If the word "potluck" conjures up images of weird 70s-style casseroles or church basement get togethers, you're probably not alone. But times have changed. Potlucks are having a moment with modern parents.
And why not? They're kind of brilliant. Yes, we want to hang out with other families, but for many of us the thought of planning and hosting a huge party brings on hives. Potlucks let everyone share the feeding of folks, so you can get a crowd together without stressing the snacks. They're also super kid friendly, so grownups actually get to have real conversations with other adults! Where I live, parents have been hip to this approach for awhile, and I've learned a few tricks to make potlucks fun and delicious.
The best potluck I ever attended had a a theme and a title - "Meatball Madness". Everyone brought their best meatballs and some good bread, and the host supplied a huge green salad and cooked pasta. It was a blast, and everyone hung out for hours and left happily stuffed. There are so many ideas that would work here it's hard to choose. You could slow cook a pork shoulder, supply the corn tortillas and have everyone bring their favorite fillings for a taco party. I've always wanted to host a pizza potluck. Or how about Tex-Mex! All Appetizers! Desserts! Only Betty Crocker recipes! If you go this route, make sure you define it well for everyone and decide what you'll supply to round things out.
If you go the free-for all route, try having folks sign up for a category - drinks, appetizers, main dish, dessert, etc. There are some great online tools to help with this. I like PerfectPotluck.com because it does most of the work for you. Type in your expected number of guests and it will tell you exactly what you need, down to the number of napkins. You email the invite and folks rsvp and sign up for a dish all in one place. Easy peasy.
If you're up for it, it's fun to make a few pitchers of a fun drink for the grown ups. Margaritas in warm weather, or spiked cider in the winter months always work. Just make sure you have some back up beer or wine. And if you want folks to BYOB, make it clear on the invite.
A cooler stocked with easily accessible juice boxes will reduce spills, save cups and keep everyone happy (and hydrated).
Relax and have fun. Really. And don't forget to eat!
Nothing stresses out a potluck host more than when everyone shows up with a raw veggie platter instead of the casserole they said they were making. Also, make a bit more than you think you might need. In a potluck situation, it's better to have a little too much than not enough.
Best potluck practice? Bring something warm and ready to serve. But if you'll need a brief reheat, make sure you let your host know in advance. And be flexible - the oven may be full right up to party time.
Reduce your host's stress by coming prepared. Potholders or a kitchen towl to put your dish on, a ladle or spatula for serving, Maybe even a trivet to protect the table. The less you have to borrow from your host's kitchen the better.
If you have leftovers, take them. Your host doesn't want to sort out 15 casserole dishes, then wash and return them. Wrap it back up and bring it on home. Same goes if your dish is empty, of course.