paired with the right party supplies straight out of the freezer. The key to turning your household food essentials into easy party foods (or party food accompaniments) is to stock enough to share and to make sure your favorites have a little extra magic that can help satisfy guests. Versatile foods or drinks can help, too, by zhuzhing up everything from snacks to side dishes. Most importantly, every item should have some meaning. Whether it’s the dessert you tried on your first date with your now-spouse or the soda you drank on all your family vacations as a child, sharing a story with each dish can give it the oomph it needs to dress up your party offerings.

Not sure what constitutes a party-ready pantry essential? These suggestions—from Real Simple editors and entertaining experts—might spark some ideas. (Or you can just try these ready-to-go party food ideas for yourself.)

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