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.
23 thoughts on “Game Day Entertaining for a Crowd”
I do enjoy making a game day buffet but chips and dips are the number one thing to avoid. You can pack away so many calories without even noticing that it’s better to give them a wide berth and concentrate on slightly more substantial, but less fatty bites.
It’s so easy to munch without thought… at least with healthier alternatives we’re getting some nutrition!
BBQ, drinks and snacks up for grabs are essential for the game day! I had this big “meeting” with my friends this week where we gathered to watch a local football match on TV and all that has been mentioned in the article was present! Host probably was a writer at Foodal, haha!
Lol! It’s a great way to get together with friends and have some light- hearted fun. Sounds like a good time was had by all.
These are the best events to prepare for as there are lots of small bites. I also make pizza and flatbread slices so people can snack on those and sweetcorn and polenta fritters.
I always have a couple of bowls of the same dip and try not to make them too big, because they tend to get messy. One of my best dishes is the cold pasta salad where I use penne and everyone loves it as I add some mayonnaise to the tomato sauce to make it creamy.
Home made mini-pizzas are great for this type of party, and I like your idea for the cold, creamy penne salad. Any sun-dried tomatoes or olives in that?
My favourite parties to have are associated with sports. Firstly, I get to make tons of miniature foods & portable snacks. I love when I can make a ton of different things as opposed to a lot of one thing. Secondly, I get to enjoy sports. Which would happen without the cooking but now two things I enjoy are together at last. I like to switch things up to create a healthier atmosphere are well. You’d be surprised how often you can do that as long as you keep main flavours as the star.
It’s a fun way to entertain, isn’t it? And you’re right Joan, you can slip in a lot of healthy snacks behind a main dish… it’s like planting a seed of health in people’s minds.
Brilliant ideas i must say… they will definitely come in handy one day…not now though…maybe after i buy that house that has been on my mind for like forever… i’ll unleash this very idea…oh, can’t wait 🙂
Glad you enjoyed it diane, a game day party would be a great house warming gift for yourself!
Preparing healthy snacks for the gameday crowd is a great idea. My first thought was that they might form a minor revolt if you take don’t supply pizza and chips, but when do guest actually complain, right? They don’t. They are a captive audience for us to introduce tasty, but healthier, options. I particularly like the idea of the lean meat kebabs. The mango chutney caught sounds good as well. I can’t wait to give them a try.
I know, it’s a fine line to walk between traditional snacks and introducing something healthy… but you’re right. Most guests won’t complain, and they don’t seem to leave a lot on their plates, healthy or not! And the mango chutney is a great accompaniment to meat or veggie kabobs or chicken satays.
Yeah, guests are hopefully pleasant and are willing to eat anything if it is made beforehand and set out in front of them, so why not use it as a sort of test run to test out some of your ideas? I am pretty sure this is the case at some of the games and things that we watch at people’s houses, and I am perfectly okay with it and would encouraged more diversity and healthy options.
That is so true. It’s way too easy to gobble down tons of empty calories before you even realize it. This is one of those “do try this at home” things. I try to do it with my kids. For example, instead of sitting with a bag of chips and mindlessly eating them, I put a few in a bowl or on a plate. I tell the kids to do the same, so I like you’re idea of creating a more conscious choice about what and how much is being eaten.
That buffet looks really good. What are the things in the silver bowls?
Great example Zyni, a little awareness goes a long ways in breaking those mindless habits… and its a great guilt buster too!
I was just about to mention “mindless” munching. We are so excited about what is going on we don’t pay attention to what and how much we are eating. It is also a great way to have extra pounds sneak up on you and then you wonder why you tend to gain a little more during the super bowl. Keeping the kitchen free is another pet peeve of mine. Having people constantly go into your kitchen is a hassle and then you can’t keep track of all the food and drinks.
I think having a barbecue is a great idea. When we have huge matches over here, the first thing I do is make a list of what would be best to prepare.
Barbecue or baked chicken is always a hit. Usually, I try to prepare everything myself, so I opt for the baking method. I marinate my chicken in nice, juicy sauces and set them aside for a couple of hours. Then I wrap them up in “tin foil” and set it in the oven. It’s healthy and extremely delicious.
Another thing I prepare is some salad with mayonnaise. It’s usually sliced cabbage and some carrots. I make it a point to store it in the fridge because everyone seems to prepare “cold salad”. It goes very well with the baked chicken.
Those are excellent tips, I love to have and go to small reunions, and games seem to be the perfect option to make one out of nothing.
Probably my favorite part of this post was the fact that you mentioned fruits and veggies as a form of snack, I only have been in one reunion that has healthy things as snacks and I can’t really know why this isn’t considered by other people, with some dressing they can become a perfect option.
Exactly! Healthy doesn’t have to be bland or tasteless, and snacks don’t have to be unhealthy! Thanks for your thoughts anorexorcist.
Well I think that avoiding mindless snacking is really a key point here. Aside from the general health reasons, I think that it also forces you to have more reactivity and actually prepare your own things, versus just buying some chips and pre-made dip or things of that nature. I really like the kebabs idea, and I usually try to feature a chili like dish too, which is always a hit. Very interesting stuff, and good tips, so thank you for sharing.
Good point rz, being engaged with the prep work always makes the snacks taste better too! Glad you liked the tips…
Thanks for a really great article. I know my husband will really appreciate all the tips and tricks that I’ve learned from it. My favorite tip is to keep the kitchen free and clear. I always have a problem whenever we’re entertaining because everyone does seem to gather in the kitchen, where the food is. Setting up a buffet table in the dining room seems like a simple and effective solution.
Everybody loves to gather in the kitchen! Which is great, unless you’re the host… but moving the food usually moves the people too. Glad you enjoyed the tips clair!