Meals with friends and family are priceless memories in the making. It does not matter what you cook, but making it feel special always makes it memorable. Try sprinkling some fun into your routine and making dinner an event instead of just a meal!
I have had the very good fortune to be a part of several groups over the years who have had regular weekly potlucks. This has not only been wonderful to have a standing appointment for social time (which often gets put off if it is not on a regular schedule), but has encouraged me to experiment with recipes, given me confidence in the kitchen and has exposed me to some amazingly great dishes! Lucky for me that all of the great people I know seem to also be amazing home chefs. We have enjoyed some wonderful and memorable meals this way.
I wanted to encourage you all to consider adding potlucks or themed family dinners to your lives for the many wonderful memories and the fun that this creates. This does not have to be just with large social groups, even within your own family themed dinners can be fun. A friend of ours would have each family member choosing and making a different dishes to contribute to their own family potluck nights.
Over the years I started logging our potluck themes and the dishes we made in a master document. I know that this sounds super insane. Don’t judge. We rotated theme selection each week and I wanted a record of what had been done in the past so that I would have ideas for future themes. I thought that you guys might benefit from my list of theme ideas for inspiration of your own. The themes seem to break down into four basic categories, which will hopefully help you to come up with new ideas of your own.
Mexican is, of course, a super popular go-to theme. Easy to cook and great family style, Mexican night is a family favorite across the country. Why not push it further and try for different cultures, more exotic cuisines? We loved Brazillian churrasco, so we cooked up a wonderful Brazilian themed potluck and found this cool little cooker on Amazon to use for the meat. A friend of ours suggested Ukranian, something we would never have tried, which turned out to be amazing!
THEME IDEAS: Mexican, Thai, South American, Brazilian, Ukranian, Hawai’ian, Sicilian, Mediterranean, Indian, Morrocan, Italian, Chinese, Irish, Cajun, Korean, German, French (we did this as a romance theme for a friends engagement party!)
You can’t get more classic than a Campfire theme with Smores made with homemade marshmallows and popcorn cooked on a fire. Don’t have a firepit? They are not hard to make with just a few rocks, so no excuses, and the kids will love a chance to do a camp-out in their own back yard! Not just for Thanksgiving, there are many great seasonal themes that are not only delicious, but also some of the most nostalgic. We all love a summer barbecue and it means more than just the food served. There is something special about great times with friends on beautiful evenings. We could all benefit from more of these fond memories when everything seemed right in the world.
THEME IDEAS: Comfort food, Thanksgiving, Harvest/Fall, Summer Barbecue, Campfire, Spring Fling Brunch, Rainy Day Foods
Food Type Themes
Probably the most fun category, this is where everyone gets inventive with creative themes that make for lots of fun! On these days everyone is always excited to see what each person came up with for the unique theme, since the options are so varied. It is not just Taco Tuesday anymore, try Pies and Pies theme with savory pies, like meat pies or chicken pot pies, or sweet pies, like peach or lemon meringue or coconut cream, for dessert. No assignments, it is all just a delicious surprise! Since many of our friends are gluten-free, our Pizza Party turned into a fun test of different crust options that included plantain, cauliflower, almond flour and more!
THEME IDEAS: Breakfast for Dinner, Soup and Salad, Pies and Pies, All Appetizers (in Hawai’i this is a Pupu theme), Chicken and Waffles, Burgers, you bring the toppings, SangViche (Sangria and Ceviche), Crepes, Brunch, Eat with Your Hands, Everything with Bacon, Hot dog Buffet, Baked Potato Bar, Pizza Party, Say Cheese!
If you are not following an alternative diet yourself, you probably know some annoying person who is. Instead of seeing the lifestyle differences as a burden, consider embracing the challenge to try out new things. We sort of pushed this theme to the limit after we had a false missile attack alert in Hawai’i in January 2018. The scare of a nuclear emergency was not something many of us had ever considered. This inspired a memorable anti-radiation potluck where each of us researched food ideas that could be helpful after exposure to nuclear contamination. Menu items included bone-broth chicken soup with ginger, parsley and onions, broccoli and kale.
THEME IDEAS: Vegetarian, Vegan, Paleo, Anti-Radiation, Raw, Local, Grown yourself!
And The Winner Is… The all time favorite and most requested theme is Breakfast for Dinner. As a kid I remember my mom cooking pancakes for dinner, probably because she was out of food and time. I just remember loving doing something so unexpected and it was such a treat. My adult self has never forgotten the fun of this. This was my very first theme suggestion for my first potluck when we moved to Hawai’i and became a favorite of the group. Over the years we have had great Breakfast for Dinner potlucks with waffles, french toast, fritters, pancakes, potato cakes, quiches, casseroles, blintzes, cinnamon rolls, and don’t forget the mimosas! There is just an amazing variety of breakfast dishes that are all GREAT for dinner!
The moral of the story:
1) Consider setting a regular appointment with your friends and family. It will mean that you have quality time together more often.
2) Potluck is a fun way for everyone to participate and get excited about cooking.
3) Being creative with themes will give you the opportunity to try new things.
Do you have a great theme idea that I should add to the list? Please leave in the comments below!