I’ve heard so many people say, “I just can’t have people over, because I’m not a good cook!” , or a zillion other similar excuses. (Yes, I used the word excuses.) People have the misconception that to have people over for dinner, you must serve something gourmet and elaborate, and frankly, that is just not the case! (Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of gourmet food, and would so much rather share a simple and casual meal with friends, than some fussy, big, to-do feast!)

Society has not helped those fearful about having people over either. Shows like “EASY entertaining with Michael Chiarello” portray a dinner party that is ANYTHING but easy! I wish I was joking when I tell you that three of the dishes he suggests for an easy dinner party are wrapped figs, mangoes with blue cheese, and rose water martinis. First of all, GROSS. Second of all, how on earth are those things EASY?

Another culprit on the food network keeping people from entertaining is Miss Semi-Homemade herself, Sandra Lee. While her food is basic enough to prepare, and much less odd-sounding than Mr. Easy Entertaining, at the end of each episode, she creates an elaborate “table-scape.” She shows her “oh so simple ” themed table top with home-made placemats, napkin rings, and individual take home presents for each guest. Who has time for that? If making elaborate “foodie” food and creating massive table-top extravaganzas is what we are “supposed” to do when someone comes over, who can blame those who shy away from company?

Frankly, I think there is an easier and BETTER way to entertain. You do NOT have to be the world’s greatest chef (or even all that creative in the kitchen) and you most certainly do not have to go out and buy festive plates with matching chargers to have friends over for dinner! Here are a few truly fuss-free ideas to entertain with. (that even the most basic of home cooks can pull off successfully!) Each of these ideas centers around a “build your own” theme. Having your guests take part in the building of their dinner is not only fun, but allows the guest to customize their food, taking the worry out of “will they like what I make?”

1. Taco Bar – This is SO easy to pull off, cheap to do, and is easy to do for a crowd. And, who doesn’t like tacos? All you really have to prepare for this dinner is the ground beef. (And, it’s pretty hard to mess up browning some ground beef and throwing in a packet of taco seasoning! I do encourage you to add the taco seasoning however. We were once served taco meat that wasn’t seasoned, and it was not so delicious.) Have a big bowl of ground beef, a bowl of refried beans, grated cheese, sour cream, salsa, chopped tomatoes and lettuce, maybe some olives and onions…Put out some soft tortillas along with some hard shells, so your guests have a choice. You can serve this up with a side of chips, salsa, guac, and some nacho cheese, and you’ve got a dinner that is sure to please!

1 1/2 – Nacho Bar – I will call this idea 1 1/2, since it is very much like the first. However, we have done this a few times with company, and have gotten such a great response. People loved having nachos for dinner! You can buy a big can of nacho cheese sauce at Costco (freeze up what you don’t use in individual containers for later!), and put out many of the same toppings as mentioned in the above post. This idea just goes to show that “company food” doesn’t have to be fussy and fancy. People like REGULAR food, and like to eat things they know. When your food is casual and fun, your conversation is more likely to be too!

2. Build your own pizza – This is a really fun one, and guests love it! If you are not afraid to try your hand at creating your own pizza dough, simply have your balls of dough ready, and roll out a small circle for each guest. If you would rather purchase dough, you could divide up a ball of pre-made dough (Winco sells some, as does Papa Murphy’s). Another more expensive option is to purchase the individual sized Boboli crusts. All you need to do is have sauce, cheese, and a variety of pizza toppings ready for your guests to pick and choose from. I like to have a variety of meats and veggies out and ready, and plenty of cheese! Everyone loves pizza, and making your own is a really fun thing to do with your guests.

3. Ice Cream Sundae Bar – There is no law that says you HAVE to have people over for dinner. Lots of times we have opted to simply have people come over for dessert and games. Everyone screams for ice cream, so why not  get out your favorite board games and a smorgasbord of ice cream and toppings, and have your friends over for sundaes?! It is really fun to see your grown-up friends act just like kids again, heaping on loads of caramel syrup, m&m’s, whipped cream, and cherries. I love it! You can be as creative as you want with the toppings, and the best thing about this idea, is that it involves NO cooking. (See, you really don’t have any excuse not to have someone over now!)

So, the next time you think you’d really love to have some friends over, but are worried about not having the culinary chops to do so, smack yourself and say, “I CAN do this.” Your guests are not coming over for the gourmet food…They are coming over for YOU. They want a good time with their friends, not a fussy and pretentious meal. If you are stressed out trying to baste your rack of lamb or flambe your cherries jubilee, you won’t be able to relax and enjoy the fellowship. So, lighten up, and make something TRULY easy and fun that your guests WILL love!  Happy entertaining!