When planning food for a party I like to keep the menu simple with a main dish and one or two sides. When you started planning the party, did you come up with a theme? Mexican food? Italian food? Did you decide if it’s sit down or a serve yourself? If you’re not sure you can ask yourself the following questions:
1. How many people are you having and do any of them have any dietary restrictions (within reason).
What does ‘within reason’ mean? My friend Patty does not eat meat but does eat everything else so I keep her in mind while planning a dinner party. Another friend Jason only likes canned corn and mashed potatoes from a box…I’m fine letting him pick around the menu (because he WILL pick around the menu).
2. Will you want to serve the food on each dinner plate and present it to each guest, or is there an area where you can lay out the buffet (like a kitchen counter or even a coffee table)?
I’m a big, big fan of one pot type dishes. I recently made the Chicken Tortellini Soup recipe on Halloween for 45 people for dinner before we went trick-or-treating. Since it’s made in a crockpot there was no slaving over the cooktop and NO stress. With groups of more than six, serving themselves is a lot less stressful for the hostess and everyone can take what they like.
3. How much of the menu can you prepare ahead of time?
Walk through your menu. Prep e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. you can ahead of time, from chopping any vegetables or proteins to making any sauces or dressings. For example, when preparing for the tortellini soup, I chopped the chicken and onion the day before, made sure the spinach was thawed, and cleaned and destemmed the grapes. Since we had 45 people I decided (obviously) that everyone would serve themselves and I set out the flatware, bowls and napkins. I even brought out the extra chairs and moved some tables around.
*I can’t say it enough – prepping ahead will take away a lot of the ‘I-have-too-much-to-do-that-will-never-get-done-and-I-am-never-doing-this-again’ and will leave time for the ‘Oh-THAT-I-completely-forgot-I-had-to-do-THAT.’
Here are a few sample menus I’ve had huge success with:
Menu One – Adult AND Child pleaser – accommodates small to very large groups:
Appetizers-pie rounds with toppings
Main Dish – Chicken Tortellini Soup
Sides – Spinach Salad with the choice of two dressings (I offered Balsamic Vinigarette and Ranch)
Grapes, destemmed and cleaned. We had 22 adults and 23 kids so grapes were a reasonable and popular side dish.
Crusty French Bread
Dessert – mini cupcakes and bite-size cookies (we were going trick-or-treating for eleventy seven pounds of candy so small desserts were a good idea)
Menu Two – Adult and Child Pleaser – small to medium (up to 16ish) crowd
Appetizer – Cheese and Fruit Platter
Main Dish – Beef Snow Peas & Carrot Stir Fry over Jasmine rice (you can substitute instant brown or white rice). I cut the meat, cleaned and chopped the snow peas and made the sauce all earlier in the day.
Side dish – Mixed Baby Greens salad, again with two choices of dressing
I also offered crusty bread because who doesn’t love crusty bread? And it will sop up all that yummy gravy left on the plate.
Dessert – Apple Crisp with Vanilla Ice Cream (I made this in the autumn were apple desserts are all the rage). Another fun dessert that is guest do-it-yourself (less work for the hostess) includes brownies (store bought or homemade), vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream and sprinkles. Put it all on the table with some bowls and let the guests have at it! This is fun for both children and adults alike. Brownie a-la-mode is a fan favorite!
Present your menu with confidence. Don’t apologize for anything. Repeat, don’t apologize…well unless you spill on a guest. Then DEFinitely apologize. Otherwise, breathe and look for the humor. Completely burned the beef stir fry? Laugh and call for pizza delivery. Your guests will laugh with you, be impressed with the way you handled it and have a funny story to tell for years. Ultimately your guests are here to see you and have a fun evening.
Take a deep breathe, toast to good friends and savor the time you’ve shared.