In the military community potluck is very common theme to our get-togethers. We tend to have many social and unit events and potlucks can be quite a lot of fun when you see the array of dishes that are brought. The military itself is such a melting pot that in one potluck setting you might see things not only from across the nation but international dishes as well. Plus, let's face it is the best way to have food for a large group and save money across the board.
A typical potluck consists of guests purchasing and preparing the food, and the serving dishes come and go with them. Everyone gets to help out, which makes people feel included. It's the perfect win-win; that is until everyone brings a dessert and no one brings a main course, salad, or side dish.
If you've actually been to a potluck or hosted one, you know how important it is to make sure that a little organization be put into the plan. I found this amazing little online tool that will definitely make your life - and your potluck - a little easier, check out PerfectPotluck. You send out an online invitation including a link and guests sign in with what they'll be bringing. Everyone can see what's on the menu.
That brings me to the menu. I've found that potlucks work best if the host (or unit if a unit function) can provide the main dish. It is typically the most expensive and it sets the tone of what everyone else will bring. For example, if we grill, guests will bring side dishes like potato salad, chips, cole slaw, etc. If we do tacos, guests might bring queso, rice, or beans. This makes it easier for your guests to decide what to bring as their contribution and also saves you from worrying if they'll be a main dish from which they'll feast.
People will have their favorites - from casseroles to cookies, potatoes to pasta, everybody has one: that go-to potluck recipe that will feed a crowd and leave them looking forward to the next get-together. I'm pretty sure that every military spouse has their own "secret recipe" that they stash for such occasions. If not, they're on the prowl looking for one. I can distinctly remember one of Kevin's soldiers saying to him at one of our functions that he loved the "extra love" that I put into my mac n' cheese. He called it the "secret sprinkle on top" - it was toasted Club crackers. To this day mac n' cheese is one of my go-to meals for potlucks.
For crowd-pleasing party favorites make sure your dish runs along the lines of something that can be easily served (single-serve or cut/scoopable), something that can remain cold or hot easily, and something with easily identifiable ingredients. Note: If you choose a casserole, make it a well known one or bring something listing the ingredients or you might find yourself taking home an un-touched dish.
What if you don't cook? Don't laugh but the word "potluck" can strike fear into the hearts of those who do not cook or bake. And if you're a single soldier or even just geographically single, the thought of having to prepare something on your own can be very scary. Believe it or not hosts love you too! Some of the best additions to my potlucks are from those who haven't baked or cooked a thing.
My first suggestion is to ask the host if he/she needs any beverages, extra ice, cups, plates, or utensils. If that is not the case, visit your local grocery store and pick up a fresh-baked baguette, a fancy cheese, and salami. You can purchase a fruit or vegetable tray (just don't bring it in the plastic wrap with the price tag still on it in the white plastic bag), or chips & salsa with guacamole. Oh, and let me tell you Mrs. Smith has also donated many a pie to our functions and no one complained (seriously, it is not rocket science to bake a pie!). To make any store bought item appear more "thoughtful" bring it on your own tray or in a container that doesn't look like you made this an afterthought.
What's your go-to meal? Please, share the recipe.
When you've attended a potluck in the past what has been one of your favorite dishes made by another?
Do you like it when the main dish is provided and sides are brought or an all-around feast of different dishes (main & side)?