This 12-month period we all exist in, tends to be pretty bottom-heavy with the majority of big family and friend get-togethers occurring in the last three months of the year. Undoubtedly, when a sizeable number of family, friends, or both come together, you know some serious eating activity is about to go down. And if you’re anything like me, a little anxiety sets in when it comes to anticipating the amounts and types of foods to prepare for a group of 20+ people. After all, my normal consists of routinely cooking for a family of 5. I must admit, however, that my personal (not professional) resume highlights my experience as a self-proclaimed short-order cook. Meaning…I’m somewhat skilled in the art of preparing multiple meals in one setting in order to meet the different dietary requirements of my family members. But again, I’m still only meal planning for 5 people.
In relation to meal planning for those groups of 20 or more people, let’s both adopt the “work smarter, not harder” mindset. We’re not going to panic when these occasions come our way because effective and efficient methods to attack the most overwhelming of tasks will always exist. So, take a look at this suggestion: why not lessen the stress and lighten the load by going buffet-style?! Let me explain. Buffets allow for:
the use of low-maintenance and interchangeable food items. Low-maintenance describes options that don’t require a lot of attention or preparation, and interchangeable describes options that you can successfully mix and match between multiple buffet themes, such as in a taco, potato, or pasta bar. You might liken low-maintenance and interchangeable food items to your side dishes and condiments. Look at the list below for examples.
the use of one main attraction (or several mini ones) that all other food items will workaround. You might liken the main attraction to your star entrée. Look at the list below for examples.
a quicker serving process. Each individual can easily serve him or herself, modeling an assembly line flow of traffic.
easier clean-up. Since the buffet set-up is self-serve, it won’t seem out of place to ask each person to throw paper and plastic disposables in the trash, place dishes and silverware in the appropriate receptacle to await cleaning, and wipe down the eating area when finished.
the appeasement of every individual’s food preferences. (Although listed last, this item is definitely not least. From an outcomes perspective, it’s the most important positive out of the 5).
List for #1: (most of these choices can be used in a taco, potato, and pasta buffet, hence they would be considered interchangeable): seasoned ground or shredded meats (like beef, turkey, and chicken), chopped green onion, chopped white/yellow onion, diced tomatoes, diced red/green/yellow peppers, minced chives, chopped or sliced jalapenos or other hot peppers, pitted and sliced black or green olives, beans (black or pinto), chili without beans, shredded or melted cheeses, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, dressings/vinaigrettes, salt and pepper, garlic powder or garlic salt, olive oil, marinara, and alfredo sauce. NOTE: shredding chopping, mincing, dicing, and slicing can be time-consuming tasks, so it’s okay to fudge a little and buy some of the veggies and cheeses already prepared for you. Remember, we’re aiming for less fuss, which translates into low-maintenance.
List for #2: hard taco shells, soft tortillas for soft tacos and burritos, and tortilla chips for the taco bar; baked russet potatoes or baked sweet potatoes (both in skins) for the potato bar; and pasta noodles (any variety of your choosing) along with some yummy pieces of toasted garlic bread for the pasta bar. NOTE: if you’re working on removing corn products from your menus, you can still have a great taco feast. Try substituting flour tortillas for the corn tortillas. And there are a lot of tasty bean chip options you can use in place of corn tortilla chips for your nachos.
To pull out all the stops, you could even get fancy and host multiple mini bars for all three buffet themes (taco, potato, and pasta) at the same time. Just make your main entrees (see “List for #2”) and then add the appropriate side dishes (see “List for #1”) and wait for the Oooo’s and Aaaah’s to roll in. You’re sure to satisfy everyone’s taste buds and appetites with this show-stopping effort. Or, you can always buy pizza. Ha! Ha!