Any time of year is a good one for a potluck, but certain holidays like the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years just seem to beg for one. It’s the perfect way to get together with friends or family, without having to stress too much about food. The problem, though, is that if you don’t plan ahead, you’ll end up with all the same dishes repeated, or only desserts and nothing for the main course!

All these problems are easily remedied by simply planning ahead a little. You have a few options here, but the main goal is to get people to bring something different and have a well rounded meal at the end of it.

For a small gathering, you can be pretty generic. List out the dishes needed and then ask people to bring specific types. For example, Aunt Rose might bring a dessert, Cousin Jules could bring drinks, Cousin Hector can bring salad, etc. In this case, you don’t need to dictate the actual items to be brought, but give each person a category  with which to work. You will usually need a snack or appetizer dish, a couple of entrees and a side dish, a salad, dessert (or two) and drinks that are suitable for adults and kids. If you have extra people, ask them to bring some bread or a veggie plate.

When you have a larger number of people coming, this gets tricky. You will have to be a bit more in charge. You can either ask people to choose a dish in the category you give them and then get back to you so you can arrange it so no one is bringing the same thing. Or you can just ask them to bring specific dishes, such as a potato dish, a meat or chicken dish, a veggie plate, etc. This ensures that everything will be balanced.

It’s a good idea to keep a list of people who are coming and have it handy, so you can update it when someone calls or refer to it and make sure that no one else is going to be bringing the same thing.

Make sure you let people know what you’d like them to bring in a nice way. Explain that you’re doing this so things won’t get mixed up, and if someone likes to be in control, you can ask if he or she has a dish suggestion.

Before guests arrive, be sure to set the kitchen/dining area up. Desserts should go separately on a side bar or desk, while the main course should be laid out around a table or counter, making it simple for people to move through in an orderly fashion. Place plates, silverware and napkins at the beginning of the space and make sure you have enough serving spoons for each dish.

Plan ahead and you’ll have a great potluck, enjoyed with friends and family!