For yourself, you might be perfectly happy to dump a can of tuna on top of some lettuce and call it lunch (or dinner, or breakfast…). Even if you’re cooking for a family, the pressure is low and you’re probably familiar with everyone’s tastes. But what if you’re in charge of feeding a group?
With the holiday season coming up, parties and family dinners can quickly turn into a headache – but they don't have to be! Here’s a guide to making it all work.
Party Hosting Tips
Planning your Menu
If you’re following traditional menu (e.g. turkey and cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving), then it’s almost easier, because you don’t have to plan what to serve, only how to make it tasty. But even if you don’t have a traditional menu to rely on, the principle is the same: focus on what you are eating, not what you aren’t, and serve dishes that highlight what Paleo food does incredibly well:
- Fearlessly delicious meat. The low-fat shackles are off: you can cook delicious, succulent cuts of whatever you like. Whether it’s steak for a gourmet dinner or chili on Game Day, almost every occasion has some kind of classic dish that’s made to show off the meat.
- Surprisingly good vegetables. Fatphobia is just as bad for vegetables as it is for meat. Show off your chops at making vegetables so delicious they’ll disappear first!
- Totally-worth-it starches. When Paleo eaters eat starch, we eat it in style - no huge vats of gluey and flavorless pasta or soggy bread!
The foundation of a gourmet menu is meat and vegetables, cooked in ways that bring out their natural flavors instead of hiding them, and seasoned with rich spices and plenty of fat. If it’s impressive enough for high-end restaurants it’s impressive enough for your guests!
A few other general tips for meal planning:
- If you’re feeding vegetarians or vegans, don’t make them starve on salad and broccoli all night. Serve at least one filling course that meets their diet restrictions (here’s one, just for example), and do them an extra favor by not giving them grief about it.
- If you’re feeding other people’s kids, bear in mind what kinds of foods they’ll expect to find. For the sake of everyone having a pleasant time, you may want to stock up on hot dogs and easy mac – not because “kid food” is nutritionally adequate or in any way appropriate for any human being to eat, but because you can’t force other people to make their kids eat Paleo if they don’t want to, and as the host your job is to give your guests a pleasant evening that isn’t summarily interrupted by a temper tantrum over broccoli.
- You don’t want to spend the whole evening in the kitchen without ever seeing your guests: look for recipes that you can make at least partly ahead, and recipes that aren’t terribly fiddly. For complicated menus, it helps to make a kind of “timetable” of what you’re going to cook and when, and pin it up in the kitchen (assume that everything will take 10 minutes longer than it says on the recipe). Alternately, if it’s that kind of party, you could ask the guests to help you cook.
- Unless you're hosting for a tribe of foodies or fellow Paleo eaters, serve dishes familiar enough that people won’t be intimidated. Don’t go for something “weird” like liver – yes, it’s real food, and yes, it’s extremely nutritious, but most people are not adventurous eaters; they want options that are familiar to them.
- Consider a seasonal menu. Plan your meal around something seasonal, and you’ll be getting fresh ingredients at their finest.
Managing Non-Paleo Food and Expectations
Even if you serve the most delicious, gourmet-restaurant steak and salad, most people will expect bread with it because that’s what they’re used to seeing. You’re going to have to decide what you want to do with this. Here are some potential ways you could manage it:
- Play Paleo ambassador and explain to your guests that you don’t serve bread (or whatever else they might be expecting) in your house.
- Sneak an “accidentally” Paleo meal under the radar by making everything so delicious they don’t miss the junk. It’s not a “Paleo meal” it’s just the best food they’ve ever tasted…that just so happens not to involve any grains or legumes! If you go this route, bear in mind that most people expect to find a starchy side dish with their meal. A plate of roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes can send them there instead of leaving them wondering where the bread is.
- Make a Paleo-ified version of whatever you’re expected to serve (Paleo bread, Paleo cookies, Paleo cake for birthdays, etc.). Fair warning: you probably will not be able to pass this off as the “normal” version.
- Serve non-Paleo food because that’s what people expect. You can either serve it yourself or ask them to bring whatever they prefer. You can eat it yourself or simply let others enjoy it if they choose.
There’s no right answer; it’s all about what works for you and your guests.
And now the fun part: what to eat! It’s impossible to cover every occasion, but here are some menu suggestions for a few potential needs.
Appetizers and Finger Food
Potlucks (and Similar Events):
With potlucks, you want something that’s relatively inexpensive to make for a big crowd, easy to store and transport, and a classic crowd-pleaser. Here are some ideas:
Casual Dinner with Friends
|Italian-inspired menu||Roast Chicken Feast||BBQ Party|
|Starter/appetizer||Egg and pesto stuffed tomatoes (one per guest) or oven-roasted garlic cabbage.||Wild Mushroom Soup||Oven-fried pickles|
|Main course||Herb prosciutto stuffed steak||Butterflied roast chicken||Portobello burgers (or Aussie burgers, if you’re brave)|
|Side dish 1||Tomato spinach salad||Roasted acorn squash and shallots||Spicy sweet potato wedges|
|Side dish 2||Zucchini mushroom pasta||Ratatouille stuffed zucchini||Fresh summer salad|
Dinner Party for Adventurous Foodies
- Starter/appetizer: basil cinnamon cranberry chicken and heart pâté.
- Main course: spiced duck breast.
- Side dish 1: roasted bone marrow served on a bed of arugula.
- Side dish 2: warm winter salad.
Game Day Party
For something like the Superbowl, here’s a menu of many smaller dishes for easy snacking: think of it as more like a tapas-style meal than a traditional three-course dinner.
- BBQ Chicken Wings
- BLT Dressed Eggs
- Slow-cooker buffalo chicken meatballs
- Sweet potato fries
- Miniature Portobello pizzas (vegetables!)
- These three Superbowl recipes: buffalo drumsticks, Paleo fries with herbs, and spiced nuts.
Looking for Thanksgiving recipes and menu ideas? Here you go! And keep watching the site: more will be coming up in a later post!