Co-evolutionary theory underpins our understanding of interactions in nature involving plant–herbivore and host–parasite interactions. However, many studies that are published in the empirical literature that have explored life history and development strategies between endoparasitoid wasps and their hosts are based on species that have no evolutionary history with one another. Here, we investigated novel associations involving two closely related solitary endoparasitoids that originate from Europe and North America and several of their natural and factitious hosts from both continents. The natural hosts of both species are also closely related, all being members of the same family. We compared development and survival of both parasitoids on the four host species and predicted that parasitoid performance is better on their own natural hosts. In contrast with this expectation, survival, adult size and development time of both parasitoids were similar on all (with one exception) hosts, irrespective as to their geographic origin. Our results show that phylogenetic affinity among the natural and factitious hosts plays an important role in their nutritional suitability for related parasitoids. Evolved traits in parasitoids, such as immune suppression and development, thus enable them to successfully develop in novel host species with which they have no evolutionary history. Our results show that host suitability for specialized organisms like endoparasitoids is closely linked with phylogenetic history and macro-evolution as well as local adaptation and micro-evolution. We argue that the importance of novel interactions and ‘ecological fitting’ based on phylogeny is a greatly underappreciated concept in many resource–consumer studies.