When you are having guests over for a dinner party, it can be difficult to get the food ready, keep track of your kids, and have all of you look presentable when guests arrive. With some careful menu planning, however, you can cook most of the food in the days leading up to the party so you just have to reheat it on the big day.
Nothing says "dinner party" like a tray of fancy little appetizers that guests can munch on as they socialize and wait for everybody to arrive. Preparing so many separate portions can be one of the most time-consuming parts of the meal, so choose appetizers that you can prepare at least one day prior with the help of your kids. Deviled eggs store for up to one day, and kids love squeezing the filling into the egg halves from a pastry bag. For other bite-sized morsels, make gougeres, which are savory cheese pastries that you can cook up to two months before the party, freeze and reheat just before serving.
Prepare a fresh vegetable salad as early as the day before the dinner party. All you have to do on the day of the party is to toss the salad. Your kids will enjoy assembling the salad in layers in a large bowl. Start with creamy salad dressing at the bottom, followed by chopped hearty vegetables, such as carrots, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Sprinkle more delicate vegetables and salad toppings in layers above those and finish with the chopped or torn lettuce on top.
Lasagna is an easy main course to prepare ahead of time and cook on the evening of the dinner party. Plus, each pan will feed about 10 guests, making it perfect for a large party. If your kids want to help, put the pans together in an assembly line, with each of your kids responsible for one ingredient. For example, one child can set the noodles out, another can spread sauce on them, and the youngest can sprinkle cheese over the sauce. Use no-boil noodles so you can put them on straight out of the package. Cover and freeze the lasagna for up to three months and thaw it the day before cooking, or just refrigerate it for up to two days before cooking.
Dessert is potentially the easiest part of a menu to make ahead of time because many desserts can be frozen. One idea is to make an ice cream roll by baking a large, thin cake and spread it with a layer of soft ice cream. Your kids might want to help sprinkle chopped fruit, nuts, and other sweet treats over the ice cream before you roll it up, wrap it in two layers of freezer-safe food wrappings, and freeze it for up to three months.
- "Cooking for a Crowd"; Susan Wyler; 2005
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