Party Planning Tips

If you plan ahead, party planning can be easy and fun.
If you plan ahead, party planning can be easy and fun.
Halsted Bernard

Getting ready to throw a party? Nerves racked from all the preparation stress? If that is the case, you are not alone. Venturing into the world of party planning can be quite daunting. What should you prepare? Should it be a sit-down affair or a buffet mixer? What kind of snacks should you serve? What should be in the goodie bags? Should there be goodie bags and what do you do if your boss brings along his diabetic 9-year old? Never fear! With a little forethought and preparation you will wow your guests!

­In fact, party planning can be just as much fun as the party itself! To make it easier, we have assembled tips and tricks to planning successful parties that will make yours memorable for some time to come.


Snack Mix Tips

Whether you are having a cocktail party or a sit-down dinner party, great snacks and appetizers are always integral to a great party and they are easier to make than you think!  ­

­Party Planning Tips

The keys to good party planning are a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish, organization and a solid time-table to help you get everything done so that you can enjoy your own party as much as your guests will.

How to Make Goodie Bags

A staple at children's parties, the goodie bag is now popular with adults as well. It is a great way to thank your guests for coming and to send them away with a special remembrance of your event.

Holiday Entertaining Tips

The holidays can be stressful enough but taking on the job of holiday party planner brings a whole new level of meaning to stress. Don't worry, with a few simple tricks you can alleviate that stress.

How to Make Appetizers

Like great snacks, appetizers that are delicious yet simple to make will set just the right tone for your holiday party.

How to Throw a Party

Some see it as a challenge, but in reality throwing a party can be quite easy and enjoyable if you follow some simple, common sense rules.

Tips for Entertaining Company

Entertaining company is by no means a lost art, but not everyone is comfortable with it. We have put together some easy tips to make your entertaining that much better.

Healthy Holiday Eating

With the houseguests, the holidays bring another visitor, that extra weight you are going to put on from all the great food! How can you eat well and resist the temptations of the holiday buffet at the same time? We have some ideas for you.

Party Foods for Diabetic Kids

Guests with dietary restrictions can be a challenge when planning a party, but kids with such restrictions, such as diabetic children, can be even more challenging unless you plan the party with them in mind. Find out how.

Learn about snack mix tips on the next page of this article.

For more party-planning info, check out these other articles:


Hari Setiawan

When planning a party or hosting other guests, it's important to remember to have a few snack mixes available. They should be flavorful and offer a variety of tastes and textures, but just as important is what you do with your snacks. Here are a few ideas for making your snack mix stand out from the crowd.

Keep plenty of tins filled with snack mixes handy for unexpected drop-in guests. Make extra of the snack mixes and package them as presents in tins, boxes or gift bags for unexpected guests and neighbors.

Most snack mixes can be stored in containers at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. If you're giving these as gifts, it's a good idea to include storing directions with the packages.

Also, it's always fun to put smiles on little kids' faces by creating colorful snack baskets filled with snack mixes and goodies.

While snacks are vital to a good party, it also takes organization and preparation. Find out more about general party planning on the next page of this article.

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Follow a few simple tips and your party will go off without a hitch.
Follow a few simple tips and your party will go off without a hitch.
Ingrid Balabanova

You look in the magazines and web sites for ideas but the date for that party you are planning is closing in and you have yet to decide where to begin. Don't panic! The first step to a successful party isn't the grocery store or that kitchy little party supply place, it is your calendar! Throwing a party is easy if you plan ahead.

Be realistic about how much time you really have to plan for your party. If your time is limited, consider having your guests bring an appetizer of their choice. People love to "showcase" their favorite recipes, so don't hesitate to give them the opportunity.

3 to 4 weeks ahead: Decide what kind of party you want to throw and how big of an event it's going to be. Map out the guest list and decide if it's going to be a standing or seated affair. Also, send out your invitations at this point -- you'll want ample time for their delivery and also you want to make sure people have enough time between receiving the invitation and when your party is so they can make room in their schedules.

1 to 2 weeks ahead: Plan the party and menu and gather any special equipment that you may need. Purchase any paper or plastic items and buy the needed beverages since they can be bought ahead of time without going bad. This is also a good time to clean and press the tablecloth and/or cloth napkins.

3 to 5 days ahead: Clean the house. This endeavor can take several hours in itself so leave a large chunk of time for this part of your planning.

3 days ahead: Prepare your grocery shopping list and go shopping. Leave extremely perishable items for the last minute, but gather everything else at this point.

1 to 3 days ahead: Prepare any make-ahead recipes and store them in the refrigerator or freezer.

1 day ahead: Set up your bar/beverage area and prepare garnishes. If you're having a buffet, set out all the serving pieces. Check on the decorations.

Day of party: Prepare the remaining recipes, and add finishing touches to your dishes that you made ahead of time. Be sure you have plenty of ice on hand as well as have the beverages cooling in the refrigerator. Take a last look through the house, take a deep breath, and remember to enjoy the festivities!

If you want to leave your guests with a parting gift from your event, find out how to make creative goodie bags on the next page.

For more party-planning info, check out these other articles:

Make cute and festive goody bags to hand out to your guests.
Make cute and festive goody bags to hand out to your guests.
Marija Jure

We all know the goodie bag is a staple of children's parties everywhere, but did you know that they can be a fine treat for adults as well? Whether given to children or adults, to invited guests or the unexpected drop-in, well-planned goodie bags will make your party something to remember.

While the generic goodie bag is always nice, you can make goodie bags more festive and meaningful by tying them to the theme of your party. What is the occasion? The answer will guide you in filling the goodie bag with appropriate items.

If it's Thanksgiving, attach decorative leaves or plastic grapes with autumn-colored ribbons. At Easter, you can fill them with plastic Easter eggs or chocolates. For great holiday season goodie bags, fill appropriately decorative bags with small Christmas or Hannukah cookies.

If the goodie bags are going to given to children, little toys or games from a dollar-type store are also appropriate and are always appreciated. Pass them out at the beginning or at the end of your party or you can leave them by the door with a sign so guests can pick one up on their way out.

Goodie bags make perfect party favors as well as gifts for unexpected guests, but there is more to holiday entertaining than just goodie bags. Follow the link for tips on making your holiday party perfect.

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Stockbyte ­­

As fulfilling as it is to gather loved ones together for a holiday feast, planning one requires much time and effort and can be stressful during the frenetic holiday period. One strategy many people use to avoid this stress is to throw a potluck party.

­With this type­ of get-together, everybody brings something -- a dish, drinks or supplies -- and this takes a great deal of pressure off the host while allowing the guests to take an active part in the festivities.

As host, your role is to provide a venue and to organize and coordinate the event. In addition, you'll want to prepare any dishes, such as the holiday turkey, which would be difficult or unsafe to transport.

Before you consider a potluck dinner, though, make sure you have adequate room to store dishes that need to be refrigerated before being served, and that you'll be able to reheat or finish any dishes that require further baking or microwaving before being eaten.

Here are some suggestions for a successful-and safe-holiday potluck dinner:

Your duties as host

  • You provide a main course, such as turkey or ham. Ask what each guest would like to make, or assign each guest a dish to bring (appetizer, side dish, or dessert), especially if they have a specialty everyone enjoys.
  • Coordinate contributions to prevent an overabundance of one course and the lack of another, and to make sure there will be enough servings. Traveling guests can contribute nonperishables, such as chips or dinner rolls. Those who don't cook can bring ice, beverages, or paper products.
  • Clear space in the refrigerator for cold dishes and determine ahead of time which dishes need to be heated or finished in your kitchen.
  • Make sure you have plenty of serving dishes and utensils, beverages, ice, plates, napkins, and silverware on hand. (Buy small disposable containers too; they're great for packing up the leftovers for guests to take home.)
  • Tasteful decorations and quiet background music will help set a festive mood.

Food safety

  • When guests arrive, refrigerate cold dishes immediately. Before serving, reheat hot dishes on the range, in the oven, or in the micro­wave.
  • Keep the food clean. Make sure everyone knows where the sink is and set out antibacterial soap and paper towels so guests can wash their hands before handling the food. (Set an example by washing your own hands frequently.)
  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold: 140°F or more for hot foods and 40°F or less for cold foods. Use chafing dishes for the hot foods, if you have them, and set cold foods in bowls of ice. Throw away food left out at room tem­per­ature for more than 2 hours.

Bringing a potluck dish

  • Finish cooking your potluck dish just before you leave for your host's home, or make sure cold dishes are thoroughly chilled before packing.
  • To help prevent bacteria growth, transport hot and cold foods in separate insulated containers. Wrap hot dishes in several layers of foil, then overwrap them in a thick towel to minimize heat loss. Pack cold dishes in ice and place them in a cooler. Beverages also should be packed separately so they don't affect food temperatures.
  • Slow cookers are great containers for foods that need to stay hot. Overwrap the slow cooker during transport, and plug it in as soon as you arrive.

Serving the meal

  • The easiest way to serve a potluck meal is buffet-style. Place plates at the beginning of the line and put the silverware and napkins at the end. Leave room on the table for guests to set plates down in case they need both hands to serve themselves.
  • Set up a separate area for ice and drinks so the main buffet line can keep moving.
  • To prevent spoilage (and potential food poisoning), put out only small portions of perishable items, such as meats, and replenish them as needed. Use a new serving dish each time or wash the empty one before refilling it.
  • Keep the buffet area mess-free for cleanliness and ease of service. Place garbage cans in convenient locations for disposal of paper plates, cups, and other trash.

A great dinner party means hungry guests. Learn how to make appetizers on the next page to satiate their grumbling stomachs before the main course.

For more party-planning info, check out these other articles:


Try a new appetizer recipe to start your next party.
Try a new appetizer recipe to start your next party.
Teak Sato

Whether it is a holiday or some other special occasion, you can expect guests to stop by to celebrate with you and your family. It is for times like these that the pantry, refrigerator, freezer, and liquor cabinet need to be stocked for about any eventuality. A well-stocked kitchen will be your savior when company comes.

Here are some fast and easy appetizer ideas you can put together in a hurry and without fuss -- you won't need a recipe, and because your kitchen is well-stocked, you won't even have to drive to the supermarket.

Olive Spread Toasts: Beat room temperature butter with a spoon until smooth. Stir in some of your favorite chopped olives, a little minced parsley and garlic. Spread on crackers or toasted slices of French bread.

Fruity Mustard Bites: Spread your favorite mustard on a plain cracker or slice of French bread. Top with diced fruit -- mango, apple, or pear are good -- and shredded sharp Cheddar cheese. Broil just until cheese is melted.

Herbed Olives: Drain your choice of olives into a small bowl. Sprinkle with fresh or dried herbs and some freshly ground black pepper. If desired, garnish with lemon or orange zest.

Quick Pepper Dip: Drain a jar of roasted red bell peppers. Purée in food processor or blender with a clove of garlic, a couple of heaping tablespoons of mayonnaise, and maybe a sprinkle of lemon juice. Serve inside a hollowed-out red or green bell pepper with raw veggies.

Experimental Deviled Eggs: Jazz up a traditional deviled egg recipe by adding hot sauce, curry powder, minced capers, tarragon, minced jalapeños, or even mango chutney to the filling.

Honey Cheese Crackers: Spread soft cheese -- such as Brie, Camembert, or blue cheese -- on a plain cracker and drizzle with honey.

Caprese Crackers: Top a plain cracker with a fresh basil leaf, a slice of fresh mozzarella cheese, and a slice of cherry tomato. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.

Salsa & Chips: Instead of the same-old, same-old, make fresh salsa to serve with chips. It's no more difficult than chopping vegetables: Try chopped avocado and pineapple with green onions, or chopped mango, red bell pepper, red onion, and cilantro; add a chopped jalapeño for a little heat.

Boston Wraps: Leaves from Boston or butterhead lettuce can be used as wraps for any number of fillings. For an Asian flavor, fill lettuce leaves with a mix of sprouts, leftover cooked rice, shredded carrots, and drained pineapple bits, and drizzle with bottled peanut sauce.

Quick Hummus: Drain a can of chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans); purée in a food processor or blender with lots of garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a little olive oil. Transfer to a plate and drizzle with more oil; sprinkle with some chopped olives. Serve with pita wedges and/or raw veggies.

Spiced Nuts: Preheat oven to 300°F. Pour nuts onto a nonstick baking pan. Sprinkle with spices of your choice: Try freshly ground black pepper, a pinch of cayenne, ground ginger, garlic powder, or curry powder, or a combination. Bake until the nuts are toasted to your liking. Immediately transfer to a serving dish.

White Bean Dip/Spread:

Drain a can of cannellini beans. Purée in a food processor or blender with fresh garlic, some lemon juice, and enough olive oil to make it smooth. Add cayenne pepper for a little heat. Use for spreading onto crackers or for dipping raw veggies.

Herbed Cheese Spread: Add chopped fresh herbs of your choice to a container of goat cheese; try chopped green onions, garlic, parsley, oregano, freshly ground black pepper, or chopped fresh basil. Serve on crackers or slices of toasted French bread, and garnish with fresh basil.

Find out more about how to throw a party in the next section of this article.

For more party-planning info, check out these other articles:

Be sure to provide enough beverage choices for your guests.
Be sure to provide enough beverage choices for your guests.
Kathryn McCallum

Planning to throw a party? There is no need for stress or worry, even if it's your first time playing host. Just follow these easy tips and you and your guests will have a great time.

First-Time Host: If this is your first company meal, keep it small. Don't invite more people than can comfortably sit at your table -- unless you're having a cocktail party and you are only serving finger food.

Keep the Menu Simple: Choose one or two involved recipes and let the rest be easy to make. It's best to choose the entrée first, and then plan the other dishes around it. While it's fun to make complicated dishes, be realistic about what you want to serve and try to simplify as much as you can. Remember that simple does not have to equal boring.

Presentation Matters: Part of the fun in serving wonderful food is in the presentation. A spray of flowers or a handful of fresh herbs can provide a simple, colorful garnish. You can even make your simple dishes look elegant by surrounding them with creative decorations such as unlit candles or colorful napkins.

Garnish It: Another option is to choose one of the recipe's ingredients, such as red onion, and save a few pretty slices for the top of the dish. The best garnish will be the smiles on your guests faces, so don't forget to relax and have fun -- after all, it's your party!

Learn even more tips on entertaining and party planning on the next page.

For more party-planning info, check out these other articles:

Entertaining company can be fun and easy.
Entertaining company can be fun and easy.

Entertaining company is frequently a pleasure for everyone except the host, but if you keep these tips in mind -- your guests will love it and you'll be relaxed enough to enjoy yourself, too.

Entertaining Made Easy: Although the food is the main attraction, spectacular table settings can make a holiday meal complete -- and they don't have to cost a fortune or take hours or days to prepare!

  • Tie each napkin with sheer, shimmery ribbon. Tuck in sprigs of fresh herbs, greenery or a candy cane for added color.
  • Make fun and festive place card holders for the table: bake extra gingerbread cookies and write guests' names in red or white icing (prop the cookies up against a glass); purchase inexpensive small picture frames to hold guests' names and/or photos; cut slits in the sides of apples and insert place cards (alternate green and red apples and tie ribbon around each one).
  • Arrange an instant centerpiece by filling a large glass bowl with Christmas balls or red and green apples, then surround the bowl with small votives. Or float flowers and star candles in a glass bowl.
  • Stretch what you have to work for a crowd: mix and match good china with inexpensive glass plates, adding a tiny vase of flowers or small bowl of red and green mints (or other goodies) at each place.

Let Them Eat Bread: If you throw your party during the holidays, a loaf of homemade bread makes a great gift -- especially when it's given in a new loaf pan. Just add a wooden spoon and the recipe, wrap it all up in a festive towel and tie it with ribbon.

No Bones About It: Try boneless turkey breasts and tenderloins for a change of pace -- and added convenience -- next time you throw a party. These boneless cuts offer the advantages of reduced (or no) thawing time, shorter cooking times and enough white meat for everyone. In addition, white turkey meat has significantly less fat than a traditional dark meat portion. Count on about 1/3 pound per serving for most boneless cuts.

Food as Art: A whole bird, a roast or any large cut of meat can be part of a beautiful platter. The meat can be left whole and surrounded by colorful vegetables or fruit, then sliced at the table. Or, slice the meat ahead of time, arrange the slices overlapping around the outer portion of the platter and fill the center with vegetables. Garnish either presentation with plenty of fresh herbs on the platter, or evergreens or other decorative greens around the platter.

It's sometimes difficult to maintain a healthy diet between Thanksgiving and New Year, but it's not impossible. Learn more about healthy holiday eating on the next page of this article.

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Enjoy holiday treats and delectable dishes in moderation: watch your portion sizes and don't stand next to the dessert table.
Enjoy holiday treats and delectable dishes in moderation: watch your portion sizes and don't stand next to the dessert table.

Q. How can I stick to my meal plan when I'm eating at holiday parties?

A. It's true that the holiday season is notorious for being a period of packing on the pounds, but there are a number of things you can do to maintain a healthy diet during the holidays.

The reality is that this is not difficult to accomplish as long as you remember that the overall strategy involves three things: what you eat, how much you eat and where you eat it.

  • Be aware of portion sizes; become familiar with what a serving looks like. This way you'll be better able to figure out how much of that tasty casserole fits within your meal plan.
  • Think ahead of the foods you may encounter (or hope to!) and find out their nutritional content. This will eliminate some of the on-the-spot calculations.
  • If there's a buffet, don't stand next to it; it's too easy to keep nibbling.

These strategies work for the average healthy person, but for people with issues like diabetes, their best bet is to consult with a registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator for ideas specific their case.

If you are planning the party, an adult diabetic should not be an issue as long as they understand their dietary restrictions. On the other hand, children with diabetes are a different matter. On the following page, you will find information on planning a party with these special guests in mind.

Check out these additional articles about party planning:

Kids with diabetes can enjoy party food if the hostess does some planning.
Kids with diabetes can enjoy party food if the hostess does some planning.

Everyone loves parties, especially kids, but the red flag pops up if your party involves children with diabetes. How can they have fun if they're diet-restricted?

It's not as hard as you may think. In fact, these parties can be more fun than the typical "junk food marathons." The key is making the entire party fun, and not using the food as the sole form of entertain­ment.

Kids with diabetes are just that -- kids. They can do what all kids should do: Eat a little less sugar, a little less saturated fat, and play more. It's basically pretty simple. But parties can make you feel overwhelmed, especially if you're used to simply supplying bagged chips, store-bought cakes, and sugary soft drinks.

Here's some "food for thought" to help you plan your next party, whether it's a birthday bash or a simple sleepover:

Involvement: Get the children involved in making the party foods instead of having it handed to them. Just a minimal amount of preparation is needed, and then watch the fun unfold. Getting the kids to interact is not only entertaining for everyone, but it provides a sense of belonging and a sense of togetherness. In the begin­ning, you might want to start out with a few munchies you've made ahead, but when it's time for the "heart" of the party, make that part of the entertainment. Have the kids do the pizzas, for example.

If children are spending the night, they can make frozen pop treats. Start with choosing any two gummy worms or sour night crawlers that they want. Simply tag them by putting a sticker with the child's initials on the dry surface of the frozen-pop holder and they can identify their own at the time of serving.

If you're concerned about messes while the kids are making their edible creations, have them spread news­papers -- preferably the Sunday funnies -- all over the floor, over the table, and under the chairs. Just cover all surfaces with newspapers, then they, and you, don't have to worry. And the cleanup will unbelievably easy.

Serving Suggestions: Think color, texture, and eye appeal with the serving pieces and the foods, too. Have a variety, be creative, and think fun. For example, serve the Peanutty Banana Dip in hollowed-out red and green apple halves. Use different brightly colored napkins of paper or cloth or even those Sunday funnies to line baskets or serve as a fun tablecloth.

When decorating for a child's party, use inexpensive toys purchased from a dollar-style store to serve the goodies, such as a toy dump truck filled with various toppings for hot dogs or sandwiches. For the beach, use plastic buckets and small shovels for serving pieces and beach towels for table runners. Or how about a baby wading pool filled with ice to hold the drinks, such as a variety of juice boxes?

Other Entertainment: Provide a colorful Mexican papier-mâché piñata, but fill it with inexpensive trinkets such as uninflated balloons, miniature stuffed animals, erasers, stickers, rings, ping-pong balls, and plastic cars instead of candy.

Don't forget those old-fashioned scavenger hunts. Or have a "year-round" plastic-egg hunt, the eggs filled with small trinkets instead of candy. You can take the party out to a community swimming pool, or to a neighborhood park with swingsets and slides, or provide something as simple as a basketball and goal or a game of hide-and-seek in the backyard.

It's up to you and your child to make the plans. Making plans together not only brings the two of you closer; it also lets your child participate in that aspect of the party as well. The point is to take a detour from the electronic "game of the week" and simply play together. At first kids may need a little direction, but soon you'll sit back and enjoy the smiles that quickly break into laughter.

If you can keep just one thought in mind when plan­ning special times involving children with diabetes, remember this: Don't preach or draw unnecessary attention to the "dos and don'ts" of foods. Instead of telling a child, "Eat this because it is good for you," it feels a lot better to hear yourself say, "This is so good, and so much fun!"

Following these simple party planning tips will ensure that your party goes off without a hitch and you'll be able to enjoy the festivities, too.

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