I don’t know about you, but the holiday season seemed to come out of nowhere this year. I have my first holiday Christmas party to attend this weekend. And that started me thinking about healthy party planning and the strategies I have used over the years to plan the food for holiday parties.
Things I learned while working as a caterer during the Christmas season. And tips I’ve learned over the years from my mom, aunts and other family members on how to feed a group of people easily and efficiently. Today I start by sharing some of my top holiday party planning tips. These healthy party planning tips are ideal for those of you that are hosting a cocktail party this year for the holidays. Well, really they work for any do-it-yourself party any season of the year. I focus on cocktail parties, but these tips are pretty basic, and apply to any type of food you plan to serve.
Healthy party planning begins with creating a menu with a variety of textures, flavors and colors
It is true that people eat with their eyes first. So, make sure the food looks appealing and that it has color. You can always add a bit of garnish to spruce it up a bit. There’s no need to get too elaborate. Chopping up some parsley and red bell pepper (tiny pieces) is a quick and easy way to accomplish this task. And it’s something that you can have ready ahead of time.
You also want to make sure that there are a wide variety of flavors and ingredients present. For example, stay away from repeating a flavor in more than one dish. So, if you already have a food marinated or flavored with pesto, you don’t want to have another with that same flavor. Also, I try to stay away from repeating main ingredients as well just so there is plenty of variety. That way my menu will include one recipe featuring fish, another with black beans and another with spinach, and so on.
However, if you decide to serve a menu based on a theme such as Texmex, Latin American or Asian, then similar flavors make sense, but I still recommend mixing it up with the ingredients and textures. That way it will still feel like there is some variety.
Texture is also key when planning the menu. There should be a nice balance of crunchy, chewy and creamy. This factor is just as paramount as the flavor, since texture contributes a part to the sensory experience of eating food. And just like flavor, it will influence how much you like or dislike foods.
How easy is the food to eat
Will people need a fork? Or a fork AND a knife? Will everyone have a place to sit?
These are just a few of the questions you will need to consider when planning your holiday menu. For example, if everyone won’t be seated, then the food needs to be easy to eat with fingers or a fork since people will be juggling a drink and a plate. In this instance you certainly don’t want to serve anything that requires a fork and a knife as this a difficult way to eat without a table and chair.
Also, items such as dips or cut fruit are often easier to eat with a fork, therefore, your guests may feel more comfortable eating these types of items with a fork rather than their fingers.
The main point is to think about the comfort of your guests. And, in addition to that, you also want to prevent any spills or additional mess to clean up. The more people have to juggle, the more likely a spill may occur. You don’t want to ruin your carpet or furniture, but also your guests don’t want to feel badly if they make a mess.
Difficulty of the menu
Pay special attention to this party planning tip especially if you are cooking on your own for this party. If you are hosting 50 people in your home, it may not make sense to have a labor intense item such fruit skewers on the menu. They look great, but they take time to prepare. Balance difficult to prepare items with things that will go together quickly and easily.
You may also consider ordering one or two items from a restaurant or catering company to make things a little easier. It may cost a bit more, but the peace of mind and the elimination of some of the work, may be worth it.
One final point on this party planning tip is to look for things that can be prepared ahead of time. You can make them and stick them in the freezer until the week of the party. Things that immediately come to my mind are foods such as marinated meat skewers (not cooked yet, just prepped), some dips, cookies or cakes.
How much food to provide
The time of day is going to be the biggest consideration here. Is the party scheduled around a meal time? If so, you may want to consider serving a heavier menu, unless you have specifically told people you are only providing a light snack.
Another consideration on this topic is whether or not you are serving alcohol. You want to make sure that if you do have alcohol available during the party, people have something to eat while they are drinking to help counteract some of the effects of the alcohol.
Where will you be serving the food
My suggestion here unless you have a large space, is to break up the food into different rooms. That will get people moving and keep them from all gravitating to one space. It seems like from my catering experience and from my party going experience, everyone ALWAYS ends up in the kitchen. There is just something about the comfort it evokes that lead people there naturally.
You can setup some food on the dining table, some in the kitchen and the desserts in a completely separate area. How spread out the food ends up being depends on how much space you have in your home and how many guests are attending.
Consider the logistics such as oven space, serving pieces and utensils
How will you prepare and serve everything? If you don’t have a way to keep things warm throughout the party, then this factor may be a huge consideration when choosing the foods you want to serve. Swedish meatballs may taste great but after sitting at room temperature for more than 30 minutes they won’t be appealing anymore.
I suggest, when you are creating your menu list, that you also go ahead and jot down the serving piece you want to use for each item. That way on the day of your party, you aren’t scrambling at the last minute.
Create a plan and timeline
I suggest mapping out your grocery list as far in advance as possible. Do your shopping a few days in advance. Then you can begin prepping when you have time during the week ahead of the event. There may even be some items on your menu that can be prepped and frozen ahead of time. Thus allowing you to start cooking weeks in advance.
Getting organized may not be your thing. Maybe you like just diving in and getting it done. But taking a little bit of time to think things through may actually make life a little bit easier on the day of the party. Be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to get showered and dressed for your own party.
Consider getting help
Ok, so this healthy party planning tip can take many forms. Maybe soliciting help from your family or close friends is a possibility. But you can also think about hiring someone to just come in and help for a few hours with cleanup or service during the party. Doing so allows you the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the time with family and friends during the party.
Most important party planning tip – have fun and enjoy the company of the people surrounding you.
Things don’t have to be perfect to be amazing!! The most important part of any holiday function is the time that you get to spend with the people you invite into your home. They are there for mostly for you and your presence not just the food and drinks you are providing.
Ok so now that we have discussed party planning tips to help you get organized and have the BEST holiday party, on to my recipe for vegetarian stuffed mushrooms.
Recipe ideas to help with healthy party planning this year!!!
Rosemary Soy Crackers
Spicy Black Bean Hummus
Do you have any holiday planning tips to add? How do you manage to keep it all together during this time of the year?? I want to hear from you, so please leave me a comment here or send me a message with the contact me page. And if you make any recipes on the blog, remember you can share it on Instagram and tag @cookeatlivelove!!