If there’s one single tip I could share with you on how to make food prep easier for parties, this has got to be it. Two words for you: Food Stations. Yup. There it is. Food stations.
With two boys just 18 months apart, I feel like I’m in a constant state of either planning a party or coming down off of that “party planing high” after the celebrating is said & done. Once I figured out this simple tip, it changed the way I thought about menu planning for every future birthday party, bridal shower, baby shower & event. Food stations are interactive! They’re fun! But best of all? They’re SO simple for you, the party host! All you have to do is put the food out on the table, throw some spoons/serve wear in there & you are good. to. GO!
Sure, you could spend the majority of your kiddo’s party assembling perfectly put-together sandwiches. Or even work through the night before meticulously layering intricate desserts.
By setting up a small area designated for your guests to create their own fare, you’re accomplishing two things. Number one, you’re saving yourself a LOT of time. You don’t have to lose sleep the night before the party, or miss out during the actual party assembling food or making sure certain ingredients aren’t in certain foods. Nope! All the work is done by your guests. And guess what– they don’t mind! Most of them probably enjoy it, to tell you the truth. The second wonderful about food stations is that you’re creating an activity for your guests to take part in. Food is a fantastic conversation starter & a fab way to make your guests feel like they’re part of the party.
Feel free to think outside the box, too! You can create a food station for just about ANY meal. Everything from savory main courses & side dishes, to sweet desserts and brunch items– even signature drinks can be custom made by your guests during the party. All you need to set out are the ingredients. What a huge time-saver! No assembling. No worrying about who doesn’t like certain things in their food. Nope–none of that. Hooray!
So what’s the best way to set up a food station that will make your life easier & your guests’ party experience more enjoyable & your life a little less stressful?
Here are my top five must-haves to create a fun & functional food station:
- A Designated Area. Check out your party venue. (If it’s your house, awesome. You know this place pretty well already!) Try to scout out an out-of-the-way location (not in the main traffic areas, or near a door that will opened & shut often)) and that is fairly spacious (no cramped hallways & tight spaces, please).2
- A Customizable Food. Think about foods that have many different topping options. Some of my go-to foods to use at stations are nachos, pasta, burgers, ice cream sundaes. Starting with a plain Jane base-food allows for complete control as your guests create their plates. All your guests are sure to find something that suits them & they can pile on as many or as few toppings as they wish.
- Assortment of Toppings- Try to offer an assortment of toppings/sauces/additions that allow your guests to fully customize their plates. Use small plates or bowls to display all of the extras to choose from. Think outside the box on this one! Maybe adding a “What?!” item (anchovies, anybody?) to your spread will create a fun conversation for your guests to take part in.
- Buffet Labels or Menu Sign– There’s nothing worse than not knowing what it is you’re about to eat. Instead of leaving your guests guessing, use small tent cards or a chalkboard listing foods to identify exactly what toppings are available. You can get creative and coordinate the food names to match your party theme, if you’d like. (Linebacker Lettuce, Playoff Pickles & Touchdown Tomatoes for a burger station at a football themed celebration, perhaps.) Food labels and signs are also the perfect way to differentiate whether an item is adapted for a certain diet or allergy (vegan or peanut free, for example).
- Hungry Guests! Once the party is in full-swing & you ring the dinnerbell, make sure you steer your guests towards the food station. The process of creating a customized plate can be a conversation starter & a really enjoyable part of the party for guests of all ages. And the best part is, you can actually hop in line, grab a plate & eat too! Heck, yes!
Stumped for some station ideas to try out for your next celebration? Try one of these!
Yogurt Station: vanilla yogurt, fruit-flavored yogurt, sliced strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, granola, honey, assorted fruit syrups
Burger Station: beef patties, vegan patties, an assortment of buns, lettuce, tomato, a variety of cheese slices, sliced onions, ketchup, mustard, mayo
Pasta Station: assortment of noodles, meatballs, sauteed peppers/onions, marinara sauce, meat sauce, alfredo sauce, olives, parmesan cheese
Salad Station: lettuce, spinach, grilled chicken/steak, tomatoes, olives, peppers, carrots, baby corn, assortment of dressings, variety of shredded cheeses, croutons
Sundae Station: assortment of ice cream flavors, caramel/chocolate/butterscotch sauce, sprinkles, fruit preserves, whipped cream, maraschino cherries
I’ve love to know– what food stations have you tried out at your parties? I’m always on the search for fun party menu ideas & would love to hear yours!