How to Throw a Dinner Party
Don't stress! Follow our planning tips and recipe suggestions then sit back and enjoy your guests.
Preparing for a dinner party is a bit like dressing for a special occasion: You take into account the mood you want to convey and what works for your body, you shop for whatever you don’t already own, and try on everything in advance.
Mix and match
Think of the menu as your outfit, and aim for varied flavors, colors and textures. If you’re using olives in the appetizer, leave them out of the entrée; don’t serve snow-white halibut with beige cauliflower and pale mashed potatoes; steer clear of velvety mushroom bisque followed by creamy fettuccine alfredo. Take PointsPlus® values into account while planning, too — you might have one dish that’s utterly decadent, but go leaner elsewhere.
Just as you’d set out your clothes the night before a big event, include some recipes that can be prepared ahead of time, or that taste good at room temperature — you won’t want to be making everything when the doorbell rings. Some dishes, like chili or Boeuf Bourguignon, taste better after the flavors have mingled for a day or two in the fridge. Top-quality prepared food serves the same purpose: buy charcuterie and good bread for the appetizer, or perfectly ripe, exotic fruit for a simple (and PointsPlus values-friendly) dessert. You could even buy the entrée and cook an impressive side or two — we’ll never tell.
This is more about strategy than artistry. Scour your recipes’ ingredients lists for anything not already in your kitchen, and buy shelf-stable items as well as meat — which you can freeze and defrost — well in advance. Fresh produce, except for delicate items like raspberries, can be bought several days ahead. Your objective here: avoid shopping on the day of the party unless you’re preparing something where absolute freshness is crucial, like sushi.
How much to buy depends on your recipes, of course, but here are some basic guidelines:
- 5 to 6 ounces of raw animal protein per serving — more if you’re buying meat on the bone. (When you're on Plan, your portion will still likely be 3 to 4 ounces cooked — unless you're planning to use some of your weekly PointsPlus allowance and want to splurge — but for party planning purposes these guidelines are a good rule of thumb.)
- 2 ounces of cooked pasta for a side, 4 for an entrée.
- 1 cup of vegetables for a side.
- 1/2 cup of soft desserts, like ice cream or pudding. And/or 1 slice of cake, pie or tart.
If you’re at all in doubt about quantities, buy a little more than you think you need.
Dress for success
- Plan ahead, and prep ahead. If you start that lemon tart the day before the party, you’ll know in plenty of time that it’s setting properly (or that it isn’t…).
- Keep a list, in timeline order, of all the chores that need to be done before the party.
- Have a Plan B. Sorbet and cookies in the freezer… extra olives and breadsticks at the ready. You never know when you’ll need backup (no one expects dessert to fall on the floor or the hors d’ oeuvres to burn).
- Read every recipe, including the instructions, at least one day ahead. You don’t want to discover, on the day of dinner, that something needs to chill overnight.
- Clean and set out serving dishes and utensils well in advance. Attach labels saying what will be served on which dish. Now if someone wants to help, you can just point.
- Make sure you’re stocked with glasses, dishes, silverware and table linens, and that everything is clean and ready to go at least one day before the party.
- Loosen up! After all, it’s only dinner. Your guests are coming to see you and to enjoy themselves. They don’t care if you’re not a Top Chef.