My husband really wanted us to go with pizzas for my son’s First Communion party, especially once we branched out from immediate family and invited some extra uncles and cousins, but I promised him I’d plan real food well and make it an unstressful day.
If you’re reading into that and assuming that I’m usually a basketcase for big events when I’m trying to do all real food, you might be right. It might be more of a stressed-in-the-head-and-short-tempered case than a real basket, but I’m not committing. I plead the fifth.
As it turned out, we fed 18 adults and a handful of children for a lunch, and we had enough food for at least 25. We arrived home from the First Communion right along with everyone else, so logistically, that’s always tricky because you can’t be in the kitchen preparing things for the hour or two before guests descend on your home.
I’m very proud to say that my husband’s assessment after the fact was, “You did it, babe. It was a really good party; you pulled it off.” The amazement in his voice was the part that said, “Whoa, I really didn’t think you could do it without seeming stressed…”
He was also justifiably surprised that the entire week had included more, “I was really productive and felt good about my day,” sort of days than the, “Ahhhhhhhhhh I didn’t get anything done today and am SO behind on my LIIIIIIIIIIIST!” kind of days.
Not that I know anything about those.
It’s all about what my high school Math teacher used to preach, the 7Ps: “Prior Proper Planning Prevent [Pretty] Poor Performance.” (That’s been edited for a family-friendly blog.)
I started planning the menu over a week in advance, and I worked backward to prepare stuff all. week. long.
It paid off! Everyone had plenty to eat, truly enjoyed themselves, my attitude remained good (plus I knew the consequence would be pizza at all future parties if I failed), and we had leftovers that lasted us a good many days of lunches and parts of dinner.
The Party Menu Plan
This real food party menu plan should feed about 25 people, so adapt it up or down (or just enjoy the leftovers) if you need to.
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- Nachos made with taco meat, cheese, tortilla chips from Costco
- Black bean dip from Real Food, Real Easy!
- Homemade guacamole
- Salsa – hot and mild
Those nachos were long gone before I even thought to snap a picture…
- Homemade individual pizzas, both whole wheat and gluten-free
- I used this recipe in the breadmaker with only 1 tsp. yeast to make almost a dozen 8-10″ pizzas and pre-baked the crusts.
- I used a gluten-free buckwheat crust from Nourishing Meals (that I did test a few weeks in advance) for another dozen crusts.
- They baked as many as I could fit at a time on my baking stone and even larger cast iron griddle from Mighty Nest, and we managed to not mix any of them up that I know of. (I use that thing all the time, btw, in the oven and on the stovetop.)
- Toppings included:
- pepperoni (conventional because the health food store was out of Applegate…you do what you can! But I only bought one small package and bulked up on other, better meats)
- homemade sausage (cooked way in advance and frozen)
- well-sourced bacon
- shredded cheese (I tossed my husband a bone and said I’d buy pre-shredded, but I could have found time to shred my own, I’m sure of it!)
- pizza sauce
- red peppers
- Big bowl of lettuce with raw red onion, diced red pepper, feta cheese and the veggies from the appetizer plus homemade dressings
- The gluten-free pasta salad for a crowd that I posted yesterday
- Veggies cooked in pasta sauce with cheese – red pepper, green beans, broccoli and corn, all from frozen
- Cut fruit
I made a gluten-free buckwheat spice cake from Nourishing Meals that we tested a few weeks before – see how far in advance I started planning? I adapted the “spice” to just be “vanilla bean” with raspberries inside.
I used a very unique frosting on top and kept the decorating simple, which is the prime reason I was sitting on the couch with my husband when my parents arrived at 10 p.m. instead of still frosting the cake, which is what I’m normally doing when they get to our house before any child’s birthday party! There’s no sweetener in this healthy frosting at all, which is amazing…
We served it with Breyer’s ice cream, and it was a hit.
Essential Keys to Planning
When I write out a plan (and, ahem, stick to it), things generally go pretty smoothly. This is my superhero process:
- Write everything down in an organized way, beginning with the food.
- Figure out any prep that needs to be done for a certain dish – for example, when I make homemade potato salad for gatherings, which is often, I start days in advance making sure I have enough homemade mayo, then boiling some eggs and baking potatoes (preferably when the oven is already on for something else), and then the day before I can piece it all together.
- Make shopping lists – if you do need any items that you don’t already have on hand, go shopping early in the week to get that out of the way and so you can prep everything before the last minute.
- Work backward through your week – write every food item and prep job in on a day of the week so that you know exactly what you need to do on any given day and don’t end up planning 6 hours of work on one day. Include planning your shopping trip!
- Frontload the prep as much as possible – I looked for anything that could be done far in advance, like the pizza crusts that I froze, and put as much at the beginning of the week as I could. Two reasons for that:
- I knew that many things, like cutting raw veggies, HAD to be taken care of the day before the party, so I wanted to have time and space for that.
- A front-heavy week means that if I miss some items on my list, I’m not completely overwhelmed at the end with 50 “to do” items on Friday. Did I mention I have 3 kids, one of them who is 20 months and doesn’t always nap, and I still had to feed them all week long? 😉
- Delegate – I asked my mother-in-law to bring cut fruit and my mom to bring cut veggies. Not to brag, but in this case I actually could have done both as well, but it was nice to sit on the couch by 10 p.m. Friday instead of running around like a crazy woman at that time. Not that I know anything about something like that…
- Plan your dishes – I hope that doesn’t sound crazy, but I did write down what serving bowls/platters everything was going to go into, so that I didn’t have to think as much Saturday morning (we had to be at church by 9:30 a.m.). I could get everything out and had a clear vision of what would go where when we walked in the door 5 minutes before our guests.
- Minute-by-minute list might be needed – if you do have a situation where you need to serve people food as you’re all arriving at your house from the same event, be it a Baptism, Communion, Graduation, Sporting event, etc., you’ll want a detailed plan of attack for that moment you walk in the door.
- What can be already in bowls ready to serve?
- What needs to get cooking immediately?
- What items/pots/dishes/etc. can be laid out on the counter ready to be put together in a moment?
- What can others do to help? They’ll offer, and life is easier if you have a ready answer.
My Planning Lists
I was lucky that there were some things I already had on hand: black beans in the freezer, plenty of homemade yogurt made up (our raw milk day is Friday, so I usually make a gallon of yogurt then), red peppers in the freezer from summer. If I hadn’t had black beans in the freezer, we would have had black bean soup for dinner or something and I’d pull 4 cups from that batch for the dip. For the rest of the food, I scheduled it carefully.
When I blocked out my week, it looked something like this:
- Strain yogurt for yogurt cheese (in the dip)
- Go grocery shopping
- Soak dough for whole wheat pizza crusts
- Wrap present for party
- Have tacos for dinner; make extra taco meat and freeze for Saturday
- Bake pizza crusts in the afternoon; freeze
- Morning omelets with a ton of extra mushrooms, red peppers, and onions. Pulled most of the veggies to be pizza toppings. Also cooked a pound of bacon and incorporated a little bit into the omelets, saving the rest for pizza toppings. This was hardly any more work than a normal breakfast, and I ticked some big things off my prep list!
- Clean house
- One more grocery shopping trip
- Bake cake
- Soak and make frosting (needs to refrigerate overnight)
- Thaw black beans
- Make veggie dip
- Cook GF pasta; cut some veggies for the pasta salad
- Thaw things that need to come out of the freezer
- Cut any raw veggies that haven’t already been done
- Make guac, bean dip
- Mix up pasta salad
- Frost cake
- Lay out pretty clothes
My Saturday morning to-do list wasn’t very long:
- Have simple oatmeal breakfast
- Get things out that I didn’t already do the night before
- Get everyone dressed and polished
- (I think I might have had Paul make the guac that morning, come to think of it…)
- Put frozen veggies in the pot
- Add raspberries to the cake
- Delegate cutting fresh flowers from the garden for the table
And finally, my minute-by-minute plan of attack for the moment I walked in the door was something like this:
- Turn oven on for nachos.
- Spread chips, meat, cheese on my stainless steel baking sheet, which was already out and ready to go.
- Get out the bean dip, guac, sour cream, and salsas and delegate someone to put in our fun Mexican serving dishes.
- Delegate someone else to get the cut veggies into the veggie serving tray with the dip in the middle.
- Turn the heat on under the side veggies (which were already in the pot since they started out frozen) and dump in the pasta sauce a few minutes later (which was already on the counter ready to go).
- Check list…
- Start preparing ingredients for pizzas.
I even do my best not to use disposables at parties, so we used real plates, utensils, and cloth napkins.
Even the clean-up wasn’t that bad (thank you, dishwasher) and we had already planned to go out to eat for dinner, which made everyone happy.
What’s your favorite strategy for serving real food to MANY?
Other posts about entertaining with real food: