Plus, she's providing tips for hosting— and attending—a casual potluck dinner.
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Roasted Brussels Sprout & Butternut Squash Salad

What is a potluck, really, but an excuse to share good food and conversation with friends and family? A potluck is more than just a dinner party: It's a collaborative meal between the host and guests. Of course, once you've decided to host one, you'll need to tell your guests what to bring to your potluck. In this article, we'll explain what a potluck is, and how to host a potluck without sacrificing good nutrition.

What Is a Potluck?

A potluck is different from other planned food-centric get-togethers. Most of us think of potlucks as a dinner party in which every guest brings a dish to share. And that's not wrong, but the word has a more nuanced definition, too. Merriam-Webster defines "potluck" as a "regular meal available to a guest for whom no special preparations have been made," or "whatever is offered or available in given circumstances or at a given time."

In other words? Casual is in! Formal is out! And thank goodness for that: We've all had a tough year. As Candie Anderson, a lifestyle and entertainment expert, explains, "Our standards for parties are a little lower after COVID-19— and that's a good thing!"

Potlucks originated during hard times; there's historical evidence that they originated during the 1930s, during the Great Depression. This makes potlucks perfect for today's tough moments: as Anderson explains, they are a low-pressure way to find a little joy.

How to Host a Potluck

At a potluck dinner, the task of cooking is shared among guests. This takes the pressure off the host for "doing it all" (hooray!). Because a potluck is meant to be casual, Anderson explains that there's no hard-and-fast rule for invitations. She's a fan of handwritten notes on stationery (like these personalized notecards from Etsy, $12), but if you don't have the time—or penmanship—a quick online invite will do the trick.

Choosing a theme for your potluck is a fun way to tap into everyone's creative side. Anderson suggests picking a theme and coordinating dishes with a Google doc. Or, choose one dish and have your guests all create their own unique version. (Need an idea to get started? Anderson suggests asking guests to bring their favorite guacamole-based dish to a taco-themed potluck.)

If your potluck is large, or includes many guests outside of your regular "pod," consider hosting it outside, to avoid transmission of the coronavirus. Encouraging guests to wear masks when not eating and drinking can help keep everyone safe, too.

A little decoration goes a long way (remember that it's meant to be casual!). Some inexpensive candles (like these tea lights from Amazon, $16 for 18) or fresh flowers are always appreciated. Anderson also suggests unexpected decor ideas, like lemons in a vase, or a vibrant table runner (she likes this one from Pottery Barn, $69). The best part about hosting a potluck is that guests take their cookware home with them—so the host doesn't get left with a mountain of dishes. To keep cleanup minimal and easy, use eco-friendly disposable plates, cups and cutlery, such as this compostable set (buy it: $36, Amazon).

What to Bring to a Potluck

At its heart, a potluck is an opportunity to enjoy yourself, rather than stress about fancy appetizers. So what you bring to a potluck should be simple and comforting. Forget the fussy, multi-step recipes that feature expensive ingredients. Sounds pretty great, right? Don't forget to make your potluck contribution nutritious and wholesome, too. Here are 10 of our favorite healthy recipes to make and bring to a potluck.

1. Greek Potato Salad

bowl of greek potato salad

It simply wouldn't be a potluck without a potato salad. This one ditches the heavy mayonnaise-based dressing for Greek-inspired flavors. You can keep the Kalamata olives and feta cheese on the side, and allow everyone to add however much—or little—they'd like. (Get the recipe here: Greek Potato Salad)

2. Pasta Salad with Black Beans & Avocado Dressing

Mexican Pasta Salad with Creamy Avocado Dressing

Pasta salad is perfect for a potluck. You can make it days in advance, and it will hold well at room temperature during the dinner. This flavorful recipe includes fiber-rich black beans, and the dressing is creamy thanks to heart-healthy avocado! (Get the recipe here: Pasta Salad with Black Beans & Avocado Dressing)

3. Vegan Creamy Coleslaw

vegan creamy coleslaw

Coleslaw, but make it vegan! You won't believe how rich and delicious this crunchy coleslaw tastes. Thanks to Dijon mustard and some cider vinegar, this dairy-free dish packs tons of flavor (and slaws always bring the fiber!). (Get the recipe here: Vegan Creamy Coleslaw)

4. Apple, Bacon and Sweet Potato Mini Casseroles

Apple, Bacon and Sweet Potato Mini Casseroles

We love these two-bite treats for a potluck. Not only are they easy to make in a large batch, but they're also perfectly portioned. Bonus: Serving them as individual casseroles keeps everyone safe, healthy and socially distanced. (Get the recipe here: Apple, Bacon and Sweet Potato Mini Casseroles)

5. Classic Lasagna

classic lasagna

You'd never guess that each serving of this Italian classic has just over 340 calories and a whopping 21 grams of protein. A few smart ingredient swaps do all the heavy lifting here — but don't worry, there's still plenty of tomato sauce and melted cheese. (Get the recipe here: Classic Lasagna)

6. Roasted Brussels Sprout & Butternut Squash Salad

Roasted Brussels Sprout & Butternut Squash Salad

A salad made from roasted veggies is a smart choice to bring to a potluck. It can be prepared in advance, and it's easy to scale up to make as large a batch as you need. We're loving the creamy tahini dressing and all of the cozy fall vibes with this recipe. (Get the recipe here: Roasted Brussels Sprout & Butternut Squash Salad)

7. Banana, Raisin & Walnut Baked Oatmeal

banana raisin walnut baked oatmeal

If your potluck is of the brunchy variety, you're going to need this hearty, healthy breakfast casserole. It's just the right amount of sweet, and can be baked a day in advance. Simply reheat it before serving, or dig in at room temperature. Serve plain yogurt on the side for a creamy topping. (Get the recipe here: Banana, Raisin & Walnut Baked Oatmeal)

8. Spinach & Mushroom Quiche

Spinach & Mushroom Quiche

Everyone loves quiche. But nobody loves fussy pie crusts. This lightened-up version of the classic is crustless, so it comes together in a breeze. You can also bake it in individual muffin tins for easier serving at your potluck — just adjust the cooking time. (Get the recipe here: Spinach & Mushroom Quiche)

9. Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies on wire cooling rack

It's downright impossible to resist these sweet-and-salty cookies, so make a double batch for your potluck. Don't forget to bring the recipe—sharing and learning new recipes is one of the best parts about attending a potluck! (Get the recipe here: Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies)

10. Peach Sangria

three glasses of Peach Sangria

This refreshing, big-batch cocktail is always a crowd-pleaser. Plus, it's easy to make. It's delicious all year, but for the fall, try swapping the peaches and schnapps for apples and apple brandy. (Get the recipe here: Peach Sangria)