Four Factors to Consider When Planning a Menu

By Donni Jones

So you're hosting a dinner party. Feeling overwhelmed? Well stress not, because there's only one real thing to focus on--the food! Once you've got that covered, the rest is just minor stuff. The first step to providing your guests with a memorable, satisfying meal is to plan the menu. You can use these four tips as a guide.

Spring toast
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Balance

A close-up of a meal consisting of chicken, vegetables, rice
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Focus on providing a well-rounded meal. This is a good place to start. Typically, this consists of an entrée , side dish, vegetable, and dessert (and appetizers if you want to kick it up a notch). Plan your menu around these four basics. For example: pan-seared chicken breasts with mushroom sauce, buttered noodles, snow peas, and black cherry sorbet. Or three-meat lasagna, garlic bread, garden salad, and vanilla ambrosia. Both of these examples balance each other nicely and cover all of your bases.

Variety

Chicken salad with avocado
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Another aspect to consider is variety. Make sure your menu mixes things up a bit-- you want your meals to have color. For example, baked fish, mashed potatoes, steamed cauliflower and rice pudding may sound like a hearty meal, however, aesthetically it's all white and misses the mark. Food should be appealing to the eyes AND the belly. A menu that contains baked fish, roasted red potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower and fig-raisin rice pudding is both appetizing for the stomach and the eyes. Texture is another way to add variety to a menu. Turkey medallions, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, and brownies make for a fair menu, but all the foods are soft and creamy. Try mixing and matching textures by including soft, crunchy, crispy and creamy foods.

Occasion

Table setting for an event party or wedding reception
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It's also important to consider the type of event you're planning for-- the elegance of the event should match the elegance of the menu. If it's a professional dinner party, a formal banquet or an elegant occasion such as a wedding, then upscale fare is usually the way to go. On the other hand, for an informal book club meeting or backyard get-together, more casual repast would be appropriate.

Dietary Restrictions

Professional nutritionist writing medical records
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When planning a dinner party it's a good idea to know your guests preferences. Perhaps your clients have a special diet that they follow: low fat, vegetarian or vegan, low-carb or kosher. Or they may have medical conditions, like allergies, that prohibit them from eating sugar, eggs, gluten, salt or dairy. If so, plan your menu accordingly. A vegan sample menu includes portabella mushrooms, wild rice, green beans, and strawberry applesauce. A low-carb sample menu could be bunless bacon cheeseburgers, sesame noodles, roasted turnips, and lemon-lime gelato.