Perpetual Host: Menu Planning

Today the lovely Jessica is guest posting and sharing her knowledge about menu planning!

Every good host or hostess knows that the key to a great event is an unforgettable menu.  When I host an event, be it Thanksgiving dinner for the family or a brunch with my girlfriends, I find the menu planning process fascinating.  I take what I have found in my cookbooks, look to Pinterest to see what I have previously pinned and my favorite blogs like Roost in order to make a list of interesting (and yummy looking!) menu items.  Once I come up with a good list, I take to the process of editing my list until it is just right.  For me, a menu is complete when the theme of the meal shines through and I am confident that I am capable of pulling it off!

Menu planning can be as easy as throwing together what you have in the refrigerator and pantry, or it can be a creative process of curating a meal that will be both delicious and aesthetically pleasing.  It is really up to you as to whether this is a 5 minute or week long process and either way can yield amazing results.

Regardless of the actual time it takes, there are several key questions I ask myself when creating and editing my menu and I want to share a few of them with you today:

You may be hosting a fall party, dinner with friends on a Thursday evening, a baby shower brunch, or Christmas dinner, but from the most casual to uber-fancy, you should think about the vibe your meal is creating.

Combining complimentary flavors allows your guests to truly enjoy what many like to call ‘a party in your mouth’.  Personal preference is a perfect compass in this realm, but a general rule is always consider the balance of savory and sweet and the level of spice that each dish may or may not bring to the table.

Balancing the temperatures across menu items allows there to be a distinct difference in the foods your guests eat.  It’s as simple as serving as a spinach and strawberry salad with a roast and fingerling potatoes, or spicy shrimp tacos with chilled homemade guacamole, but the impact is great.

It may seem a trivial point, but the colors you place on your table and plate can add interest and excitement to a meal.  Think about the colors represented in this brunch menu:  French toast with cranberry apple compote, herb and tomato baked eggs, blueberries and a citrus fruit spritzer – white, yellow, blue, orange, red – the vibrant and varied colors represent a lively celebration with friends.

If each recipe in your menu calls for 10 different ingredients, it’s too complex!  Keep it simple when possible and if you seek a culinary challenge, choose one or two dishes that you have never tried before.  Understand the realistic amount of time it takes to make each dish and ensure that you have ample time to clean up (and shower!) before your guests arrive.

What are your favorite menu combinations?  Do you have a ‘go-to’ list of menu items that you like to pull out for special occasions or an evening in with friends?

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  • I’ve never thought about the importance of having different temperatures on the plate, but really that makes a lot of since. My most recent dinner I went super simple. I’ve been a vegetarian for about 3 months now so I tried to think of recipes that would accommodate my eating choices as well as my guest. Plus, it was cold outside so I wanted something warming. I fixed a cheesy potato soup and a fall veggie garden salad. I thought it was good.

    My biggest problems with party planning is time. I MUST manage my time better. I’m not real great at that yet.

    • I agree – I never think of these things! My biggest issue is making sure I’m not in the kitchen the whole time – I’d rather be with my guests. Also since I’m gluten free, I do like to offer choices for different diets (veg, vegan, gluten free or dairy free).

      • Allie, that’s such a great point- I will have to address the timing issue (i.e. how to stay out of the kitchen) in a tweet or future post either here or elsewhere!!

  • One of the most fun meals to plan was my bridesmaid luncheon I threw with my mom! We wanted it to be hoity toity, and spoiling for my bridesmaids! We pulled out the antique china and served everything in courses! The cucumber cake appetizer was one of the most fun dishes, but somewhat complicated. We evened it out with other simple dishes. Everything was so delicious and complemented each other so well! This is a really great post! I want to save it as a guideline for my dinner parties I will throw in my imaginary future!

  • This is really useful! I’m in the process of planning a midnight feast menu for this New Years Eve, and these pointers will be really helpful in pulling together a great menu for the evening!

    Thanks!

  • What a helpful post! About a year ago I started keeping a hostess diary to keep track of who was there, what I served, what worked, what didn’t, what I’d do different. It’s been really helpful and really enjoyable to look back at the little dinner parties. I threw a NYE party and the foods that I thought would be popular weren’t and other things were unexpectedly a huge hit. I only remember one bit of useful info from that night and probably only because I wrote it down. (People LOVE cheeseballs. I worried they’d go untouched, but they were devoured. Who knew?) It’s nice to know I have all this great information for next time I throw a cocktail party.

    Thanks for some added areas for me to consider!