Create the Perfect Summer Menu in 6 Simple Steps

July 11, 2018
6 Steps to Planning the Perfect Summer Menu

entertaining this summer? here’s how i keep it simple and cool and never miss the mark!

step 1: confirm your guest list.

first and foremost, confirm the number of people coming.

this may be the armenian in me, but i’m always terrified of running out of food. so i want to make sure i have more than enough.

at the same time, i don’t want to go overboard and cook a ridiculous amount of food because no one ever takes leftovers and our fridge is TINY.

and this may also be the armenian in me, but WAY too much food is just ostentatious. so, what’s my solution?

my rule of thumb is to cook for NO MORE THAN 150% of the number of guests attending. more often, i just add a couple servings more than the number of diners i’m expecting. so if we’re going to be a party of 8, i’ll usually cook for 10 and no more than 12.

i urge you from my personal experience that you don’t need to DOUBLE your recipe. just don’t do it.

what’s on my menu? i was hosting my family for a sunday night dinner a couple weeks ago. i expected 7 of us so i planned to cook for 10 because my uncle and husband usually eat A LOT. my grandma surprised me and tagged along with my parents, so i was ready for the final guest list of 8 since i had planned to cook for 10 anyway.

step 2: confirm any dietary restrictions.

second, keep in mind any dietary restrictions (or dislikes) your guests may have and pick out recipes accordingly.

what’s on my menu?ย my dad hates chicken. my husband can’t eat beef. my sister can’t do white bread and pasta much anymore. i honor my husband’s beef intolerance and my sister’s gluten issue because the poor things literally can’t stomach those foods. if i didn’t, they would have nothing to eat. i usually ignore my dad’s hatred for chicken, but i decided to take it into consideration this time.

step 3: choose your main course.

6 Steps to Planning the Perfect Summer Menu

now that you know how many and who you’re cooking for, you can figure out a suitable main dish.

yall let me be straight with you. i am not a chef or an award-winning homemaker. but i am a damn good host because i take the time to plan, be creative, and have fun. in fact, my success rate despite not being ina garten speaks volumes about my process, don’t you think?

you can’t cook the same main course for 3 people as you can for 10 people. i mean, i suppose you could but there are certain main dishes that work better for different party sizes. for an intimate dinner of four, i might bust out with salmon steaks or try some scallops.

if i’m feeding 8 to 10 though, what am i MADE OF MONEY!? i’ll go with fish and shrimp tacos instead or a giant pot of turkey chili or risotto.

since we are talking fun summer entertaining in this post, don’t go with stews and chili and comfort food like that. i’d stay in the taco, burger, or dog genre.

what’s on my menu? since chicken and beef were out (see step 2 above), i opted for pork. barbecue pulled pork sandwiches to be exact, which is a perfect summer food. ALSO, this is a “set it and forget it” slow cooker meat that is low stress, which is always a plus.

step 4: choose three side dishes: a hearty side, a healthy side, and a cold side.

first, choose a hearty side.

what do i mean by a hearty side? something starchy and gooey and comforting.

you need a hearty side for multiple reasons. first, heavy eaters will appreciate filling dishes. second, if someone doesn’t like the main dish, is a vegetarian, or is going to eat a low-carb version of the main dish, the heavy side will help fill them up.

what’s on my menu? horseradish mashed potatoes. nothing fills you up like potatoes! i thought the creamy mashed kind would elevate our meal a little bit while still being picnic-friendly comfort food. i also thought the tangy horseradish would go well with the tangy barbecue sauce on the pork.

next, choose a lighter, healthier side.

think vegetables! a leafy green, something cruciferous, a bright colored root perhaps. it’s not only healthy but it’ll off set the heavy side we just talked about.

what’s on my menu? balsamic roasted brussels sprouts–a family favorite.

lastly, pick something cold because it’s hot out!

6 Steps to Planning the Perfect Summer Menu

we are menu planning for summer entertaining here, so you want to keep things light and summery. a green salad would be perfect, whether simple or loaded with ingredients.

what’s on my menu? cucumber sesame salad. i’m a sucker for cucumbers, especially in hot weather.

*i kind of cheated here because my mom also brought over some cole slaw to put in our pulled pork sandwiches. that pretty much makes it a topping or condiment more than a side, right? PLUS it was store bought.

step 5: choose three beverages: a festive drink, a store-bought drink, and water.

6 Steps to Planning the Perfect Summer Menu

what do i mean by a festive drink?

this is the martha stewart in me. i mentioned above that adding some fun and creativity to a menu makes your meal special and memorable.

and hey, i’m not saying make everything whimsical and special! my mom brought over a container of cole slaw from costco for god’s sake.

a fresh, homemade drink served in a pretty glass pitcher does wonders for presentation!

here’s my one rule though, since not everybody drinks alcohol AND, even those that do–like me–don’t necessarily like drinking when it’s super hot out: keep the alcohol separate.

i have dehydration and heatstroke phobias after an unfortunate margarita at a summer music festival the details of which i will spare you. you can always have some vodka or rum or whatever on hand to spike the drink for those who want a more adult beverage.

what’s on my menu? blackberry bourbon lemonade. nothing says wet hot american summer like lemonade. or bourbon for that matter.

i opt for sparkling water instead of soda.

still and sparkling water are the ultimate thirst quenchers.

but i understand that some people can’t do without soda, which is why i included a store-bought beverage. cans of la croix, bottles of ginger beer, whatever floats your boat.

step 6: choose a simple dessert.

6 Steps to Planning the Perfect Summer Menu

for a summer menu, i go super light and no-bake for dessert. i’m talking fruit salad or vanilla ice cream with a toppings bar.

what’s on my menu? balsamic roasted (or grilled) peach halves with vanilla ice cream.

the balsamic carries over from the brussels sprouts for some cohesion AND the peaches elevate your basic vanilla ice cream just enough to distract your guests from the fact that you just bought some ice cream and called it a day!

6 Steps to Planning the Perfect Summer Menu

what’s your favorite summer menu? let me know what i should try in the comments below!

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