Planning a Potluck

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Many of us have experienced a tightening of our financial belts in recent years. We'd like to have a lavish holiday gathering, but we just can't afford it. Others may have young children and don't have the time or energy to cope with entertaining a big crowd. How can you solve this problem? The answer is:  have a potluck dinner.

Plan now how many guests you can accommodate and whether you want to invite family, friends or both. Do you want to have this potluck dinner on the actual holiday or around the holidays? Are you are going to send written invitations, e-mail invitations or call your family and friends?

If your party is on the actual holiday you may want to cook a turkey or ham, and have everyone else bring side dishes and dessert. You could assign them (or ask their preference) a category of salad, side dish or dessert to ensure the meal will be well balanced. If any of your guests have special dietary needs, they will probably want to bring their own choice. Don't forget to have some kid friendly food available. If your party is not on the actual holiday, you could plan a theme for the meal, focusing on Italian food, Mexican food or other ethnic cuisine, and simply let everyone bring their favorite dish.

Your table decorations can be inexpensive if you use natural materials and fabrics in fall colors. Consider using a runner of russet, yellow, or brown burlap down the center of your table. Burlap can be cut and fringed, and doesn't need hemming. For a center piece, fill your prettiest bowl or a wicker cornucopia with fresh fruit to show the bounty of the harvest. Oranges, grapefruit and apples will provide fall colors. Entwine a few springs of ivy or other greens among the fruit for contrast. Some brightly colored leaves from the yard could also be added to you table décor. Pick up holiday paper napkins and possibly holiday paper plates from the grocery store, and your table is done.

Then all you have to do is make sure the house is clean and you are looking your best when you open the door to your guests. Since they are bringing most of the food, you can relax and enjoy being with your family or friends at this wonderful holiday time.