50 Easy Memorial Day Food Recipes: Best No-Stress Party Ideas

by Shelley · May contain affiliate links

Published Updated June 13, 2023

~ These Memorial Day food recipes will be delicious additions to your holiday weekend menu! Lots of red, white and blue recipes … plus must-have summer party classics. And, don’t miss our tips to help you keep everything stress-free, so your summer kick-off is fun and relaxing (even for the hosts)! ~

Collage of 4 of the recipes with graphic stars and text overlay "50 Easy! Memorial Day Recipes".

Memorial Day always feels like the unofficial start of summer … that hopeful kick-off to more carefree, warmer days and easy, let’s-eat-outside-tonight recipes.

This year, make your Memorial Day celebration better than ever! With the perfect (EASY) foods, plus party-planning tips that make the festivities simpler for everyone (especially the hosts)!

  • Of course, you’ll be looking for some All-American, red-white-and-blue recipes to add into your backyard bbq routine, and we’ve got lots of ideas for you on that.
  • But every great Memorial Day menu also needs some of the summer classics, like hot dogs and hamburgers, potato salad and coleslaw. We’ve got those for ya here, too!

Check out our full line-up of easy Memorial Day recipes, and choose some great new ones to try this holiday weekend … and maybe for cookouts all summer long (think 4th of July and Labor Day, for sure)!

And then don’t forget to pop down to the bottom of this post, for easy Memorial Day party tips. Planning, Decorating, and More!

But first, the very best part … let’s hook you up with some terrific recipes …

Memorial Day Food Recipes

Pre-Parade Red, White and Blue Fun!

You don't have to wait for suppertime to cue up the celebration. Get the star-spangled vibes going right from the breakfast table! These ideas are especially perfect if you're hosting a festive brunch before a morning parade.

Appetizers, Side Dishes, Salads, and Drinks

Choose from star-spangled recipes, grilled favorites, or one of the must-have picnic classics!

The Main Event!

Whether you opt for an outdoor meal featuring hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, or a delectable pressure-cooked BBQ chicken, these main dishes offer lots of options for the "star" of your star-spangled Memorial Day menu!

Star-Spangled Desserts to Finish Memorial Day Off in Style!

Choose one (or more!) of these favorite Memorial Day desserts to end your party with a celebration-worthy sweet treat!

Tips for a Perfect, EASY Memorial Day Celebration

First and foremost, remember that a relaxed party host (or hostess) is a huge key to setting the tone for the entire party. If you’re relaxed and enjoying yourself, it’ll help to put your guests at ease and elevate the energy of your celebration.

Plus, Memorial Day is the perfect time for a chill, easy-breezy summer vibe. There’s no need to make it fussy or stressful in order for your party to be a huge success.

So … how do you do that (when you just want to dash around in a panic because you feel over-extended and behind schedule)?!?!?

BREATHE … we’ve got this!

Memorial Day Menu Planning

Making the Menu: As much as possible, plan out your Memorial Day food ideas ahead of time. Write it all down (so you actually remember every last detail when things get hectic).

• Planning Drinks: Plenty of ice-filled coolers and a well-stocked drinks station will save you from having to play bartender. Make sure your menu includes a variety of beverages your guests can serve themselves. If you want a festive “signature” drink, go with make-ahead pitchers full of yummy refreshers – like the sangria and the infused water featured in our recipe list above.

Grocery Shopping: Write up a master grocery list, and buy the shelf-stable items further in advance. That’s often a better way to shop before big events, so you don’t have to stress over a huge grocery trip at the last minute (especially before holidays, when supplies of some high-demand items might be running low at the store).

Overhead of a piece of notebook paper with two columns of grocery items written on it, with a blue pencil and mug of coffee at corners.

Presentation: Planning a really big cookout and making a LOT of different dishes? When you have a free moment in the days ahead, start gathering the serving bowls, platters, and serving utensils (spreaders, serving spoons, cake cutters, etc.) you’ll want for each recipe. Label them with Post-it notes, so when you’re busily assembling everything at party time, it’s easy to instantly see which serving pieces you thought fit each recipe. Annnnnnd … you can easily ask other people to grab specific items for you, too!

Cooking: In the day or two before your cookout, make any food ahead of time that you can. (Bonus points for recipes you can freeze even weeks or months in advance!)

Pro Tip: When planning your menu, try to choose as many make-ahead recipes as possible!

Prepping: In addition to completing fully make-ahead recipes, look through your recipes to find ingredients you can chop and prep ahead, even if you can’t complete the entire recipe yet. Turn on some music, maybe grab a glass of wine, and enjoy yourself! Be sure to clearly label each baggie or container of prepped ingredients. Not only will that help you remember which ingredients are for what recipe, but then you can also enlist others to help you throw together the final recipes, too. Yay for helping hands!

Ask for HELP: Speaking of help … ask guests to fill out the menu, so you don’t have to cook everything. It’s smart to give each cook a general guideline (like “appetizer” … or “green vegetable”), so you don’t end up with only desserts, or with 7 bowls of potato salad! Guests will be glad to bring something that’s truly needed and gets gobbled up, rather than wasting time on bringing a dish that ends up being redundant or doesn’t fit well with the overall menu.

Party Setup

Have a Plan: Just like with the cooking, do whatever setup you can ahead of time, too. Ask neighbors to lend extra folding tables and chairs. Dig coolers out of the basement. Take care of all those staging things … which will totally stress you out at the last minute, but are an absolute snap to check off a few days early.

Oh, Crazy Mother Nature!: When most people think of a Memorial Day party, they envision a warm weather, summer cookout or sun-drenched outdoor picnic. But sometimes the weather has other plans. Definitely consider the predicted heat … but also be prepared for rain. Make sure guests will be comfortable either way. Decide if you’ll have people come inside to cool off or avoid rain (and tidy up if you need to). Think of fun ways for people to cool off (water balloon fight?!?!). And consider clearing space in a basement or garage ahead of time, so the party can continue even if a thunderstorm rolls in.

Pro Tip: (which most people forget!) Don’t Strand the Grill Master

Be sure to set a couple of enticing appetizers on a nearby table, so people are sure to linger near your grill master, happily munching and chatting. Strategically place some key beverages near the grilling area, too. If, for example, your grill master happens to be a husband-type-guy-person, maybe pick a few particularly guy-attracting beverages (maybe your hubby’s fave beer!) and nestle them in a cooler specifically placed near the grill. So, you know … all your grill master’s friends have to hang around the grill if they want to grab a drink. 😉

Trash: Don’t forget to set out trash and recycle cans at convenient places. (This one I used to forget allllll the time … until my first guest would wander into the kitchen, wanting to throw away a soda can. Doh!)

Tunes: Try out your music setup ahead of time. (This is another thing I used to forget all the time.) Outdoor speakers … extension cords … play lists. Whatever you need to cue up great tunes! Get it all ready and have the fun music pumping from the moment your first guests arrive. It really does liven the mood! Just be sure the music isn’t too loud (and the speakers are properly placed) for people to easily chat.

Decorating Your Cookout Party

Theme: Memorial Day’s obvious “Red, White and Blue” is an easy party theme!

  • For one thing, summer’s fresh fruit is naturally red, white and blue, thanks to all those strawberries, blueberries and blackberries. (And we have lots of star-spangled RW&B recipes in the list above.)
  • And, star-shaped cookie cutters are your best friend! Cut out decorative pieces of cheese, fruit, etc. to garnish and pep up whatever dishes you’re making!
Cross-section slice of watermelon on cutting board, with star-shaped cookie cutters cutting stars out of it.

Decorations: If you want to go the extra mile and buy decorations, it doesn’t have to be over-the-top or expensive. Remember … casual, summer chill vibes! A few patriotic flags and paper banners, along with red, white and blue table coverings and napkins will easily set the stage.

Here are just a few quick ideas …

  • Double-Duty Flowers:

If you’re at the garden center, buy some pretty red and white flowers that you’ll plant in your yard after the party. You just killed two birds with one stone – yard work patrol AND party decorating committee!

For an evening party, twinkle lights always set a cozy, happy mood. You can find strands of simple, red, white and blue twinkle lights, or go even splashier and more theme-y with adorable star-shaped lights like these:

There are lots of holiday-themed paper products to choose from, but this set is budget-friendly for serving so many people (it’s enough for 48 guests):

And if you’d prefer not to have too much trash for the landfill, you could invest in some dishwasher-safe, reusable plate and utensil sets. These come in both red and blue, and will be perfect all summer long … including for the 4th of July and Labor Day!

During the Party

• Welcome Committee: For the beginning of the party, ask kiddos to help welcome guests and show them where to place the food they’ve brought to share. Kids love to feel important and have a role to play! And that’ll keep you more free to finish last-minute things in the kitchen, or to enjoy circulating through your guests without having to pause the conversation every time someone new arrives.

Use a Grill Thermometer: Remember that grill master we talked about earlier? If you did a good job funneling some friends over near the grill station, then your grill master may be a little distracted. No problem! A grill thermometer will make absolutely sure the meat reaches the safe zone before serving. (Here’s a handy guide with target meat temperatures.)

Remember Food Safety: Have outlets and extension cords available, if needed, for hot plates and slow cookers. Extra ice-filled coolers or tubs of ice can help keep salads and other cold foods safely chilled longer. And, if the party will last all throughout the day, be sure to rotate food into the refrigerator to keep everything safe. If you want some munches on hand for in-between times, go with things like chips, pretzels and cookies that aren’t temperature-sensitive.

What Is Memorial Day? (And Most of All … A Thank You)

With all the celebrating and summer-kicking-off that happens over Memorials Day’s long holiday weekend, it’s sometimes easy to forget the actual reason that we’re all celebrating.

But I just wouldn’t feel right, putting together this article about Memorial Day parties, without pausing to think about why we come together on this particular weekend every year.

At its core, Memorial Day is meant as a remembrance of the men and women who have died while serving in the U.S. Military. As History.com explains, “Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971.”

Memorial Day is always observed on the last Monday in May. It’s expanded into a three-day, party-filled, long weekend that’s often hailed as the unofficial summer kick-off.

But most of all, it’s a time to remember and to be thankful for those who have given their lives for American freedoms.

And for that … to all those who have lost loved ones in service to America … I want to extend a most heartfelt note of appreciation, of gratitude and thankfulness. Even as we celebrate, we also remember.

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