How to Host a Potluck — A Great Big Meal

By: Marisa McClellan

When my parents got married in 1970, they did so on a grassy hilltop, overlooking San Francisco. The reception afterward was held in a rented church hall and the meal was potluck. My wedding, which was held in my cousin’s backyard 39 years and one month later, was similarly catered.

I’ve been to hundreds of potlucks, large and small, in my 32 years here on Earth. From the weekly Monday night potlucks at my childhood church to the decidedly basic college potlucks of cheese, chips and bean dip, I find that there is always something joyful in the act of gathering to share food.

This time of year, as we head into the busyness of the school year and the rush of the holiday season, it can be easy to lose touch with friends and family. Put a few get-together dates on the calendar and plan to potluck the meal. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re the one who’s hosting.

Feel no obligation to scrub your house from top to bottom. Potlucks are about sharing the work cooking and being with people you like. Your friends have equally towering laundry piles and dog hair that needs to be swept, too.

  • Unless you specifically assign it to a guest, a potluck host should provide plates, utensils and glasses. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can use your regular plates and cutlery. However, if you can’t bear the idea of all those dishes, no one will judge if you go disposable.
  • As the host, it’s a good idea to cook up something that includes protein and a green vegetable. Even if everyone else shows up with bread, wine and dessert, at least you know bellies will be full and satisfied. My in-a-pinch casserole that fits this bill is made with cooked whole grain pasta, jarred tomato sauce, ricotta and frozen spinach. Top it with a handful of shredded cheese and bake until bubbly.
  • Try to relax and not worry too much about who is bringing what. The very best potlucks all have a faint air of culinary adventure to them.
  • Save your empty quart-sized yogurt containers and put them out when it comes time to clean up. If there are leftovers, this will make it easy for people to share them and pack up.
  • Don’t be afraid to accept cleanup help. This is a potluck, not a dinner party. Sharing in the work is just part of the fun.

Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. She grew up attending weekly potlucks and even had a potluck wedding. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars . Her first cookbook will be published by Running Press in Spring 2012.

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