Football season is here! It’s time to root for the home team, with fingers crossed for the playoffs, and ultimately, the big game. Whatever sport you’re into, isn’t game day just a good reason to gather a crowd of friends together to socialize, and enjoy each other’s company?
In fact, you don’t even need a game to watch… Maybe you just want to celebrate spring, with its warm weather and longer days of sunshine, or the arrival of fall, with crisp breezes and changing leaves.
Whatever your reasons for hosting a casual get-together with friends and family, there are a few things you can do to ensure that everything goes smoothly, and that you’ll have time to mingle with the crowd – and have some fun yourself.
It’s a great opportunity to lay out a spread of good eats, a few chilled beverages, and finally to sit back and relax with good friends and the ones you love. So, here are a few tips to help make your party a success, plus a few of our favorite party appetizers and make-ahead recipes that will help you and your guests enjoy the day.
First, Make a Gameplan
It’s the same for all parties – a bit of planning relieves stress, frees up time, and takes care of any potential oversights.
One of the first things to consider is the food. We recommend designing a make-ahead menu that will cover all of your guests’ dietary preferences – vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, other allergies and intolerances, and of course, something for the carnivores.
There’s no need to create a separate entree for each person, but you’ll want to make sure there’s something for everyone. No one wants the embarrassment of watching a guest scan the food you’ve worked so hard to prepare, only to sadly announce they can’t eat anything you’ve put out.
Another idea you might want to consider is going a bit lighter, to help those who are counting calories or trying to improve their overall health.
According to the Calorie Control Council, Americans consume 30 million pounds of snacks on the day of the Super Bowl, and we’re prone to dig in and chow down in excess while we’re celebrating the triumphs and travails of our favorite teams on other days as well.
Many of the typical party foods are pre-packaged, with the standard unhealthy contents: high sodium, high fat content, and high calorie counts, mixed with artificial dyes and multi-syllabic preservatives to pretty things up and prolong the shelf life of the food, not your body.
Give a bit of thought to offering up some of these heart and health-wise options along with traditional party fare:
- Dips and spreads – Replace some of the high calorie and empty nutritional choices with homemade hummus, cool and creamy tzatziki, baba ghanoush, olive tapenade, and guacamole, which doubles as a perfect, healthy twist for filling deviled eggs. And Greek yogurt has a nice, thick consistency that’s perfect for low-cal, low-fat versions of zesty Green Goddess, chipotle ranch and caramelized onion dips. Mango salsa and chutneys are also great for healthful dipping, so your guests can indulge with a clear conscience.
- Cut up lots of fresh veggies and fruit – They’re perfect with dips, and the fruit will take care of anyone with a sweet tooth. You can also make your own whole grain pita chips, and slice up baguettes made from seeded and whole grain breads for the spreads. Edible bowls scooped out of fresh fruits and vegetables make a nice presentation that’s easier on the environment.
- Barbecued meats and kebabs – Grilling is one of the healthiest ways to prepare meats, so dust off the BBQ. Kebabs are a great way to go, as your guests can eat right from the stick; chicken, salmon, and veggie kebabs all work well. Remove the skin from some of the chicken wings before grilling, for a lighter version of this party favorite.
- A one pot dish work well too – Stews and chili are always good options as they satisfy most every taste, they’re nutritious, and all you need do is reheat when it’s time to serve them. They’re a wonderful comfort food that fits in well at a casual gathering.
- Fire up the slow cooker – Your old standby the Crock-Pot works as well here as it always has for game day entrees – just pick lower calorie fare such as a white chicken chili.
Keep the Kitchen Free
Everyone loves to gather where the food and drinks are, so to keep your kitchen space open by arranging a buffet table in the dining area. They’re easy to set up and prepare, and it’s simple enough to switch over from snacks to entrees to desserts. Ask a friend or two to help out, to make the transition from course to course easier.
And don’t place chairs around your table – this can give the room a “funeral parlor” feel, which can be a bit of a downer. Try to plan your menu so everything can be eaten standing up, with just a plate and a fork. Or arrange conversation areas on the patio to bring the party outdoors.
This isn’t a sit-down meal and you want to encourage your guests to mingle and move about, keeping the atmosphere light and making sure they’re not burdened with cutlery and place settings.
Fill Ice Buckets with Drinks
Another way to avoid turning the kitchen into the social center is to place buckets or large containers filled with ice and drinks around the house – in the entryway, on the deck or patio, in the garage, and so on.
This will free up valuable space in the fridge, and it keeps people from congregating in areas where you need to be getting the food ready, or refilling serving dishes.
If kids are part of your party plans, create a kids zone where they can hang out and play games without the adults interfering with their fun. Set up a table that’s just for them, and provide finger foods to snack on until the main course is ready.
A Quiet Spot
At almost every party, you’ll have guests that aren’t all that keen on watching the entire game, or who just want a bit of down time away from the noise of the crowd. Set up a quiet spot a little bit away from the center of the action where a few people can visit and socialize, or simply have a bit of space to themselves.
Avoid Mindless Snacking
Most of us have been guilty of mindless snacking, and it usually happens in front of a big screen. Our attention gets caught up in what’s going on in front of us and, without thinking, the hand goes into the chip bowl, then the dip, and before you know it you’ve put away an additional 800 calories – calories that you didn’t want or need.
You might take some heat with this one, but you’ll be doing your friends a favor by avoiding putting snacks on the coffee and end tables. Arrange everything on the buffet table instead, so your guests will have to make a conscious decision to get up and grab something to eat – they’ll appreciate the food more, and your thoughtful concern for their well-being.
Enjoy Game Day
And there you have it, some ideas for an informal get together that will ensure everyone has a good time – including you!
For a couple of make-ahead dishes, check out our recipes for Chicken Stew with Biscuits and The Cheesiest Mac Cheese – they’re always a hit on game day. And don’t forget the Buffalo Chicken Enchiladas!
What are your go-top tips for planning a party on game day? Let us know in the comments below!
Photo credit: Shutterstock. Originally published on April 24, 2015. Last updated: July 11, 2022 at 16:50 pm. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.
About Lorna Kring
Recently retired as a costume specialist in the TV and film industry, Lorna now enjoys blogging on contemporary lifestyle themes. A bit daft about the garden, she’s particularly obsessed with organic tomatoes and herbs, and delights in breaking bread with family and friends.