28 easy recipes perfect for your graduation party

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No matter if you’re getting your bachelor’s degree or high school diploma, graduations are a time to celebrate your accomplishments and achievements. There’s no better way to mark the big day than being surrounded by loved ones …. And phenomenal food.

As COVID-19 restrictions lift, in-person parties are again becoming an option for many grads. Whether you’re throwing your own party or one for a friend or family member, knowing you can celebrate in-person can be a relief; however, planning the perfect menu may also be stress-inducing.

If you’re looking to ace your graduation spread without becoming a master chef, keep reading for these simple, summery recipes that will please even the pickiest of eaters.

barbecue grill

Main dishes

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1. Taco and nacho bar

A taco and nacho bar is an easy way to please almost any diet. Be sure to get a variety of salsas ranging from mild to extra hot, and don’t skimp out on the topping options! Popular toppings include refried beans, ground meat, jalapenos, shredded cheeses, guac, cilantro, red and green peppers, pico de gallo and more.


2. Subs and sandwiches

There are a couple ways you can serve subs and sandwiches. The easiest way is to simply buy a party sub from a local deli and just put out condiments, such as mayo, Italian dressing and mustard. But you can also make a DIY sandwich bar. Just buy a variety of breads, cut them into slices (or ask your local deli or bakery to do it for you!), lunch meats, cheeses and sandwich-ready veggies. You can even offer individual bags of chips to complete the meal!

Pro tip: It’s a better experience for your guests if you don’t use individually-wrapped cheese slices, but if you do, take the wrappers off!

Appetizer-sized meatballs
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3. Spaghetti and meatballs

There are few simpler ways to feed a crowd than a big batch of spaghetti and meatballs. If you’re using this option, consider keeping the meatballs separate for your vegetarian friends. This can be as simple as heating up some canned sauce, popping some frozen meatballs in the oven and making a couple boxes of spaghetti noodles on the stovetop. If you’re looking for a fancier option, try a spaghetti recipe that’s made specifically for a crowd!

veggie burger

4. Sliders

Sliders are a great option if you’re planning on breaking out the grill for your special day. Again, this option can be as simple as buying pre-packaged slider patties from your local grocer and slapping them on the grill. Or you can buy ground beef, season to your liking and form the patties yourself. Check out this recipe for tips if you’re planning on doing this option! Either way, just be sure to buy buns, condiments, pickles, lettuce, cheese and any other toppings you may want.

Pulled pork sandwich
Bartosz Luczak / istockphoto

5. Pulled pork sandwiches

Similar to sliders, pulled pork is another way to offer a substantial meal without a lot of fuss. There are a ton of ready-to-serve pulled pork options, such as those offered by Jack Daniel’s. But if you’re looking to save some cash, it may be cheaper to buy pork shoulder or pork butt and season it yourself. Common seasonings include brown sugar, paprika, chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper and, of course, barbecue sauce. You can plop your pork in a crock pot and let time do the work for you!

Chicken kabob
voltan1 / iStock

6. Chicken skewers

There are a ton of ways to serve up chicken skewers. But most basically, you’ll need cooked cubed chicken (which you can find a recipe for here), veggies and, of course, skewers. Common veggies and fruits include onions, bell peppers, cucumbers and pineapples. Just cube them, toss them in a bowl with the chicken and slather them in marinate, which can be as simple as combining olive oil, soy sauce, honey and spices like garlic powder, salt and pepper. If you plan on grilling your skewers, consider soaking the skewers in water to avoid burning before assembling them for the grill!

Anna F. Gass

7. One-pot chili chicken

Chili chicken is a great option for a filling yet still easy-to-make graduation dish. Marinate chicken thighs in your favorite sauce, or check out this recipe for a marinade. Chop up onions and red peppers, and drop them in a bowl with canned chopped tomatoes and drained kidney beans. Throw in some chicken broth, add your chicken and pop it in the oven. Full measurements and cooking times can be found here.

Rice with vegetables


Cheese sampling platter
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8. Cheese and cracker platter

There are few sides as easy to put together than the classic cheese and cracker platter. Again, those in a time crunch to head over to your local deli or grocery store and just grab a preassembled one. You can also buy an assortment of cheeses (such as gouda, brie, pepper jack and cheddar), slice them and plate them with crackers, breads, nuts, lettuce, grapes, olives and an assortment of other veggies or fruits. You can click here to find ways to make your platter even fancier.

Fruit salad
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9. Fruit salad

To make a great fruit salad, chop up a variety of fruits into cubes, such as watermelon, strawberries, kiwi, oranges or mandarins, grapes, blueberries and bananas. Mix honey and lime juice together for a sweet dressing to bring it all together.

Grilled bell peppers and mangos
rusak / iStock

10. Barbecued mangos

Barbecued mangos are a more outside-the-box but equally yummy side to explore at your grad party. Take as many mangos as you want to serve and cut them in half. If you’ve never cut a mango before, check out this how-to guide and video tutorial. Score them three times horizontally and vertically, like you’re going to cube the mango, so that it cooks better and more of the marinade seeps into the mango. Mix white rum, juiced limes and sugar for the marinade before cooking the mango on the grill. The full recipe can be found here.

Jalapeno poppers
Zbarovskiy96 / iStock

11. Jalapeno poppers

Jalapeno poppers are another classic and simple side you can serve up. Cut jalapenos in half and remove the seeds. Mix together cream cheese, parmesan cheese, bacon, garlic, chives or any other spices you want, and put this mixture in the jalapenos. Then, cook them in the oven until they’re tender.

Mexican corn salad
SweetBabeeJay / iStock

12. Mexican chipotle corn salad

Love elote but want a simpler version? For this recipe, you’ll just need a can of corn or to cut off the kernels from a cob of corn after grilling it. Buy or make chipotle mayo and let it chill. Chop up some other veggies, such as radishes, cilantro and green onions, and mix with the corn and mayo. Add chipotle powder and lime juice to taste, chill again and serve!


13. Hummus and veggies

Hummus and veggies can be one of the easiest options out there if you’re willing to settle for store-bought hummus. It’s still easy even if you want to make your hummus. Combine chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, cumin, salt and olive oil, and blend it together. Plate it and serve with cut up celery, baby carrots, bell peppers or any other veggies you want.

Pro tip: For a smoother, creamier hummus, add a bit of full-fat Greek yogurt if you don’t have vegans to consider.

quinoa salad

14. Side salad

Again, side salads can be as easy as buying bagged salad kits, mixing them together and serving in a bowl with different dressing options.

You can also mix lettuce of your choice, cherry tomatoes, cubed cucumbers, dried cranberries, halved pecans and whatever other toppings you’d like. Serve with balsamic vinegar or keep the dressing separate so guests can choose which dressing they want.

ice cream.jpg
Bartosz Luczak / istockphoto


Woman with ice cream

15. Ice cream bar

The trickiest part of an ice cream bar is just making sure the ice cream doesn’t melt. You can do this by alternating flavors every half-hour to hour or by putting the ice cream over ice.

Just put out a few tubs of ice cream and some toppings in cute jars, such as caramel or fudge sauce, crushed peanuts (just check for peanut allergies first!), chocolate chips, sprinkles, M&Ms, crushed cookies or whatever else you’d like.

Cake balls
Andrei Haric / iStock

16. Cake balls

With this recipe, you don’t even need to make the cake for your cake balls! Just buy white chocolate mud cake or any other cake your store has (or check this mud cake recipe out if you’re feeling ambitious) and crumble it up in balls, frosting and all! Melt a block of white melting chocolate on your stovetop, and pour over the balls. Top with sprinkles and let cool.

Chocolate-dipped pretzels
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17. Chocolate-dipped pretzels

Most stores sell these prepackaged, but you can make them yourself by buying pretzels and dipping either the entire pretzel or half of it in melted chocolate. Just buy melting chocolate, melt it over the stovetop, and dip away!

Strawberry sundae ice cream in bowl White stone background

18. Strawberry citrus ice

For this recipe, be warned that you’ll need an ice cream maker! Mix water and sugar in a saucepan until the sugar is dissolved. Place that in the fridge to cool. Hull some strawberries, and combine with lime and orange juice in a blender.

Blend that until the mixture is smooth, and then add in the sugar syrup and pulse together. Place the mixture in your ice cream maker and follow your machine’s directions from there.

Mini peanut butter cups
Msaandy033 / iStock

19. Chocolate graduation caps

This recipe will require a bit of assembly, but the good news is you won’t actually have to bake anything! Mini peanut butter cups will serve as the base of your hat. Take a smidge of icing and place it in the middle of a Thin Mint. Put that on top of the peanut butter cup to hold it in place.

Take a black M&M, place another dollop of icing on it, and put it on top of the Thin Mint. If you want to personalize your hat more, buy a tube of decorative icing in your school’s main color and use it to make strings from one side of the M&M to mimic a tassel.

root beer float

20. Root beer floats

Similar to the ice cream bar, this easy crowd pleaser just requires tubs of ice cream put over ice (as well as root beer!) and some toppings. For the root beer, you can either use liters or cans. Put out either solo cups or fancier glass cups, whipped cream, straws, cherries and sprinkles so guests can customize their floats.

Layered jello
DarcyMaulsby / iStock

21. Rainbow jello

This jello recipe can either be rainbow-designed or customized to match the colors of your alma mater. Either way, just buy flavored jello from the store that matches the colors you want. This recipe recommends having four different colors to layer.

Mix the pre-packaged jello with a pack of unflavored gelatin to make it thicker, pour in a pan (click here for suggested sizes) and place each layer in the fridge until firm. To combine the layers, pour a layer of unflavored jello between the first two colored layers to “glue” them together. Let firm in the fridge and repeat for the last two layers.

Women sipping drinks together


Lemonade punch
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22. Berry punch

Looking for a sweet, summery drink? This recipe is both easy and aesthetically pleasing! Just blend together water, strawberries and sugar. Pour this into a picture and mix with pineapple juice, lemon juice and ginger ale. Add ice and serve!

Starbucks iced pumpkin spice latte

23. Iced coffee bar

There are a few ways you can set up your iced coffee bar. You can brew the coffee yourself or just buy pre-made iced coffees. If you choose the latter, you can simply buy iced coffees in a variety of flavors, put them out in an ice bucket to keep cold, and offer a variety of toppings, such as whipped cream and sprinkles.

You could also put out unflavored iced coffee and provide coffee syrups so guests can choose and mix their own flavors together.

Pineapple lemonade
Wiktory / iStock

24. Pineapple lemonade

To make pineapple lemonade, combine equal parts pineapple juice and lemonade, stir together and add a bit of sugar and lime juice to taste. You can even serve it with chunks of frozen pineapple and/or slices of lemon to make it even fancier.

Watermelon slush
vasiliybudarin/ iStock

25. Watermelon slush

Watermelon slush is super easy to make. Throw five cups of watermelon, two tablespoons of sugar, a cup of ice and one juiced lime in a blender. Once it’s smooth, it’s ready to serve!

White Claws
White Claws

26. Black Cherry White Claw slush

If you’re graduating college, this Black Cherry White Claw slush is a must-try! Mix a can of Black Cherry White Claw, raspberries,black berries and ice in a blender. Guests can also customize their slush depending on which White Claw flavor they use. This site has some other slush combo suggestions to try out!

Shot glasses
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27. Frosting shots

What says celebration more than shots and frosting? This easy-peasy recipe just requires a can of vanilla frosting, sprinkles, corn syrup or honey and vodka. For the rim, slather it in syrup or honey, and dip it in a thick layer of sprinkles.

For the drink, heat up some icing so it’s thin, mix it with vodka (how much will depend on how strong you want it!) and serve in a shot glass. You can also put it in the fridge and serve it cooled.

Mojito pitcher
sveta_zarzamora / iStock

Kaitlyn Farley

Kaitlyn is MediaFeed’s senior editor. She is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, specializing in social justice and investigative reporting. She has worked at various radio stations and newsrooms, covering higher-education, local politics, natural disasters and investigative and watchdog stories related to Title IX and transparency issues.