The Essential Entertaining Game Plan

Any successful party starts at the supermarket. Stock up on Food Network Kitchen's must-have party picks to host a crowd effortlessly.

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Party Smartly

If you’re planning on entertaining this week, here’s how to fill your grocery cart so you can feed a crowd but not stress out. When you entertain, think about how many people you need to feed and what kind of an event you’re having. With some supermarket savvy and a few money-saving and timesaving tips, we’ve got you covered this week.

Take a Trip to the Antipasto Bar

First things first: To give yourself a bit of a wiggle room, buy some fillers. Head straight for your market’s antipasto bar — it's the perfect place to stock up on olives, pickles, caper berries, roasted peppers and hearts of palm. You can build an easy Antipasto Platter, or set out small bites for grazing.

Go Big with Crackers or Bread

With a nice box of crackers or a good artisanal loaf, you’ve bought yourself some great options. Serve either alongside a small bowl of fruity olive oil, or a stinky block of cheese, and your guests can dip, smear and snack to their hearts’ desire.

Set Out Nuts for Snacking

If you don’t already have some nuts lying around, buy a couple of varieties. Your guests can snack as they have drinks prior to dinner. If you have leftovers, store nuts in the freezer; they’ll keep longer.

Feed a Crowd with Canned Beans

Now it's dinnertime. Zero in on dishes that can be doubled or tripled without breaking the bank. Stock up on cost-efficient cannellini, black and red kidney beans. Try making a big batch of your favorite three-bean chili and offer your guests a toppings bar with a variety of fun options, like corn chips, avocado, green onions, crumbled Cotija cheese and yummy hot sauces.

Count On Pasta

Pasta is a hero in any entertainer’s book. A couple of boxes can feed an army. Stock up on different shapes and sizes, and make your favorite sauce, or simply toss it in olive oil with garlic and herbs.

Don't Underestimate Frozen Vegetables

Frozen veggies are a fantastic, economical way to be prepared to feed a large group at any given moment. Use frozen artichokes to make a warm, cheesy artichoke dip. Or, with a couple of bags of frozen peas, you can make a delicious pureed pea soup.

Bulk It All Up with Potatoes

Count how many guests are coming over, and that’s how many potatoes to buy. You’d be surprised how happy people will be with abaked potato and a choice of toppings. A baked potato bar is a fun way to get people involved (and serving themselves). Offer up some crispy bacon bits, a variety of cheeses, some chopped herbs — the options are endless.

Don't Forget Salad

Arranged salads are a great way to serve a crowd. Arrange a bed of greens (romaine, arugula, spinach, whatever you like best) on a large platter, then top with a variety of classic salad ingredients; this way, picky eaters can choose the toppings they like best and everyone is happy. Add a couple of bags of lettuce to your cart, maybe some Kalamata olives, peppers, avocado, crumbled blue or goat cheese, and almonds or chopped walnuts. Get creative! Serve your dressing on the side so the salad doesn’t get soggy.

Bring On the Braised Greens

Perfect for stovetop side dishes, these greens can be cooked in a large, shallow pot for hours. Try collards,mustard greens and more. Remember: Greens cook down because they have a high water content, so buy more than you think you need.

Make an Easy Side Out of Roasted Vegetables

Potatoes, beets, carrots, turnips, parsnips and winter squashes are all perfect for cutting into uniform pieces, tossing in olive oil (and salt and pepper), then roasting on a sheet tray in the oven. They're hearty and filling yet simple and elegant — great for a crowd. If it’s spring or summertime, choose asparagus, zucchini or yellow squash.

Cook with Cabbage

Cabbage is the never-ending vegetable. Shred up a whole green or red cabbage to make a bottomless bowl of coleslaw (make it the day before to save yourself time and allow the dish to get even better overnight). Or braise cabbage in vinegar for a hearty, comforting side dish to a braised meat.

Serve Set-It-and-Forget-It Pot Roast

Rich, succulent beef is always a crowd-pleasing option, especially when it is cooked for so many hours that it falls apart with the touch of a fork. It's a great cut to throw in your slow cooker to save oven space, as well.

Get the Recipe: Set-It-and-Forget-It Pot Roast

Make a Big Batch of Ribs

Who doesn’t love ribs? They're not often thought of as holiday fare, but they are perfect for entertaining, especially when you're hosting a crowd. And because they come in large slabs, ribs work very well in this situation. Ree Drummond's spicy ribs can easily feed a group of 15 to 20 people, plus they're easily made in the oven.

Get the Recipe: Spicy Baby Back Ribs

Build a Family-Size Ice Cream Bar for Dessert

Is there anything more fun than an ice cream sundae bar? Buy a couple of gallons of ice cream (maybe in different flavors for fun), then go wild in the baking aisle with chocolate chips, hot fudge sauce and caramel sauce.

Or Fall Back On Bakery Department Shortcuts

Premade bakery items are ideal to get creative (and save time) in the dessert category. Buy items like shortcakes, angel food cake or pound cake, then whip your own whipped cream and top with fresh berries. You'll have an elegant yet simple dessert you can easily serve a crowd.

Don't Go It Alone

With these grocery shopping ideas, you won't only look calm and collected while hosting — you’ll have fun doing it. And don’t forget to ask for help. When your guests call and ask what they can bring, task them with bringing a dessert, a bottle of wine or even a portable side dish. Happy entertaining!

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