Potlucks Are on Pause—Here’s How to Serve Individual Portions (Without Driving Yourself Insane)
Safety first, folks.
In this year of social distancing, everything you thought you knew about entertaining may feel useless, but take a deep breath, wash your hands, and know this: If you’re inclined to host loved ones safely, you’re probably already doing the right thing.
Great hosts help their guests feel comfortable, they help people relax and create a good time to make the stresses of everyday life evaporate when we come together. Sure, we may have to come together further apart this year, in smaller groups and from measured (or digital) distances, but you can still host a summer, fall, or winter get together following CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID and stay sane. Read up on how to safely host guests outside during a pandemic and plan a menu prioritizing individual portions to keep everyone safe and happy. Stumped on what to serve at your gathering? Try these tips and recipes below for a pain-free, potluck-free hang.
Individually-wrapped snacks and treats are the easiest way to ensure each bite is sanitary without any extra effort. Snack-size packages of hummus, guacamole, cut veggies, mini cheese wheels, and plenty of processed foods are available at most big box stores and Boxed.com. Pandemic season isn’t the time to be passing around a bottle of ketchup or a dish of homemade sauce either, so stock up on individual condiment packets and place them at each station or seating area for guests to use at their liking. Load up on individual packets of soy sauce, mayo, hot sauce and more at Webstaurant Store.
Go big (at home).
Big-batch meals are meant to share, but they’re also super-easy to portion out. Whether you’re making a big pot of gumbo, clam chowder, or pasta salad, whip up your group dish the way you usually would. Then, instead of serving buffet style, ladle single portions into individual ramekins, paper dishes, or any other size-appropriate serving pieces you have around the house. If you don't feel like cooking, that's also fine. You can use the same method after buying big batches of takeout, or springing for full gourmet meals from restaurants (like Fig & Olive's recently-introduced Family Meals, which include a three-course dinner for four).
Get creative with containers.
Saving takeout containers can help pre-portion snacks and meals, but plenty of other household items can help keep guests safe. Consider filling shot glasses and silicone or disposable cupcake wrappers with condiments, dips, or sauces that would typically be in larger bowls.
Prep with mason jars.
If you’d prefer to portion cold food in advance, buy a set of mason jars, which will seal and preserve dishes for days (though the sooner, the better). Fill them with homemade slaw, pasta salad, or dip topped with crunchy crudites. The jars will be ready to grab out of the cooler or off a tray when guests are ready to indulge!
Stick to skewers.
Grilling hamburgers and hot dogs can certainly be done safely, but to prevent queues of hungry guests with open buns near the grill, consider a dish that can be distributed safely by a masked grill master. Meat, seafood, and veggie skewers can all be seasoned and assembled ahead of time, thrown onto the grill for a few minutes, and served safely. Uncooked skewers, like fruit salad, caprese skewers, or shrimp cocktail skewers can also be prepared in advance and plated individually.
Consider one-bite wonders.
Perhaps the best single-portion meals are the ones that portion themselves out, i.e., finger food. Prepare plates featuring a spread of your one-bite dishes in advance, and distribute to each family when you’re ready to eat. Chicken wings, taquitos, soft pretzel bites, pigs in a blanket, dumplings, and tiny quiches all work for this (and can be kept warm in a 200 degree oven until it’s time to plate). Cold bites like tea sandwiches, deviled eggs, summer rolls, and crostini also work well for this. Who doesn’t want to make a meal out of appetizers?
Lay out a sheet pan.
Sheet pan entertaining makes displaying spreads and cheese plates outdoors easy, even when social distancing. For a couple or family, consider using quarter or half-sheets to lay out a spread of chips and dip, hummus and veggies, cheese and crackers, mezze and spreads, or guac and nachos.
Let the food be the bowl.
Bread bowls, hollow watermelons, coconuts, hollow avocado halves, and other easy-to-make food vessels are not only adorable ways to serve food and drink, but limit the need for single-use plastics and keep germs off your favorite plates. If you compost, the food-bowls can go straight in there when everyone’s done eating.
Think about drinks.
Cute pitchers and carafes may have to wait until 2021, but now’s the time to get cute. We all know mini-anything is adorable, and with many of us in need of small ways to lift our spirits, now’s the time to bring on the bubbly. Single serving, 187 mL bottles of cava from Segura Viudas, prosecco from Mionetto, or Usual rosé wine are all good bets.
S'mores are safe.
A backyard fire pit can be used to create socially distant s’mores. In baggies or containers, create s’mores kits with graham crackers, chocolate, marshmallows, and roasting sticks. Every guest gets one (or two) before spreading out around the fire and roasting their marshmallows for a dessert only they touch.