Summer is quickly approaching, and along with the sunny days and warm nights come the celebrations—Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Mother’s Day and more! As barbecues and potlucks fill your calendar, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed about what to bring to these events.
However, bringing a healthy, tasty dish doesn't have to be stressful or time consuming. Once you nail down a few successful recipes, the preparation becomes second nature, and you’ll naturally keep the needed ingredients on hand. Everyone will ask you, “You’re bringing our favorite dish, right?” Here are a few potluck-approved recipes and tips to consider when planning your next gathering.
Salads That Prepare Well in Advance
In general, marinated pasta and veggie salads hold up well and often become more flavorful the next day. Even prepping half the ingredients the night before the gathering helps cut back on the stress associated with rushing—so plan ahead! The key to a tasty pasta, grain, veggie or bean salad is making sure you have a light but flavorful dressing and using raw or lightly cooked vegetables so the color pops. Try some of these easy and delicious options:
- Pasta Salad With Greens: Prepare quinoa, brown rice or whole-wheat fusilli pasta according to package instructions, then toss with arugula, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, shaved Parmesan cheese and an olive oil/lemon juice vinaigrette or your favorite bottled salad dressing.
- Herb Salad: Toss arugula with minced fresh herbs (cilantro, chives, parsley, fennel), lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, shaved Parmesan cheese and fresh cracked black pepper.
- Wheat Berry Pilaf: Cook whole wheat berries according to package instructions, then toss with chopped marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, black olives and crumbled feta cheese.
- Italian Caprese Salad: Combine halved cherry tomatoes, rinsed and drained canned white beans, diced baby mozzarella and torn fresh basil. Add basil shortly before serving to keep it from wilting/browning.
- Veggie and Bean Salad: Toss a mixture of beans, cilantro, tomato, mini peppers, corn (and more!) with a simple vinaigrette to create a dish that’ll be ready in no time.
Add a protein punch to any salad by tossing sliced eggs, ham, turkey, chicken or salami in with the rest of the ingredients.
Hot Side Dish Suggestions
Sometimes nothing pairs better with an outdoor barbecue or potluck than a hot, satisfying side dish. Here are some quick and easy favorites:
- Baked Beans: Beans are great because they can be cooked ahead of time in the slow cooker. This dish is always a big hit, and there is never a shortage of people volunteering to take home the leftovers. Try some of our favorite versions: Slow Cooker Baked Beans and Slow Cooker Vegetarian Boston Baked Beans.
- Summer Ratatouille: Bake or grill red, yellow and green bell peppers, eggplant, zucchini, tomato, red onion and garlic. Roughly chop and then mix together with olive oil, salt and pepper.
- Edamame Succotash: Thaw a bag of frozen edamame, and add some fresh chopped red pepper and thawed frozen corn.
- Spanakopita: Purchase frozen versions, then simply bake and serve with roasted red peppers to add a pop of color.
- Apple Cheddar Pitza: Top a whole-wheat pita with sliced apples, honey mustard and shredded cheese. Broil until melted, slice, and enjoy.
: When in doubt, a quick fruit salad is always a pleaser. Or, if you’re swamped and have no time, have the kids help you mix together a few jars of roasted red peppers and marinated artichoke hearts and accent with some Kalamata olives.
Tips for Packing Side Dishes
Don’t forget to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot during transport and while serving. Most thermal bags are modestly priced, so it’s easy and cheap to pack foods safely. Food borne illness isn’t something to take lightly, and both elderly and young childrens’ immune systems are more susceptible, so in addition to packing dishes in a thermal container, remind guests wash their hands before eating. If you’ll be outdoors, provide hand sanitizer and wipes, and encourage guests to eat when the food is ready, not after it’s been sitting out all day.
- If you are bringing a less sturdy salad (ex: something with tender lettuce), pack the dressing separately and toss just before serving so the leaves don’t wilt and become soggy.
- Never leave mayonnaise- or egg-based salads in the heat for more than an hour. And avoid keeping cold foods in temperatures greater than 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Always pack cold foods with ice packs so they stay fresh and within a safe temperature range.
- Serve cold dishes using two bowls—place ice in the bottom bowl, then nest the top bowl of food on the ice to keep items cold and fresh.
- Divide your dish into two small containers. Store one in the fridge or a cooler placed in a shady spot. Once one is running low, switch it out with the fresh version.
- Insulate hot items, and and open right before serving.
- Use an aluminum container for hot dishes, and place the whole container on the grill over low heat to reheat before you serve.
- Fresh fruit makes a great side dish. Simply set out a bowl of citrus, apples, bananas or dried fruit. All are safe in the heat.
As you can see, there are so many options to consider when bringing a dish to a barbecue gathering. The hard part is choosing which one!