Potlucks 101

M. and her friends are planning a big murder mystery party bash for Saturday night. (You may remember some previous ones that she and her friends have put on.) This one promises to be bigger and better and I can't wait to see all the costumes based on the advance discussions from many of the participants. To make it a bit easier on themselves, they've decided to make it a potluck. It suddenly occurred to me this morning to go over how they divided up what was being brought that the directions which they gave. You see, this is not a small party, and half the guests are young men between the ages of 16 and 21. If you've ever spent any time with this particular demographic, you know these young men are in their prime eating years. They consume a lot of food. I suddenly had visions of everyone bring a bag of chips or a small green salad and me scrounging my freezer for more food the feed the hungry hoards.

Some of you, especially if you live in areas where potlucks are common and occur often, are probably wondering at my little phobia of running out of food. I perhaps never told you about various potluck disasters which I have been witness to over the years. One of the most dire saw the guests bringing offerings in cereal bowl sized containers, if they brought anything at all. That potluck really did find my in my basement scrounging for food I could rapidly thaw and serve because there truly wasn't anything else. Everyone ended up fed, but I'm pretty sure my guests were not privy to the frantic behind-the-scenes drama. It's left me a little gun shy.

I've come to the conclusion that, at least where we live, people just don't get how to come to a potluck. (To my good friends who participate in our weekly potlucks or our history feasts, you can excuse yourselves from class now. I know you've got the basics and then some.) So, here are a couple of good rules of thumb. 

  1. You have got to make more of something than you normally prepare. If I'm bringing a side dish, I will double what I would normally make for our family. While you don't need to prepare enough food to feed every single person, it is great to bring enough so that everyone can put at least a little on their plate. It's awkward for the first people through and disappointing for the last ones if a dish is obviously only going to feed five or six people. 
  2. Choose a dish that will appeal to a large variety of people. You don't need to go completely bland, but I would probably also pass on the super hot chicken wings.
  3. These days, you need to be aware of food allergies. Go ahead and label anything that might contain the basic food allergens:  dairy, wheat, soy, nuts. This way people with allergies can enjoy the food knowing what is it in without having to track down the person who made it.
Really, though, the most important rule is the first... just bring enough. I know if you regularly cook for two people that that 8x8 pan looks pretty big, but if you consider that I make two 9x13 pans of something and never expect leftovers it helps to put things in perspective. 

I think potlucks are a great way for families to enjoy dinner together without the burden being placed on only one family's shoulders. If you've never tried this form of hospitality, give it a shot. Invite some families over who you don't get to see very often or whom you would like to know better. Everyone likes to be invited and no one really minds fixing one part of the meal. Low stress and fun, what's there no to like? (Unless of course, you find yourself in the basement staring into your freezer in complete panic mode.)


LawMommy said…
I live in abject fear of running out of food at a party because I actually did run out of food at the first Christmas party I threw as a married, grown-up in our first house. I made beef burgundy and chili, but not enough of either, and ended up making two boxes of mac and cheese because that was the only thing left in the house that could be cooked quickly...since then I have compulsively cooked too much food. (You would think I would find a balance.)

On the other hand, I suppose you can say a number of things about people from Ohio, but one thing you can say decisively is that we can seriously rock a potluck. :-)
Ann said…
I LOVE seeing your menu on the sidebar which states that we will be there on Monday. I didn't want to impose on you for dinner but would love it! Can we plan on potluck? I will e-mail you! Tomorrow we are off to Arkansas!

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