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How to Plan a Menu

Hosting a Dinner Party? Read This Beforehand!

When it comes to cooking, there's nothing more rewarding than serving your friends and family at a party. Whether it be a dinner, baby shower, or birthday bash, crafting the perfect menu is crucial to an event's success. From your guests' dietary needs to the occasion to the season, there's a lot to consider when planning a menu. Don't be overwhelmed, I've got a handful of suggestions to keep in mind the next time you're deciding what to serve.

  • Being a good hostess means that you make guests feel welcome and comfortable, that's why it's important to think about their diets. Don't serve a meat-heavy menu if you have vegetarians in attendance. A friend allergic to gluten? Offer a gluten-free meal. While you may have to think outside the box, there are millions of dishes in the world; it can be done!
  • If it's easier for you to cook with a theme, like rustic Italian, casual Californian, or traditional Spanish, do so!
  • Unless you are highlighting a special item on purpose, (like serving a blood orange meal, where each course features blood oranges), make sure there isn't too much of one ingredient. Too much cheese or starch or vegetables will result in an unbalanced meal.

Get the rest of my tips — and share yours! — after the jump.

  • Stay within your comfort zone as a cook and hostess. If you prefer to serve something you've made before, do it!
  • Know your limits. When hosting a last-minute or impromptu party, don't select a menu that's too complicated to make. Also avoid dishes that require kitchen equipment you may not have or ingredients you won't be able to find.
  • Choose dishes that can be prepared in advance.
  • When serving dishes that can't be made in advance, have your mise en place, so the item can be made as quickly as possible.
  • Select recipes that feature in-season produce. You'll save money by cooking with ingredients that are at their peak.
  • Consider the weather: on a hot day, no one wants to eat a hearty stew, and in the middle of Winter, people crave warming comfort foods. Don't forget about the occasion either. If you're hosting a bridal shower, serve items the guest of honor will love!
  • Think about the cooking methods, textures, and aromas of the dishes and colors of the ingredients. This will add depth and complexity to your meal.

What's your secret to planning a great menu? Tell us below!

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