5 Tips for Hosting a Perfect Potluck or Picnic

Your no-fuss guide to outdoor entertaining. Plus, healthy potluck ideas and picnic food ideas.

When the weather is warm, potlucks, cookouts and picnics abound. Even the most casual meal with family and friends is improved by a little pre-planning, so consider this your guide to healthy outdoor entertaining.

—EatingWell Editors

Watch: See how to make 4 quick appetizers


1. Remember: Everyone Loves Apps

Cut-up veggies with dip make a great (and easy!) appetizer that can be prepped ahead of time and set out while you’re laying the table. Serve with whole-grain tortilla chips and guacamole for a serving of fiber and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

Tip: For a boost of fiber without the fat, munch on veggies with hummus. You can have a full cup of sugar snap peas with 2 tablespoons of hummus for just a little more than 100 calories and about 3 grams of fat.


Pictured Recipe: Quick Kebabs

2. Thumbs Up for Hand-Held Foods

Skip messy foods like spaghetti and pick foods that are easy to eat in a setting where you’re not necessarily sitting down. Sandwiches feel like party food when they’re cut into small diamonds and served on a platter, and grilled vegetable kabobs don’t even require a plate. Chop vegetables and meats into smaller pieces that work with plastic utensils—and remember that soupy foods might soak through paper plates (or spill into someone’s lap).

Tip: Old stand-bys like burgers and hot dogs are great choices—especially when served on a whole-wheat bun. If you’re concerned about calories, go for a hot dog with lower-cal toppings like mustard, relish or just a little ketchup. This choice will come in at around 300 calories, versus about 500 for a quarter-pound beef burger with cheese.


3. Consider a Grains-Based Salad

Crisp green salads are a natural choice for summer eating—but those greens might not look quite so appetizing after sitting in the sun for a while. A grains-based salad is a healthy choice that will travel better and hold up to the heat longer than a green salad. Add vegetables, nuts and cheese to your favorite whole-grain (such as quinoa, wheat berries or bulgur), and toss with a robust dressing.

Tip: If you love traditional creamy picnic side dishes like mayo-based potato salad but are looking for something a little more diet-friendly, try coleslaw instead. It can satisfy a craving for something creamy for far fewer calories. Plus, cabbage provides a variety of essential nutrients including vitamin C.


Make dessert the night before.

Pictured Recipe: Easy Slice & Bake Cookies

4. Make Dessert the Night Before

Sorbets and ice creams are refreshing desserts but can be high-maintenance if everyone isn’t eating at the same time. Plan ahead and bake cookies the night before, giving you less day-of prep. Seasonal fruit with a dusting of powdered sugar also makes a great summer dessert.

Tip: If dessert is your favorite part of a potluck, save room by choosing lighter options elsewhere.


Don?t forget the drinks.

Pictured Recipe: White Sangria

5. Don’t Forget the Drinks

Guests love to bring appetizers and desserts, but don’t overlook the drinks. Make a pitcher of homemade iced-tea feel festive with citrus slices or slivers of fresh mint.

Tip: Margaritas and other mixers are often loaded with sugar and calories. Get your fruit fix with a glass of zero-calorie seltzer. Add fresh berries, mint leaves or a spritz of citrus to give it a fresh, summery taste. If you’re opting for an alcoholic drink, stick with a light beer or a glass of wine.

Tip: Transport your dish safely. It’s essential to keep hot food hot and cold food cold on the way to, and throughout, a potluck. Transport cold dishes in a cooler and keep them cold until you eat. Heat foods that are served warm just before the meal. Holding food at an unsafe temperature is a prime cause of food-borne illness. Food should not be left out of the cooler or off the grill for more than two hours (one hour when the outside temperature is above 90 °F).