Who says you have to wait for dinner to enjoy potluck food? Snacking before dinner at your potluck can help make the evening last and provide a way for guests to mingle before sitting down to the table. Whether you keep it simple with classic party favorites or go for more exotic fare, pre-potluck snacks are a sure way to get the party started on a tasty note.
Plenty of tasty snacks come ready-made or require just a few minutes of prep. Try a gourmet cheese and cracker tray. For a refreshingly light but substantial snack, spread cream cheese on mini wheat-bread sandwiches and put sliced strawberries inside. Buy colored corn chips and pair them with light ranch dressing, salsa or guacamole. Coat pecans in honey and cinnamon and toast them lightly in the oven for a sweet, crunchy dinner preamble. If your guests are especially health-conscious, try raw vegetable skewers with hummus -- carrots, celery, cauliflower and mushrooms can be delicious raw, especially if drizzled with olive oil.
Take a cue from popular sit-down restaurants and serve homemade fried mozzarella sticks or miniature chicken tenders coated with a mild wing sauce. Slice and fry potatoes for made-from-scratch French fries with plenty of ketchup and mustard. For a crunchy green treat, coat zucchini, green beans and strips of squash in zesty bread crumbs and fry them. Served with creamy Parmesan dressing, they'll wake up guests' palates and have them hungry for more.
Toss a few cans of chickpeas in a baking pan and mix them with cayenne pepper, cumin, salt, paprika and olive oil. Bake them until crispy for a crunchy but healthful snack. Or, bake small sweet potatoes. Cut them open and drizzle them with brown sugar and cinnamon. Serve them with miniature marshmallows. You could also cut white potatoes in quarters and bake them with cheese and crunchy salad toppings for a rich, cheesy pre-dinner nibble. If it's a holiday potluck, get your guests in the spirit of things with pumpkin pie or cinnamon muffins.
Your calorie-conscious guests will appreciate grilled pre-dinner options. Grill chunks of white-meat chicken and wrap them in a Romaine lettuce leaf. Put a small wedge of Parmesan cheese on top and spear them with toothpicks. Voila, you've got chicken Caesar salad on a stick -- just add the Caesar dressing for dipping. You could also make miniature grilled cheese sandwiches; give them a more "grown-up" feel with artisan bread and an unusual cheese, such as Havarti or English cheddar. Or, make quesadillas with shredded low-fat cheese. When the cheese has melted, cut them into eighths and serve with creamy dip.