Large parties mean plenty of stomachs to feed, so you'll want to keep munchies for all tastes available and plentiful. This doesn't mean you need to slave away in the kitchen all day before the party. Break up your appetizer preparation by making some items ahead of time, and get your kids to help with the preparation and cleanup if possible.
General Make-Ahead Guidelines
Most vegetable-based or fully cooked meat or dairy items will keep in the fridge for three or four days, but the flavor and texture may change. Because of this, it’s best to save any cooked items for the day of the party, but do your prep work in the days ahead, such as peeling and chopping carrots, celery and cucumbers for veggie trays or recipe ingredients. However, never chop potatoes ahead of time, as they deteriorate quickly even when sealed and stored in the fridge. For example, make bean dips or hummus up to three days ahead, and use packaged salad dressing or taco mix to make the seasoning easier. This saves time and the flavors will blend better after sitting for a while. Mix up your dairy dips just a few hours before the party, as these may get watery if left to sit too long, and they tend to pick up other flavors if not tightly covered in the fridge.
Divvy up the Work
Save baked snacks until just an hour or two before the party, but mix up their components ahead of time. For example, mix bruschetta toppings, egg or spring roll fillings or bagel toppings the day before as long as they don’t contain watery vegetables or cheese. If they do, prepare the rest of the mix and chop your water-filled or sogginess-prone items and store them separately. Just before the party, mix in any remaining ingredients and complete your preparation.
Bake the appetizers on the largest trays or cookie sheets you can fit in your oven, preparing one tray as another bakes, then washing and preparing a new batch for the first tray as the second tray bakes to maximize your oven’s capacity. If you have a variety of oven-baked items, start with the lowest-temperature recipes, then bump your oven up to the next temperature, and so on.
How Much to Make
The amount of each appetizer to make depends on your party's time of day, the age of your guests and whether you plan to serve dinner as well as appetizers or just munchies for the whole party. In general, determine how much you think one person would eat of each item, multiply that by your number of guests and then add 10 percent to that amount to ensure you won't run out. If you're feeding teenage boys, you may want to make that a 20 percent increase. Keep some fresh fruit and veggies ready to chop up and add to the serving trays if you see the food running low. For after-dinner parties, assume that guests will have eaten before they arrive and keep the appetizers light and small. For mid-afternoon parties, plan for hungry guests who don't want to save room for dinner.
Encourage your party guests to eat little bits at a time by serving snacks out of small individual cups, such as small paper cups or cupcake wrappers. This can make your food display festive if you use colored wraps, and can result in less wasted food, as guests take only what they need, a little at a time. It also saves you from washing serving dishes and utensils after the party.
Appetizers for All Ages
For young children’s parties, base your appetizers around familiar foods such as peanut butter, fresh fruit, chips and seeds. For older children and teens, start introducing more exotic foods, like mixed fruit-and-veggie salads, wraps and ethnic seasonings such as curry powder or taco mix for either warm dishes or dips. Keep a few familiar favorites around, too, since some kids are more likely to experiment with different tastes, while others eat only what they know.