Smart Shopping: Game Plan for Entertaining

Shopping for your week's groceries is always a puzzle. How do you get everything you need in one shot and avoid midweek runs for forgotten items? Here are some tips from the Food Network Kitchens.

Smart Shopping: Game Plan for Entertaining

If you’re planning on entertaining this week, here’s how to build 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 couple money- and time-saving tips, we’ve got you covered this week.

First thing’s first: To give yourself a bit of a wiggle room, buy some fillers. Fillers are easy snacks that require no cooking, just opening containers and transferring into serving vessels (or not!) so your guests have something to nibble on when they walk through the door. Hand them a drink, show them the snacks, and you’re on your way.

  • Antipasti bar: Look for your market’s antipasti bar and stock up on olives, pickles, caperberries, roasted peppers and hearts of palm.
  • Crackers or bread: With a nice box of crackers or a good artisanal loaf, you’ve bought yourself some great options. Serve 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.
  • Nuts: If you don’t already have some nuts lying around, buy a couple varieties. Your guests can snack as they have a drink prior to dinner. If you have leftovers, store nuts in the freezer; they’ll keep longer.
Old Fashioned Spaghetti and Meatballs

Old Fashioned Spaghetti and Meatballs

Photo by: Tara Donne © Tara Donne

Tara Donne, Tara Donne

Old Fashioned Spaghetti and Meatballs

Now, let’s talk about large-batch recipes, or recipes that are easy to double and even triple without breaking the bank. What are your favorite recipes to make in a large pot? We love soups, stews, chili and pasta. So maybe throw a couple of these cost-efficient ingredients into your cart:

  • Canned beans: Stock up on cannellini, black and red kidney beans. With cannellini beans, you can make white-bean soups with hearty Swiss chard and baby meatballs. Try making a big batch of your favorite three-bean chili and offer your guests a chili topping bar with a variety of fun toppings like corn chips, avocado, green onions, crumbled Cotija cheese and yummy hot sauces.
  • Frozen vegetables: Frozen vegetables are a fantastic, economical way to be prepared to feed a large group at any given moment. With a couple bags of frozen peas, you can make a delicious pureed pea soup. Or, stock up on variety packs of veggies for a tasty, healthy vegetable noodle soup.
  • Pasta: A hero in any entertainer’s book. A couple of boxes of pasta can feed an army — literally. Stock up on a couple different shapes and sizes and make your favorite pasta sauce to go with it; whether it’s a tomato, cream or meaty Bolognese sauce, your guests will be satisfied.
  • Russet 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 a baked 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 range of cheeses, some chopped herbs; the options are endless.
Food Stylist:  Anne Disrude 
Prop Stylist: Leslie Siegel


Food Stylist: Anne Disrude Prop Stylist: Leslie Siegel

Photo by: Tina Rupp

Tina Rupp

Food Stylist: Anne Disrude Prop Stylist: Leslie Siegel

Are you entertaining for the holidays or a special family dinner? Here are some protein ideas that you can tackle ahead of time. Think about large cuts of meat you can cook in the oven or slow cooker.

  • Pot roast: Always a crowd-pleaser. Rich, succulent beef, cooked for many hours that falls apart with the touch of a fork. A great cut to throw in your slow cooker to save oven space, as well.
  • Turkeys and hams: Classics. So many variations, all delicious. And usually enough to feed at least a dozen people with leftovers for sandwiches the next day.
  • Ribs: Not often thought of as holiday fare, but perfect for entertaining, especially a crowd. Who doesn’t love ribs? And because they come in large slabs, they work very well in this situation.

We’ve talked big-batch items and meats, so now let’s talk about what produce to throw into your cart to make up easy sides:

  • Root vegetables: Potatoes, beets, carrots, parsnips and winter squashes are all perfect for cutting into uniform pieces, tossing in olive oil, salt and pepper and roasting on a sheet tray in the oven. Hearty and filling, yet simple and elegant; great for a crowd. If it’s spring or summertime, choose asparagus, zucchini or yellow squash.
  • Cabbage: Cabbage is the never-ending vegetable. Shred up a whole green or red cabbage, and you can make a bottomless bowl of coleslaw (make it the day before to save yourself time; it just gets better overnight). Or braise a couple of shredded cabbages in apple cider vinegar for a hearty, comforting side dish to a braised meat.
  • Braising greens: Perfect for stovetop side dishes, these greens can be cooked in a large, shallow pot for hours. Try collards, kale, mustard greens or even chard, with a little rendered bacon fat, some vinegar and a diced chile for kick. Remember: Greens cook down because they have high water content, so buy more than you think you need.
  • Salad stuff: Arranged salads are a great way to serve a crowd. On a large platter, arrange a bed of greens (romaine, arugula, spinach, whatever you like best) and then top with a variety of classic salad ingredients; this way, picky eaters can choose the toppings they like best and everyone is happy. So, add a couple bags of lettuce to your cart, maybe some baby cherry tomatoes, crumbled blue or goat cheese, slivered almonds or chopped walnuts; get creative. And serve your dressing on the side so the salad doesn’t get soggy.
Angel Food Cake; Alton Brown

Angel Food Cake; Alton Brown

Photo by: Tara Donne

Tara Donne

Angel Food Cake; Alton Brown

When you’re entertaining, you need to consider some dessert options. Here are some ideas for items you can pick up to make your entertaining a bit smoother, and definitely more delicious.

  • 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. Elegant, simple and easy for a crowd.
  • Family-sized ice cream: Is there anything more fun than an ice cream sundae bar? Buy a couple gallons of ice cream (maybe in a couple different flavors for fun) and then go wild in the baking aisle with chocolate chips, sprinkles, hot fudge and caramel sauces. Everyone can make their own sundae, so it’s sure to be a hit.
  • Flour, sugar, eggs and butter: Get baking! Entertaining screams for pies, tarts, cakes, cookies and brownies. If you’re entertaining midweek, try baking on the Sunday before when you have a bit more time. Homemade desserts are easy to make ahead. Check out for endless sweet-tooth ideas.

With these grocery shopping ideas, you’re not only going to look like a calm and collected host, you’re going to have fun while you do it. And don’t forget to ask for help. When your guests call and ask what they can bring, task them with a dessert, a bottle of wine or even a portable side dish. Happy entertaining!

Before you head to the store, make sure your pantry is stocked, and check out more smart shopping strategies and recipe ideas from Food Network.

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