While there's nothing wrong with hosting a themed buffet dinner, such as a Hawaiian luau or Mexican fiesta, you needn't limit yourself to just one type of food. Whether you're celebrating New Year's Eve, an anniversary or graduation, an open house or just hosting a family gathering, choose foods that are practical for this type of serving style.
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Provide appetizers that guests can nibble before everyone arrives and the actual buffet begins. Your guests can bring hor d'oeuvres or you can serve easy-to-prepare crackers and cheese, oven-toasted egg rolls, shrimp with a cocktail sauce, spiced nuts, olives and vegetables with a dip. Set the appetizers on the buffet table, to be moved to one side once the rest of the food arrives.
Spend some time preparing the buffet foods to make it easier for your guests to serve themselves. Cut the cheese, slice the quiche and make sure the spiral ham is separated completely into distinct slices.
Start your buffet with a colorful salad, making sure to incorporate some vegetarian protein for those who don't eat meat. A typical assortment might include:
- A green salad with ingredients that make it special, such as blue cheese or Parmesan, walnuts, cucumbers or heirloom tomatoes. Or, go with a more trendy kale salad with mango chunks and avocado.
- A hearty whole-grain salad made with brown rice, bulgur or quinoa, and flavored with raisins, dried apricots, toasted nuts and pomegranate seeds.
- A fruit salad, with watermelon and feta cheese if the buffet takes place in the summer. Switch to apple or pear slices, celery, walnuts and thinly sliced fennel for the winter.
Although it's not necessary to have a main course, per se, on the buffet menu, you do want a few dishes that are more filling than cheese and crackers. Serve one of these more substantial dishes:
- Noodles. Turn pasta into hearty fare by adding either chicken or tofu and an assortment of vegetables, such as cabbage and sliced bell peppers. In the winter, serve a satisfying sausage or mushroom lasagna.
- Sandwiches. Provide classic combinations, such as roast beef on crusty Kaiser rolls, or try something different, such as country ham on biscuits or an array of different types of salami and Italian cheeses with muffuletta, or olive salad on top.
- Rice Dishes. Add red beans, shrimp and bacon for a Southern-style dish or add pesto, garbanzo beans, shrimp and cherry tomatoes for a Mediterranean feel.
- Meals in a bowl. Serve chili, cassoulet or an Asian rice bowl with meat and vegetables for something different at the buffet. These dishes are thick enough that your guests won't spill even though they may be standing.
No party is complete without something sweet. For a formal buffet, serve small, specialty cookies, and for a casual affair provide large chocolate chip or peanut butter cookies. Slices of a chocolate or lemon cake work with any level of formality. Give guests a less-filling alternative of fresh strawberries that you've dipped halfway in chocolate.