(BPT) - When your holiday-dinner guest list keeps growing year after year, it may be time to share the cooking. A potluck is a great way to share the load, and with just a little advance planning you can avoid ending up with 12 green bean casseroles on the dinner table.
'Don't be shy about assigning food categories to your guests,' says Ginny Bean, founder and publisher of Ginny's catalog and www.ginnys.com.'This eliminates the guesswork for them, too.' Bean suggests you start planning four to six weeks out, and following these simple tips.
* Don't overlook the non-cooks. Include categories such as beverages and paper products, or ask non-cooks to bring flowers, candles or other items to decorate the table. Those who want to help but need something easy to do can do some of the shopping for you.
* Double up. Ask at least two of the guests to make different salads, two to make different potato dishes, two people to bring different green vegetables, and two to bring pies. Plan on making the turkey, stuffing and gravy yourself.
* Make sure someone brings kid food. There's nothing worse than having kids reject all the food at the table. Make sure there's ice cream or another dessert that appeals to kids, some sparkling apple juice for a special toast, and kid-friendly items like mac and cheese or yams with marshmallows.
* Pick your battles. If someone really wants to bring a certain dish that you don't particularly want, let them bring it anyway. You never know which dish might turn into a family tradition.
* Assess your appliance needs. Ask guests to let you know ahead of time if they'll need refrigerator, oven or range-top space. The added capacity of countertop ovens and microwaves can be a godsend for big holiday meals. Plan a menu with some dishes that can be served at room temperature so you don't have too many dishes that need to be kept hot.
* Be prepared with extra serving plates, bowls and spoons. Somebody's bound to forget something. Also remind guests to label their serving dishes and utensils. Most regular potluck participants can tell tales about losing the lid to a favorite plastic bowl or discovering that the only casserole dish left on the table was not the one they brought.
* Don't attempt to serve all the food from one table. Place desserts on a table separate from main dishes and side dishes. Locate beverages in another area. For the most convenient self-service, arrange the buffet so diners can serve themselves from both sides of the table. Lay out the table in logical order: plates at one end of the table for guests to pick up and load with food, and utensils tucked inside napkins at the other end to grab once their plates are full.
* Strike while the iron's hot (and guests are in a festive mood). Before everyone leaves, set up the planning committee and solicit suggestions for next year.
To request a copy of Ginny's catalog, log on to Ginnys.com or call (800) 487-9024.