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The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Memorable Dinner Party Menu

Image: close up for food and wine with people visiting in the background Planning a Simple and Stress-Free Dinner Party Menu Are you stuck trying to figure out what to serve your dinner guests? Do...

close up for food and wine with people visiting in the background Image: close up for food and wine with people visiting in the background

Planning a Simple and Stress-Free Dinner Party Menu

Are you stuck trying to figure out what to serve your dinner guests? Do you have a fantastic grilled chicken recipe but are clueless about the accompanying dishes? Don't worry! Planning a casual dinner party menu doesn't have to be a daunting task.

In fact, with my simple menu-planning formula, it can be a breeze.

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The Menu-Planning Formula

If you're already a meal-planning whiz, this formula might seem too simple. But if you're unsure where to start, it provides just enough structure to fill in the gaps with dishes you love. Are you ready for it?

My Easy Menu-Planning Formula:

Main Dish + 1 Starch + 1 Vegetable + Dessert

Easy, right? These four components are all you need for a complete and satisfying dinner party menu.

Let's take a closer look at each component, and I'll also share some easy dinner party menu ideas with links to my favorite recipes!

The Star of the Show: Main Dish

Allrecipes' World's Best Pasta Sauce is a winning recipe. Check out the other recipes and menus in this post! Image: Allrecipes' World's Best Pasta Sauce is a winning recipe. Check out the other recipes and menus in this post!

If each dish in a meal were an actor in a movie, the main dish would be the leading actor. You want it to shine and be a recipe you're familiar with. It's not the time to experiment with a new dish or make something overly complicated unless you enjoy the challenge. The main dish sets the stage for the rest of the meal, so once you've decided on it, the other dishes will fall into place.

When choosing a main dish, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is there a dish you're famous for? Let your specialty dish take the center stage.
  • Is there a family favorite that your guests would love? Cater to their preferences.
  • Do you want to serve something classic or experiment with new flavors? Consider your guests' tastes.
  • What dish are you craving? Let your enthusiasm for a particular cuisine or flavor shine through in your menu.

The Perfect Accompaniment: Starch

Sarge's Barbecue on Allrecipes.com is the perfect recipe for your next barbecue. Check out the other recipes and menus in this post for your next casual dinner party. Image: Sarge's Barbecue on Allrecipes.com is the perfect recipe for your next barbecue. Check out the other recipes and menus in this post for your next casual dinner party.

Starches come in three categories: breads and whole grains, starchy vegetables, and legumes.

  • Breads and grains include various types of bread, pasta, quinoa, rice, chips, and tortillas.
  • Starchy vegetables include potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, corn, and plantains.
  • Legumes include lentils, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, and beans (which also double as a protein source).

Remember these tips:

  • You only need to serve one starch, but you can add more if you'd like.
  • Consider what complements your main dish best.
  • If your main dish has a sauce or gravy, you can serve it over mashed potatoes, rice, or quinoa.
  • Mexican food goes well with chips, tortillas, or beans.
  • Rolls or garlic bread are versatile and can complement any meal.

Colorful Delights: Vegetables

Recipe Tin Eats' carnitas are one of a kind - garlic, orange juice, succulent pork combine to make a winning Mexican recipe. See the other recipes and menus in this post to use in your next casual dinner party! Image: Recipe Tin Eats' carnitas are one of a kind - garlic, orange juice, succulent pork combine to make a winning Mexican recipe. See the other recipes and menus in this post to use in your next casual dinner party!

Vegetable sides add color and freshness to your meal. Consider the rainbow of colors in vegetables:

  • Red: tomatoes (technically a fruit!) and red peppers.
  • Yellow: yellow peppers and summer squash.
  • Green: green beans, asparagus, broccoli, green peppers, zucchini, cabbage, lettuce, and spinach.
  • Purple: red cabbage, red onions, and eggplant.
  • Orange: carrots and orange peppers.

You can choose any vegetable side recipes you like. Just remember to add some color!

Here are some tips:

  • Opt for easy vegetable recipes to focus on other tasks. Simplicity can often lead to deliciousness.
  • Consider rotating between a big salad, grilled vegetables, or roasted vegetables based on the season.
  • Feel free to use any vegetable recipes you like, as long as they add color to your meal.

A Sweet Ending: Dessert

turquoise bowl of chili with grated cheese and a tortilla chip on top Image: turquoise bowl of chili with grated cheese and a tortilla chip on top

Dessert adds the final touch to your dinner party and ensures your guests leave with a smile. Here are some broad categories to help you brainstorm:

  • Cake
  • Pie, cobblers, and crisps
  • Cookies and bars
  • Brownies
  • Custards and puddings
  • Ice cream and sorbets

Consider these tips:

  • If your main dish is simple to prepare, take a little more time for dessert. You can try making a killer cheesecake or a more complex dessert. Pair it with a simpler main dish that doesn't require constant attention.
  • If your main dish is more complicated, opt for an easy dessert. Keep it simple, like serving ice cream with delicious toppings.

Fun Dinner Party Menus (Tried and Tested)

Need some inspiration for your dinner party menus? Let's put our menu-planning formula into practice with these tried and tested menu ideas. Feel free to use them for your own entertaining!

Garlic Lime Chicken Menu:

  • Main: Garlic Lime Chicken (from Saving Dinner)
  • Starch: Mashed Potatoes
  • Veggie Side: Roasted Broccoli
  • Dessert: Mmm-Mmm Brownies (from Allrecipes), ice cream, hot fudge

Spaghetti Menu:

  • Main: World's Best Pasta Sauce (from Allrecipes) & spaghetti
  • Starch: Garlic Bread
  • Veggie Side: Green Salad with Vinaigrette or Italian Dressing
  • Dessert: Sorbet (from Spruce)

Barbecue Menu:

  • Main: Sarge's EZ Pulled Pork (from Allrecipes) and buns
  • Starch: Life-Changing Potatoes in a Foil Pan (from The Welcoming Table)
  • Veggie Side: Grilled Vegetables, Baked Beans
  • Dessert: Strawberry Shortcake (from Food Network)

Carnitas Menu:

  • Main: Pork Carnitas (from Recipe Tin Eats) (+ tortillas & fixings: Couldn't Be Easier Homemade Salsa, Sour Cream, Homemade Guacamole, White Queso)
  • Starch: Chips (& the tortillas)
  • Veggie Side: Beans, Fruit Salad
  • Dessert: Vanilla Ice Cream with Sautéed Apples (from Allrecipes), hot fudge, or caramel sauce

Chili Menu:

  • Main: Easy Homemade Chili
  • Starch: Cornbread or Chips
  • Veggie Side: Vegetable Tray with Dip
  • Extras: Shredded Cheese, Sour Cream
  • Dessert: Too Much Chocolate Cake (from Allrecipes)

Vegetarian Menu:

  • Main: Red Curry Lentils (from Pinch of Yum)
  • Starch: Basmati Rice
  • Veggie Side: Roasted Vegetables
  • Dessert: Fruit Salad

These menus, designed for casual dinner parties, have been tested and loved by many. Simply follow our menu-planning formula, and you're guaranteed to impress your guests!

Conclusion

Planning a dinner party menu doesn't have to be a source of stress. With our simple menu-planning formula, you'll have a framework to build upon. Start with a stellar main dish, add in a starch and a veggie side, and finish with a delightful dessert. It's as easy as that!

Do you have any specific dishes in mind? Need help with side dish or dessert ideas? Feel free to share your menu-planning questions in the comments below.

Meal-Planning for a Memorable Dinner Party

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