The holiday season is quickly approaching, and the joy of gathering with loved ones and celebrating together awaits. Whether you're hosting a large family gathering, a corporate party, or a jolly get-together with mates, one thing is certain—food is at the heart of any festive event.
In this blog post, we will delve into the best foods for festive catering, considering the importance of catering over cooking yourself, considering your guests, and matching festive themes with delicious food pairings. We’ll also explore buffet vs. plated meals, essential catering choices, specialty foods such as catered cookies and pastries, vegetarian and vegan options, and allergen-friendly choices.
To add fun and interactivity to your festive gathering, we'll discuss the idea of interactive food stations, such as a DIY cookie decorating station or a make-your-own ice cream bar. Of course, no celebration is complete without beverages—classic festive drinks and non-alcoholic options.
The Importance of Catering for Holiday Parties
Holiday catering plays a crucial role in the success of any festive event. It goes beyond simply providing food; it sets the tone for the entire gathering and ensures that your guests are well cared for.
Here are a few key things to consider when planning meals for your business holiday party:
Limitations – Dietary preferences (vegan/plant-based, vegetarian, etc.), restrictions (food allergies), and cultural backgrounds (Kosher, Halal, etc.)
- Festivities – Is it a traditional Christmas affair, a winter wonderland celebration, or a New Year's Eve party? These will determine the dishes & drinks you serve.
- Cooking vs. Catering – Some may enjoy the challenge of cooking a large holiday meal from scratch. But there’s no doubt, catering is less of a logistical hassle, especially for a large family or company event.
Pro Tip: Leave plenty of time to schedule a caterer, especially around the festive season. The recommended minimum to book is six months, but if you can secure a caterer sooner, go for it.
Which Foods to Cater for Your Holiday Party
There are certain dishes that have become a staple at holiday parties, and your guests have come to expect them. With a list of the most popular catered foods, you should have plenty of options to put a menu together.
Starters & Canapés: Starting the Celebration Right
The starter course sets the tone for the entire meal, and gives you plenty of range to cater to different tastes and dietary preferences. Some popular choices include:
Cheese and charcuterie platter: A selection of artisan cheeses, cured meats, biscuits, and bread paired with olives, preserves, and nuts.
Bruschetta: Toasted bread topped with chopped tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic, and a drizzle of balsamic glaze.
Mini quiches: Bite-sized savoury pastries filled with spinach and feta, bacon and cheese, or mushroom and gruyere.
Stuffed mushrooms: Mushroom caps filled with a flavoursome mixture of breadcrumbs, cheese, herbs, and other ingredients.
Prawn cocktail: Chilled prawns served with a tangy cocktail sauce. These starters will set the stage for a delightful dining experience and satisfy your guests whilst they await the main course.
Main Courses: The Heart of the Feast
The main course is the centrepiece of any holiday meal. Consider offering a mix of traditional and alternative main courses to cater to different tastes. Here are some popular choices:
Roast turkey: A classic choice for Thanksgiving and Christmas, served with flavourful stuffing, cranberry sauce, and gravy.
Glazed Ham or Gammon: A succulent ham or gammon is a traditional main course and loved by many. Coat it with a sweet, tangy glaze, served with pineapple rings or fruit compote.
Prime rib: A tender and juicy prime rib roast served with horseradish sauce and jus.
Vegetarian roast: A flavoursome alternative for vegetarians and vegans, such as a well-seasoned nut roast or stuffed portobello mushrooms.
Consider adding delicious sauces and condiments to enhance the flavours.
Side Dishes: Complementing the Main Attraction
Here are some classic side dishes that are sure to please:
Mashed potatoes: Creamy, buttery mashed potatoes that melt in your mouth.
Roasted vegetables: A medley of seasonal vegetables such as carrots, Brussels sprouts, and parsnips, roasted to perfection.
Sweet potato casserole: Baked sweet potatoes topped with a crunchy pecan streusel or marshmallows.
Cranberry sauce: A tangy and sweet sauce made from fresh cranberries, perfect for complementing roasted meats.
Specialty Foods for Holiday Catering
It’s not always about the main course. There are plenty of specialty holiday foods that your guests will love, especially if they only get to indulge a few times each year.
Cookies and Pastries: A Sweet Touch
No holiday gathering is complete without a delectable selection of cookies and pastries. These sweet treats are the final touch on your festive evening, and many guests will even take a few home with them. And unless you have access to multiple ovens, it’s best to cater these to minimise your logistical challenges.
You could even do a build-your-own cookie or ice cream station, complete with festive-coloured candies, spreads, and other toppings.
Vegetarian and Vegan Options
It's important to provide options for guests who follow vegetarian or vegan diets. Plant-based dishes help satisfy guests. Plan simple recipes like stuffed peppers, a nutritious salad, stuffed mushrooms, and dips like hummus or guacamole. Oftentimes, plant-based eaters are left to eat nothing but potatoes and a side salad, so they’ll be thankful that you catered some options for them.
Besides vegetarian and vegan options, it's important to consider guests with food allergies or intolerances. Some common allergen-friendly options include gluten-free stuffing & bread rolls, dairy-free mashed potatoes, and nut-free desserts.
Beverages enhance every dining experience. The right selection of drinks can complement the flavours of the food and create harmonious pairings. You’ll want to speak to your caterer to customise the drinks for your main course, which usually consists of wine, fizzy drinks, coffee, tea, and of course, water.
Regardless of the event type, you must cater to both traditional alcoholic & non-alcoholic holiday drinks. For alcoholic options, choose from favourites like: mulled wine, champagne or sparkling wine, eggnog, and/or hot buttered rum. For the non-alcoholic options, prepare virgin eggnog, hot chocolate, hot apple cider, and other popular mocktails, as well as coffee, tea, and water.
In most cases, a buffet style serving is the safest bet. Guests can fill their plate with as much or little food as they’d like, whenever they’d like. Plus, it gives them the opportunity to move around and socialise with other guests. Sprinkle a few festive decorations on the tables and around the room, and your holiday party is sure to go off without a hitch.