How to Plan a Menu

By now, you’re probably familiar with my love of parties. I love attending them and I love hosting them. From sending an invitation to selecting the perfect menu, I also love everything involved with planning a party. Since food is a passion, I always pay special attention to the menu. I’ve even wasted countless hours of my life searching for the ideal recipe to complete a menu! The holiday season is a great time for everyone to throw a fabulous fete, so why not start planning one today? Here’s my advice for crafting a successful menu.

Before you think about the food, there are four important things you need to consider. These elements will affect what you serve at the event.

  1. Theme. The theme is the purpose of the party. Will it be a birthday brunch? An afternoon gift exchange? A holiday cocktail party? A Hanukkah dinner? A TGIF dance party? Basically, you need to define the party.
  2. Style. After you’ve figured out why you are throwing the party, select the style of the event. Are you envisioning something casual or formal? Rustic or elegant? Down home or sophisticated?
  3. Location. The kitchen facilities of your party location will affect the menu. If there is no oven, then you have to offer food that can be enjoyed at room temperature. Planning a tailgate? All of the food should be easy to transport and able to cook on a grill.
  4. Guestlist. Although some hostesses don’t make the dietary needs of their guests a priority, I think it’s essential to a memorable party. You want your guests to feel comfortable, therefore you should make food that they are able to eat. If a bunch of vegetarians are coming to dinner, you wouldn’t offer a leg of lamb as the main course!

Now that you have a general picture of the event, you can think about what should be on the menu.

  • If you want, pick a theme for the menu, too. For a Christmas dinner, you could do an Italian feast of the seven fishes. Hosting an open house? Make a spread of Spanish tapas or easy Mexican dishes.
  • Think about the color, texture, and weight of the dishes. When serving a heavy cheesy first course, offer a lighter vegetable-based second course.
  • Don’t over use a singular ingredient. Unless you are making a special bacon meal, each dish should not have bacon in it. This would result in an unbalanced meal.
  • Select dishes that can be made ahead! Do as much cooking as you can before guests arrive.
  • Consider the season and weather. A menu that incorporates in-season produce will be more affordable because you are cooking with ingredients that are at their peak.
  • Finally, stay within your comfort zone. If you have mastered roast chicken, serve roast chicken. If you are eager to try a new recipe, try it! When the hostess is comfortable, the guests will be more at ease, too.

When you’ve finalized the menu, don’t forget to write it out on pretty paper!

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