Potlucks: They’re Great

Kidwoods + me chowing down at a town potluck a few years ago

What’s not to love about a potluck? You make food, other people make food, you bring that food together and then you eat! Potlucks are a bedrock of frugal living, of community-centered living, of family-oriented living, of social living, and of living for people who like to eat. How could something so inherently frugal–so inherently about food–not be talked about on Frugalwoods until now? We cite the oversight and seek to remedy.

To all you Frugalites out there, keeping the frugal real while detoxing from the overconsumption and commercialism of the holidays and trying to forget about your uncle asking you for the fourth time at Christmas dinner why you drive a car that’s ten years old, know that you are not alone.

Kick back on your Craigslist couch (yes, I know you washed the removable cushion covers before you brought it home), cozy up with that afghan you knitted (no one notices the dropped stitches, I promise), put your feet up on the coffee table your friend handed down when they moved to California, pour some boxed Malbec into the wine glass you found for free on the side of the road, and scroll on down. You’re among friends now. Potluck friends.

Potluck Friends Are The Best Friends

I’m not just saying this because they make food and bring it to your house. Although I’m kind of saying this because they make food and bring it to your house. I’ve long been a potluck evangelist, but I was forever evangelizing to the wrong crowd until… we moved to Vermont. Lord have mercy, for I have come home. Truly I say to you, Vermont is potluck country. Forget the Green Mountain state, this place is the Potluck State. I daresay Vermont has expanded my definition of potluck and eroded my previously limited conception of when, where, for what occasion, and with whom a potluck could occur. Honey, we have potlucks for everything out here.

Cook a large batch and freeze it or potluck it!

I surmise this is due to the following:

  1. There are few restaurants here, none near our home, and zero delivery options.
  2. The centers of socialization in rural Vermont are: our homes, libraries, churches, the great outdoors, town hall, the town center, and the schools. None of these places serve food.
  3. Vermonters are frugal AF. I am one of the least frugal people I know in Vermont. For shame. I can’t even tell my neighbors I write about frugality lest they laugh me out of the room in my clothes that are newer than 40 years old. Vermonters know how to stretch a dollar and live on very little and are the most self-sufficient people I’ve ever met (this coming from a person whose husband does all of our plumbing, electrical, snow plowing, firewood harvesting, gardening, and woodworking–he doesn’t even scratch the surface of true Vermonter self-sufficiency).
  4. Vermonters are good cooks. Since everyone cooks at home all the time, just about everyone is a good cook. Those of us who are not good cooks (looking at myself here… ) are usually teamed up with someone who is a good cook. To whit: I was asked once–and exactly once–to bake pies for the annual chicken dinner fundraiser for our volunteer fire department. I was never asked again. My pies are ok, but they are nowhere near the echelon of pies baked by the Vermonters. I am now asked to bring vinegar and cooking oil for the the annual chicken dinner fundraiser for our volunteer fire department and I do so with pride. I buy that vinegar and oil like nobody’s business.
  5. We live in a small town and you need each other in a small town. We are reliant on one another for everything from help building houses to refuge when the power goes out to childcare to emergency rides when a car dies unexpectedly. This community web of interdependence is fostered through shared meals at regular intervals.

The July 4th celebration at our town center.

I have participated in potlucks for all of the following:

  • Weddings
  • Frame raisings (for building houses, barns and, in one instance, a yurt)
  • Every Sunday after church (what’s church without a coffee hour of goodies afterwards?)
  • Birthday parties
  • July 4th parties
  • Labor Day parties
  • Christmas parties
  • Easter parties (I made the bunny ear cake!)
  • Ok, all kinds of parties
  • Dinner parties (oh wait! That’s just another kind of party!)
  • Volunteer board meetings
  • Events at the library
  • Town meeting day (what’s town meeting without a potluck lunch afterwards?)
  • Church luncheons
  • New baby parties
  • Book clubs

Everyone Loves A Potluck

My homemade applesauce. I’m really vain about it, so I figured I’d make you look at the photo of it again.

While Vermont culture is steeped in potlucks, perhaps potlucks are not so common in your neck of the woods. Lucky for your friends and neighbors, they have you to bring them the good news!

It might feel daunting or embarrassing to be the one to suggest potlucks in lieu of dining out, but I’m willing to bet your compatriots will be glad you did. Over the years, I’ve received reams of testimonials from readers about the enthusiastic reception their potluck suggestions have elicited. I cannot tell you how many people send me thrilled emails along the lines of:

I was nervous about suggesting at-home potlucks, but once I did, my friends were receptive because they want to spend less on going out too!

So keep those emails pouring into my inbox (so that I can read them, smile, and avoid doing something noble like cleaning the grout in my kitchen).

In fact, you don’t even have to take my word for it. Here’s what Sam–the subject from the case study, Reader Case Study: Debt And Dreams In Queensland, Australia–had to say on the topic:

…when we spoke to friends about not wanting to go out and spend money on entertaining, they were so relieved as they too had been feeling the financial pressure. Amazingly, our social life is better than it has ever been and costs about $10 a week on average.

Aha! See!? It’s not just me.

The One Rule Of Potluck Dishes: Keep It Simple

The remains of a carrot cake I made for a potluck. Clearly it was popular.

Don’t sweat your potluck dish. Seriously. No one likes sweat in their food. Figure out a solid recipe–one that’s easy for you to make, that you enjoy eating, and that doesn’t have expensive ingredients. I’ve never seen anyone bring caviar to a potluck. Not saying it couldn’t happen, just saying I’ve never seen it. Also not saying I wouldn’t eat caviar if someone did bring it.

Don’t make boeuf bourguignon (unless you really want to!), don’t make filet mignon (unless it’s your lifelong dream!), don’t make Baked Alaska (I don’t even know what that is, but it sounds complicated!). Stick to recipes you know and with ingredients that don’t cost a million dollars.

One of my very fave items to make for potlucks are these from-scratch brownies by King Arthur Flour. They’re easy, quick, cheap, and delicious. Don’t make them when you’re home alone and hungry… not that I’ve ever done that…

I also want to introduce the sometimes controversial approach of buying pre-made foods for a potluck. I endorse this approach if you don’t have time to cook for a potluck because: it will still be cheaper than going out for dinner/drinks. Not doing potlucks because you don’t have time to cook and don’t want to spend money on pre-made foods and instead spending three times the amount at a restaurant does not make sense. Even I, oh calculator-user and one of low math skills, can tell you that.

More Than Money $aved

Littlewoods and me on a rare restaurant outing

You knew I was going to go here because I cannot help myself. But you guys, I’m serious! Potlucks have so many benefits beyond the money saved by not going to a restaurant/bar/movie theatre/hip young persons hang-out location:

  1. Potlucks build deep, lasting connections. When you’re able to linger over a meal and aren’t rushed by wait staff or sweating over who will pay which part of the bill, you can connect more deeply with friends. When you cook for another person and host them in your home, you invite a more significant relationship.
  2. Potlucks provide an opportunity to hone your skills. For me, personally, my from-scratch brownie skills are ON POINT. And, the preschool Thanksgiving feast potluck was the first time I ever made pie crusts from scratch! If you’re up to it, cooking for potlucks is a chance to stretch your culinary skill-set.
  3. Potlucks are SO MUCH EASIER when you have young children. We’ve taken our kids to restaurants approximately three times. Conversely, we take them to potlucks almost every week. Potlucks are more relaxed, there are toys to play with (or we’re outside), there are other children/pets to cavort around with/mask their screaming, and it’s just generally a better atmosphere for little kids. Plus it’s loads cheaper than ordering a meal your kid ends up not eating at all… like not even a lick (even though it’s something they love and promised they’d eat and then they spend the entire car ride home complaining of starvation-like symptoms).

In Summary

Do you have to like potlucks if you’re frugal? No, but it sure does help.

What are your potluck hosting and attending tips?

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106 Responses

  1. One way to even out the savings even more is to rotate who brings the main dish, or do BYOM (bring your own meat), esp. to a barbecue. When we moved about 15 minutes away from friends, one way we’ve made sure to keep in touch is by hosting a monthly get-together. We take turns of whose house to have it at (it also means we don’t have to clean our house as thoroughly every month! ha ha), and then whoever hosts does the main dish and we just split up the side dishes/dessert. We even do themed nights, like our party for Chinese New Year, or the time we all had to make something that fit some of our friends’ new (strict) diet. Potlucks really are the way to go!

  2. Caroline Bowman says:

    here in the land of the braai (barbeque, but really, it’s a bit different, it really is something South Africans Do Well, unlike… well, maintain a working infrastructure or economy or… but I digress!), it is absolutely standard to host a braai and tell people ”bring tjop en dop” (chop and booze). This doesn’t have to be literal chops, though those are always welcome, but anything ”meat” that they wish to eat. The person (always the man! Do not question this. Manly men must make fire and this is how it is. It just is. Yes I know.) in charge of the braai does the cooking, often the marinading and, crucially, barks the orders to his minions who must scurry to bring implements, meat, get the warming drawer turned on, remove children from where burning coals are likely to incinerate them and so on. They must have a beer during this time. It’s the law.

    ANYWAY. The premise is that each person / family brings the pricey stuff they wish to eat and drink, with a little extra for sharing usually, and the host provides salads, rolls, the braai wood and obviously the venue. If it’s a bigger affair, some or other guest might bring a garlic loaf or dessert or some such thing. Inevitably there is a VAST amount of food cooked and the host then cashes in by freezing loads of it and eating it for weeks or even months after. One memorable occasion we were so over-catered that even after pressing people to take food with them, we had food for ages. It was great!

    In fact, if you are hosting a party, you need to specify that people NOT bring meat and booze if you intend to provide it. This always provokes outcry ”but… but… YOU CAN’T PROVIDE FOR ALL OF US”. This may go back and forth for a while. Usually, potluck is standard, and thank heavens that it is.

    My husband happens to be an excellent, unflappable braai master and so he sometimes will arrive at a large party and immediately be escorted to the fire and handed tongs and made to cook. This is normal, a compliment even. I love it because I just sit there, with a gin and tonic and shout at the children.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Hahah, that sounds divine. I would love to join you in the gin and tonic aspect–that’s something I specialize in 😉

    • dorothy says:

      ha ha super post. appreciate that the man cooks because you dont have to. just sit and supervise.

    • Lizanne Schmidt says:

      So lekker om n ander Suid – Afrikaner hier raak te loop… lees?
      Don’t forget the braai broodjie…

      • Caroline Bowman says:

        beer bread is an absolute essential. I do absolutely love a braai, it’s so relaxed, kids in the pool, nice salads and sides, it’s something we really do well, across all the different, very varied cultures, each with their own specific ”rules” and ideas about what is completely essential and what is just ”wrong”. One very dear northern English friend was roundly jeered at for bringing… pork sausages to a braai. It’s Not Done.

        Of course now that she’s been married for many years to one of the original cast members of our group, pork sausages, proper english bangers are *always* part of any decent braai.

    • Tina says:

      Another Saffer here!
      Don’t forget that after buying the meat (and drinks and everything else), marinating the meat, tidying up the house for guests, making salads & sides, putting out loads of chips & dip, making sure eveyone has enough to drink and … then everyone congratulates the braaier for all their hard work and asks if you enjoyed the evening off!! Gotta love a good Bring & Braai!!

      • Caroline Bowman says:

        My darling husband has learned, as have his friends (all married to similarly jack-boot wearing feminists), that although they will obviously be thanked for braaing the meat nicely (which they do, under sometimes quite challenging conditions), there will be no grovelling and they will 100% be expected to participate in the organising and the clean-up. I think that’s one positive way things have changed, at least in our circles, that although male privilege is alive and well, the ideas of not getting involved in all the many things that go into hosting a nice social occasion have vanished. I am the salads and sides half of the relationship, but husband absolutely does his share in cleaning the house, organising whatever is needed for the braai and then in entertaining and cleaning up after. If he didn’t and it wasn’t a team effort, I’d be far less enthusiastic!

    • Talia says:

      Fellow Saffer ex-pat here! Your post had me chuckling and nostalgic. It was right on-spot to how I remember the days of braaivleis, rugby, sunny skies and everything else! Thanks for the memories.

      • Caroline Bowman says:

        where are you now? With our current electricity issues, braai is becoming more of a necessity than anything else 😉

  3. Melissa says:

    We have a monthly pot luck in our group of friends and it’s the best time. One family hosts every month. We all bring something and usually a food something and a drink something. The kids run around and the adults chat and it’s wonderful.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Potlucks are great, but they are really stressful for families that deal with food allergies. My son has a severe peanut, dairy, and egg allergy, and it’s impossible to partake in things like this with him. Hopefully people can continue to work on their awareness about ingredients, write & bring ingredient lists along with their dishes, and make these events more accessible for people with severe food allergies!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you for sharing this perspective, I really appreciate it. What advice do you have for folks who would like to make potlucks food allergy friendly?

      • Allie says:

        I love a potluck!

        I used to organize work potlucks and printed out simple tags with the following:

        Dish:
        Name:
        Contains: (please circle)
        Eggs Meat Nuts Dairy Gluten Soy

        This list isn’t exhaustive, but I got feedback that it was very helpful for those who followed special diets or had allergies. Plus, a person can go ask further questions to the maker of the dish. Double plus bonus, you can more easily compliment someone for a great dish!

        • Caroline Bowman says:

          this is a really good idea! Also, people who are struggling with allergies need to speak up as to what they can or cannot safely have. Sometimes it is simpler and safer for a person with a very difficult / dangerous allergy to stick with shop-prepared items in sealed packages to avoid cross-contamination, which sucks, but it’s bad enough to be dealing with a bad allergy without then also being excluded from a social gathering.

      • Krista says:

        For a long time, I brought multiple dishes I knew I could eat to a pot-luck just to make things stress free. My friends & family have noticed that, and multiple people now bring gf, df dishes for me as well without me asking. I usually get a bag of gf pretzels from a family member who is unsure how to cook for allergies but wants to make me feel welcome. I love it!

      • Julie says:

        I try to make things that are free of common allergens (used to be off top 10 and still can’t eat many common foods) and label it, free of …. I make homemade potato wedges with just potatoes, olive oil, salt, which most people can eat, or if it’s a small gathering and I know the people coming and what they are unable to eat, I make sure I accommodate that (gluten, nut free etc). We have a child in our friends circle who has different things she can’t eat, so I always text her mom to make sure what I’m bringing includes what she can eat.

      • Sandra Richardson says:

        I have a child with severe egg and dairy allergies and I’ve learned it’s easiest just to bring his own “special” food along for him to eat rather than ask everyone else to work around. And can you really be sure people take the same care as you would to make sure the food is allergen free? I also always make a favourite dessert that he can eat too so that he doesn’t feel left out. I find that if you make it too difficult for people, you will stop getting invited to events where food is served. I know children with allergies who have stopped being invited to birthday parties because the hosting parents are too afraid of being blamed if the child has a reaction to something they’ve served.

        • Jennifer says:

          Sandra, that is my fear! We’re still very new to this. Thanks for sharing. We’ve been bringing our own food but I’ve felt very self-conscious about this. I feel like people think we’re just being overcareful when the reality is my son’s allergies are very severe. I guess I need to stop worrying about it and view the brought food as making it less stressful for the host and other guests!

          • bonnie says:

            True…often we realize we’re not in others thoughts as much as we think we are. Do what works best for you and your family and be done with any worry. Then you can enjoy.

      • Annie R says:

        I don’t have a single human being over to my house without asking what their food allergies are and I always, always make sure to have some thing the person with the allergies can really enjoy. In fact, when I have a family of kids with an allergy I don’t even include that item in something very enticing like a dessert. So for instance, a life-threatening nut allergy means I’m not going to make the star desert full of nuts even if I have an alternative. And whenever I bring food I list the allergens on a card. It’s really not that big a deal to do this for people. For our family I just make sure to bring an item that the people with allergies in our family can eat if nothing else is provided.

      • Miranda says:

        I have several severe allergies and the only way to be saved is to only eat food I’ve prepared. I’m fine bringing my own dish for myself. What I don’t like is always being asked multiple questions by at least one person. Usually it’s coming from a place of interest or curiosity, not judgement, but still. Any event with food feels like 20 questions, which is very isolating. Even with people who’ve known me for years. There’s always a few people that just won’t let it go. So now I avoid anything with food whenever possible. I don’t like being singled out and treated like a curiosity.

        • Caroline Bowman says:

          it must be very difficult and I will remember that the next time I want to ask all about someone’s allergy. You’re quite right, it’s personal and I will refrain from doing it. I’ve never gone overboard, but even so, I’d hate to make someone who is already dealing with something life-altering have to then get me to shut up already.

          It might be a good idea to actually contact any specifically guilty people and just say (maybe on the back of a food-related gathering that’s coming up) ”stop it immediately. This is not a drill. I’m over it”. If they are decent people, they will.

      • Jennifer says:

        Definitely writing detailed ingredient cards to bring with the dish—but for someone with severe food allergies like my son, you also need to be mindful of whether dishes are prepared on the same machinery as peanuts, dairy, etc. So if a label says “may contain” or “processed in a facility that processes…” that should be noted on the card too.

    • Linda says:

      The only potluck I go to is one that is organized by a vegan group. They insist on people bringing a recipe card along with their dish so that you know what ingredients go into it. But, with severe allergies, I’m not even sure I would trust that. I think I would just bring a meal along for my child, but make it spectacular. Brownies might feature in it. 😉

    • Abby says:

      Thank you for saying this, as I was just about to point out this same thing. My daughter has an anaphylactic allergy to eggs and tree nuts. One of the biggest impacts to us has been to realize that eating together is such a fundamental part of our relationship with family and friends, and that allergies really complicate this! Our extended family can mostly be trusted to read labels, though it is better when people save the packaging for us to read (gives this anxious mama some peace of mind). However having her eat food at a true potlucks would just be too scary, because not only do you have to worry about the hidden ingredients (and eggs are one of the worst culprits because they are ubiquitous and often invisible as an ingredient), but also the potential for cross contamination. My daughter once had a reaction because someone made her popcorn but melted the butter in a cast iron pan which she regularly cooked eggs in.

      Depending on your circumstance, it may be possible to bring a separate safe meal for the food allergic person, but that can be not so fun (more work, and depending on their age, it can feel really depressing to be eating your pb&j while everyone else has access to a grand buffet). For bday parties I’ve learned to make a batch of cupcakes a couple times a year and have my daughter decorate them and then freeze, and then I always talk to the host about safe snacks. Certainly providing options like fresh fruits and veggies really helps because those feel more obviously safe! I have friends, too, who will prepare food for the few potluck events we’ve gone to and will describe in great detail how they made the food (what sort of precautions they took) and save the labels for me. It also helps to do potlucks with fellow families with food allergies.

      Lastly and not so frugal, items that are cooked and brought in one and done foil packaging also are that much safer from a cross contamination perspective.

      I can’t express the anxiety of watching my child eat foods that I don’t know for sure are safe. However, I do feel like the small blessing for us has been that we almost never spend money on a restaurant or takeout!

    • Rebecca says:

      We deal with food allergies too. My kids allergies (different ones for different kids) include dairy, egg, soy, peanut, treenut, garbanzo, peas, lentils, corn syrup, red food dye and we recently found out my husband is sensitive to corn. The peanut allergy is severe as are the related ones of garbanzos, peas, lentils. The others are less so but still need to be avoided.
      We regularly participate in a potluck at our church. Since our peanut allergy is severe, people were asked to avoid bringing peanut foods. Otherwise, I just make food that my kids can eat. They have figured out that a few other families bring allergy-free foods that are safe for them so they ask those families about the foods if they look safe that week. There is one family at our church that has such severe allergies to so many many things that they just bring her food with each week. She is then able to participate in the social aspects although eating different foods.
      As far as what others can do, label your foods – “dairy free” or “xxx free”. Be very careful of cross contamination – if you use a knife on cheese, you cannot use it on anything else and call it dairy free. Cross contamination is one of the scariest things when you deal with food allergies as it’s invisible (unlike a cream soup which is obviously dairy looking). Talk to those you know have food allergies and ask exactly what they are allergic too and what types of food are safe that you could possibly bring. Let them know when you do bring those foods. Don’t be insulted when they ask specific questions about the foods you told them were allergy free – allergies can be very scary (we’ve done ER visits for them and carry an epi pen at all times).

      • Jennifer says:

        Thanks for all this. Yes, I haven’t been able to trust others’ food preparation because of the risk of cross-contamination. My mother took us out to eat for NYE, and it was our son’s first time trying a restaurant-made meal. This place had always been really considerate in food prep while I was nursing and needing to stay away from the same allergens, but on NYE, after explaining in detail the level of care required to avoid dairy, egg, and peanut, the server brought out my son’s plain grilled salmon on the same plate as my daughter’s grilled cheese… Really makes you wonder about food prep, as I’m sure it’s incredibly hard for people to remember to wash their hands after interacting with the allergens or not using the same cutting board before washing thoroughly etc.

    • Jackie says:

      Agreed, I rarely opt to participate in a potluck because the risk of cross-contamination either during the food preparation or at the potluck itself is too high.

    • Katie O. says:

      My best friend has a gluten allergy so I’ve definitely become aware of what goes into food because I want to make sure she has a good time! I have some vegan friends who have benefited from that awareness as well since one is allergic to coconut and the other is allergic to nuts, so I intentionally bring vegan food with allergens noted – it’s expanded my potluck food repertoire and also my eating habits. Also I get invited to a lot more potlucks when I do that but I’d like to think that has to do with my wit and charm. 🙂

    • Nora says:

      My friend has a son with a severe gluten allergy. She brings her own food for him and he knows he can’t eat the potluck food unfortunately. We would make gluten free food for him but it’s impossible to ensure that our home is truly safe for him. 🙁 We do read labels of the prepackaged food and look things up but cross contamination is a bigger issue. We do make meat free dishes for those who dietary restrictions. When I was vegetarian, I always made my own food so I knew there was one thing I could eat.

    • RG says:

      Thanks for this perspective! I think potluck hosts should be diligent about always asking if there are food allergies, intolerances or religious prohibitions, ask this even if you think you know the answer, and ensure that there is at least one main meal option that everyone can partake in so that the onus isn’t on the person with the allergy to always accommodate.

  5. Starla says:

    As someone who lives in rural Ohio, potlucks are a part of every day life. We’ve even been invited to weddings, done pot-luck style, where we’ve been asked to bring a dish. I love potlucks among friends, although I have to say I’m a little cautious of potlucks among strangers (the school choir potluck, for example) where I have no idea whose kitchen the food derived. It’s then that I always stick with anything that appears store or restaurant-purchased. 🙂

    • pauline says:

      Our associate pastor had a potluck at his wedding – it was a lovely donated venue in a vineyard, and all the guests brought food for the wedding feast. I think it was a wonderful way to show love to the newlyweds who were on a very tight budget.

  6. Dawn says:

    In my little community we plan the next potluck while at the current one. It generally starts with someone – okay me because I am a planner- asking what do y’all want to eat next time. Then comes each person volunteering for a side, dessert, drink, etc. Potlucks need a bit of organization.

  7. Virginia says:

    Yessss! Also having people over for a really cheap meal– it costs me maybe $4 more to enlarge a veggie curry to feed an extra family. Vermont sounds like Maine!

  8. Kristina says:

    I love pot luck dinners! Some friends of ours started a Supper Club a few years back. It was started so our husbands could make male connections (that’s another story ha ha), but also because we didn’t want the expense of dining out and the rush of a restaurant visit. Monthly we would rotate who hosted. The host would provide the main dish while the other couples would bring sides and dessert. We literally did this for 7 years!! We all loved it!! We kept it pretty basic and easy. We would always get the next months date on the calendar before we left the host house! We didn’t want this mini potluck not to happen!!
    I read your comment about Baked Alaska. If you look it up it is actually pretty easy to make. My mother use to make it for special occasions. All it really takes is grease from a roast, flour and water.
    In closing I want to thank you for your blog!! It’s right up my frugal alley!! I’ve sent it along to several family & friends!!
    Have a great day!

    • Diane says:

      Baked Alaska is a dessert of ice cream inside a meringue shell. Are you perhaps thinking of Yorkshire Pudding?

    • Meredith says:

      Supper clubs are great! I had one with a group of 5 other ladies from my grad school program, and it honestly is responsible for our friendship. Every Friday, one of us would host and cook the main meal, someone else would bring wine, and a third person would bring desert. I like the idea of splitting out the sides too so that the host has even less on their plate.

      What I really loved about our supper club was that it involved pretty much zero planning conversations. It was such a relief to have something social on the books every week, without having to endure the usual gauntlet of planning that it takes to get 6 people to show up at one restaurant at the same time these days (usually about 50 texts to narrow down the date, time and location). It was also great because we could linger and chat (or vent, as grad students are wont to do) as long as we wanted. If we’d been at a restaurant, we really would have only been able to have like an hour at the table (tops) before we felt pressure to move to a bar or some other location.

      • Annon says:

        We did something similar during my grad school. Sometimes, we helped the host to cook the meal. Cooking together was a great way to connect. No two people were from the same country (okay, two of us were). Over food, laughter, cooking together, and enlightened world-conversation (is that a word? It is now 🙂 ), we grew together. We still talk of those times with such fondness.

        • Leslie says:

          I’ve never participated in a supper club but my parents were part of a monthly supper club. There were 20 couple who met in evening school after WWII, and, 65 years later, there are still some remaining members alive that continue to meet (although now it’s only a few times a year in the afternoon instead of Saturday evening). Originally, each couple contributed $2 to the host couple for the meal.

  9. Kim says:

    I live in a 55+ community. The majority of people live alone so a once a month pot luck is a great way to get a chance to cook for more than yourself. When you live alone and cook only for yourself it is a treat to eat with others and catch up with your neighbors. We have take out containers and share the leftovers to take home to enjoy another meal.

  10. We started a Supper Club on my street, where the host provides the main dish, and everyone else brings a side and their preferred beverages. We sign up on a Google Sheet so that everything is covered (we’re a small group of 5-6 families). It’s so nice because we all have youngish kids, so we keep things casual. Eating on our laps casual, kids running through the house casual. It’s such a nice way to regularly see my neighbors because we all are so busy, and we all love it. I’m a big fan of potlucks!

  11. gen says:

    When I was in college and we were coming to the end of the semester my hockey team decided to host a sort of potluck. Everyone brought the remnants of their fridge and pantry and myself and some of the other good cooks on the team figured out what we could make with everything. There were different shapes of pasta and different types of cheese and a really (ahem) interesting punch made with leftover juice and alcohol. It was an awesome bonding experience and it kept us from wasting food and money.

  12. Cindy in South says:

    Our office party is potluck. Our Christmas lunch at church is potluck. People are ridiculous at weddings and birthdays around here though. It used to be potluck but seems to have fallen by the wayside, maybe because most women work outside the home. Weddings, graduation parties, birthdays are catered because there are a few local folks who do that. There are zero restaurants where I live (and only a few where I work, the local gas station is actually where most folks buy lunch because they have a cooked takeout lunch of fried catfish, fried chicken, and vegetables every day.)

  13. Laura says:

    Another potlucker here! Our religious community does potluck so much that any kind of get-together, whether for worship or purely social, is considered incomplete without potluck. When each person brings one thing to share, there’s so much food and we have variety that we’d otherwise not have. One couple I know who had been together for 20 years before marrying and thus had a houseful of Stuff already asked guests to bring a potluck dish in lieu of gifts, and some acquaintances/very casual friends did volunteer kitchen duty during the wedding itself as their contribution. It was a 100 course meal and there were so many leftovers that they carefully packaged it up and took it to a local shelter.

  14. Sarah says:

    I love potlucks, and just generally hanging out with friends in low-key settings! For a long time I avoided having people over because our house is really tiny, we only have one bathroom, and we’re not the “cleanest” people 🙂 But we’ve hosted a few gatherings in the past couple of months and it’s been a great experience– one I hope to repeat a lot of times this coming year. I haven’t tried hosting my own potluck yet, although I’ve been to many of them. That’s next on my list! I like the idea of doing themes.

    • Jenny Lytle says:

      We have had the same issue – small house, one bathroom, not magazine perfect like so many people’s homes, but when I opened up my home to a Bible study I figured out that what most people, or at least most women, seem to want and need more than anything is authenticity and community. We have just recently (like in the past month) started embracing a more frugal, less consumeristic lifestyle and I love the thought of having potlucks to reconnect with friends! Thanks for the encouragement.

  15. Rosemary says:

    Just a quick note about baked Alaska. It is a dessert where a sponge flan case has fruit or jam on the base, ice cream piled in the middle and then the whole lot covered in whipped egg white and baked in a hot oven for a short time. The meringue is cooked and the ice cream still frozen and is a great show stopper. Not suitable for pot luck as it has to be served as soon as it comes out of the oven. I am sorry Kristina but you are describing gravy made after a roast.

  16. Leslie says:

    My only worries about pot lucks is how to figure a ratio of salads to desserts! Otherwise, always a hit.

  17. Cheryl Horne says:

    Just north of you, many years ago, we lived in a small community in rural Quebec. We got together biweekly for a small house church group which featured a pot luck supper. Whole foods, mostly organic, home grown or home canned, etc. It’s over 35 years since we left there and spread from east to west on the continent, some of us still in Canada, at least one in the states. The bonds between the 7 adults were very strong and the time was memorable. None of us had much of anything but were rich in friendship and fellowship.

  18. Lindsay says:

    My girlfriends and I have a monthly weeknight book club. We started out with a potluck, but ran into trouble since lots of us were coming straight from work and from all over the city. We ended up changing it to rotating host, so now each of us covers the meal and wine in rotation. Meals range from simple (Costco lasagna) to extremely elaborate (boeuf bourgignon!) depending on the host, and everyone is happier avoiding the logistics every month.

    My husband and I also maintain a shared Google Sheet with a column for each of our friends and their SOs. Everyone is responsible for putting all allergies and dietary restrictions in their column, and we just look at the list when we host and follow up if needed. It has worked out really well, especially for the two people with serious food allergies.

    • Nicole says:

      I was coming here to say this too! I actually HATE potlucks! Having to make food every time and find the time to go to the store or get home and make something and bring it? No thanks! But we do regular rotating supper/brunch depending on time of day clubs with several groups of friends and take turns hosting. When it’s our turn, we prepare everything! The next few months we get to just show up! We do have some dietary restrictions that we are sensitive too but no serious allergies that we need to avoid cross contamination for. I love it! Same frugal community time but 1/4 as many days I need to think of and plan a dish and the meals always go together and have the right mix of things. Sometimes we make fancy things and sometimes someone will get takeout for the whole group but we just know if we host we cook and if not then we show up empty handed ready to enjoy!

      We also have them on our calendar ahead of time for months so we don’t have to figure out scheduling either.

  19. Lindsay says:

    My girlfriends and I have a monthly weeknight book club. We started out with a potluck, but ran into trouble since lots of us were coming straight from work and from all over the city. We ended up changing it to rotating host, so now each of us covers the meal and wine in rotation. Meals range from simple (Costco lasagna) to extremely elaborate (boeuf bourgignon!) depending on the host, and everyone is happier avoiding the logistics every month.

    My husband and I also maintain a shared Google Sheet with a column for each of our friends and their SOs. Everyone is responsible for putting all allergies and dietary restrictions in their column, and we just look at the list when we host and follow up if needed. It has worked out really well, especially for the two people with serious food allergies.

    We definitely do potlucks, but more as a weekend thing.

  20. Marie says:

    I was so happy to move back to Alaska where potlucks reign supreme! I was even more delighted to discover that people love all my fermented things – I can take a jar of homemade sauerkraut or yogurt and people are thrilled.

    I will say that if you are the person who ALWAYS buys pre-made things, don’t be a lazy cheap jerk about it. Get something good. Your bag of Doritos isn’t cutting it, and you can tell because we never open it. But if you get chips with a nice dip, that’s something else. Fully participate. (Speaking of professional settings here, and these are the same people who don’t carry their fair share of the work.)

  21. Anastasia says:

    We too like a good potluck down in flatland New Haven, Conn., in fact its the default social option here probably born of homesick Vermonters, and grad students.

    In summer, our friend’s group created a “Scrappy Friday” tradition. Here is how it works: We rotate the venue via a google sheets sign up & an email reminder from hosts. No RSVPs. Everyone brings their own food, drinks, plates etc.. Food can be potluck-ish and shareable, or your own leftovers, or whatever you have… it’s all good. No cleaning or tidying by hosts allowed, and we generally stay outside. Kids run amok, adults decompress. Scrappy!

  22. Emily says:

    I grew up on church potlucks and love them, but I’m wondering if folks have tips for hosting potlucks (or any email, really) in a fairly small space? We live in a metro area with small, older houses. Once you get about 4 adults and 4-6 kids in, it starts to feel pretty cramped. Suggestions?

    • Emily says:

      *email = meal 🙂

    • Marie says:

      Do you have some outdoor space to flow into (like a porch)? Can the food all be left in the kitchen which leaves more room for people in the other space?

      When I was a kid we had holiday potlucks at rotating locations including one quite small trailer. We kids were immediately banished – for awhile they had a travel trailer we’d hang out in, but otherwise into kids’ bedrooms (in winter; in nice weather we were outside). Older kids had to watch the younger kids, so if you were old enough to toddle, you were banished. This allowed a lot more space for adults in the small living room. I actually remember at first protesting this configuration but then realized we could go totally Lord of the Flies and I appreciated the feral nature we descended into without adult interference.

    • Anne says:

      Food buffet style on a dining table pushed against the wall. Everybody sits in the living room on whatever chairs/couches are available and eat off of laps with glasses on the coffee table. I would do kids eat first while adults hang out.

  23. Megan says:

    I love potlucks! As a weekly church attendee for the entirety of my life, I have been to plenty of them. I do find them challenging occasionally now that I am a pescatarian, but all of my friends are accommodating and there is generally enough variety that I can find enough to eat.

  24. Marcia says:

    My neighborhood has been hosting potlucks for over 20 years. We’ve lived here for 15, and have been going for about 7 (somewhere around when my 2nd kid was born). I’d been invited before, but just kept forgetting. Basically it’s a group of neighbors that started walking the 1-3 blocks to the park at the end of the street on Sunday nights. Wine, food, frisbee, playground, fun. We don’t reserve a spot, we just look for an open space. It’s very low pressure because it’s not at anyone’s house. Go or don’t go.

    When we started, it was only dinner from spring through fall. Time change, it ended. They had tried to continue through the winter at people’s houses, but that was a bit more pressure. That year we joined, someone suggested brunch in the winter. So, we tried that and it worked! So October-ish to April-ish, it’s at 10 am. This is all weather permitting – we live in Central/ southern California, so really the only thing that deters us is rain. (Plus, if it rained the day before and everything is still wet.)

    These are my people. It’s open invitation. Families come and go, we’ve adopted families who aren’t in the ‘hood (they drive in). We carpool our kids to school, dog sit, house sit, etc. for each other.

    Lots of us like to try new and delish recipes for the potlucks, but we all phone it in once in awhile with cheese and crackers, donuts, or Costco chicken. Or takeout pizza. It’s official name is “Pizza in the Park”. I think word got around and we actually inspired some other local groups to do the same. Now, our larger ‘hood that encompasses ours and five more nearby actually have a semi-annual potluck too!

  25. Jeni says:

    I’ll add to this great post that one of the beautiful gifts of the past few years has been monthly neighborhood meal swap potlucks – our friends get together and bring enough of a meal or freezer meal to share with everyone who comes (so if six of us get together we bring six meals worth of soup or lasagna, say) and we go home with a bunch of different meals ready to go/freeze. If there’s time, sometimes we bring bags of groceries, let the kids play, and do the meal prep together (chopping onions is much more fun and faster when you all do it together!). This has been a great way to add variety without a lot of stress and planning, and those meals are so helpful when family life gets busy. Added bonus: kids play together while we prep, so they’ve become good buddies too! Thanks for the reminder of the joys of food and community togetherness.

  26. JD says:

    My former workplace did a lot of pot lucks, as we weren’t given a budget for holiday meals, etc. I was one of the ones who had to go around asking what everyone was bringing, which I didn’t enjoy (whiners complaining because someone else already did the “I’ll bring the iced tea” thing), but the meals were always good, and we always had plenty. My former church also did a lot of potlucks. In both situations, organization was critical, so we wouldn’t end up with 30 pounds of potato salad, one dish of rice and a cake.
    And yes, potlucks don’t work well for people with allergies or other restrictions.
    Let me add my 2 cents to the comment that people attending potlucks need to be nice about what they bring. YES! We had one guy at work who would only bring one pint jar of cheap store bought pickles to every potluck, until we made it plain to him that it was no longer acceptable. And one woman at my former church would always say, “I’ll bring the deviled eggs” only to show up with 12 halves — six eggs in total — for a crowd of fifty people. Every time. Others started bringing eggs, too, but it took her years to get the message, even with a friend of hers telling her point blank that she wasn’t bringing enough.

    • Pauline says:

      It’s best not to worry about how big or small a certain dish is, just bring a large dish of whatever you are bringing. If something gets eaten up quickly it’s not the end of the world, just as long as everyone gets something to eat. I can understand the frustration you feel, we had a lady who would show up to a potluck of 100 people with a can of pork n beans, open it on the kitchen counter, put it in a bowl, and smile like she just served prime rib. LOL

      • Silver says:

        HI! I gotta say, work potlucks made some of the worst moochers stampede from their cubicles! If a potluck took monetary contributions, there was one fella who would always give just 50 cents because HR told the potluck organizers they were prohibited from soliciting a set amount, such as 5 dollars. The male coworkers never ever cooked the dishes they brought in–their wives did it for them! What a racket! Then the other problem was that the men would vamoose as soon as they were done snarfing and would rush out of the office for “field work” so they “couldn’t” pitch in with the clean up.

        • JD says:

          Ha, did we work with the same people? I finally led a “revolt” of sorts. I gathered the few women in our group, which was primarily made up of males who left all the set up and clean up to the few females in our group, and told the women that this time we were all going to have pressing work to get back to, and we should leave as soon as the conversation started leading to getting back to work. Every female followed my lead, and the surprised men found themselves cleaning up the entire mess. They had to come to us so many times to ask what we did with the utensils, where does this go, how do we….? And we just answered their questions and kept working at our computers. I must add that we had about 3 men who unfailingly helped us, and we quietly suggested to them they sit out this clean up, too.

  27. Cathy says:

    I’ve tried to get the potluck thing going with my friends. More often than not it turns into, “I didn’t have time to make anything” or “I’m too lazy to make anything. I’ll chip in to order pizza instead.” Which defeated the purpose of planning the potluck. Any advice on how to get friends on board?

    • Pauline says:

      Assign them a dish – say “would you bring three bean salad?” they can even buy that in a jar if they don’t like to cook. Potlucks are better when there is a sign up list or assignments, like people with last name A-D bring a veggie, E-H bring main dish, etc.

    • Miranda says:

      Some people really don’t like to cook at all, or in the limited amount of free time they have. Pizza at home is at least cheaper than going out. If there’s enough people the non-cooks could chip in for pizza and you could cook a dessert, make salad, etc. It doesn’t need to be all or nothing.

    • Lisa says:

      My experience, too. I have also had the experience (multiple times) of offering to cook and people say,”oh, that’s too hard, just order a pizza” which defeats the purpose of me inviting them over and then it’s alward if they offer to give me money.

  28. Lindsey says:

    We simplified our potlucks by making them either sandwich or taco or potato bar potlucks. If I host, I provide several varieties of bread and common condiments, for tacos wheat and corn tortillas and for potatoes, well, the potatoes. Guests bring meats and cheeses and, for tacos and potatoes guac and sour cream. Almost no cooking involved.

  29. Liz says:

    Since kids started arriving in our various friends’ groups, we have definitely done more of this. It’s so much easier to have space where the kids can play with toys and with each other, and the adults tend to linger longer over drinks and food while we catch up. Our shared spaces range from small apartments to four-bedroom houses and we all make it work. One thing I will add (that’s not really a frugal suggestion per se) is we do dim sum with one group of friends a couple of times a year. It’s super kid-friendly and very cheap for the amount of food we get. The staff love the kids and since we always go late morning they can be (relatively) loud and no one cares.

  30. Allison says:

    I love to cook and host, and I prefer to have people over for dinner rather than organize a potluck. I also enjoy the opportunity to be a generous host, within my means (as I’m in charge of what I serve! I tend to pick things that are using up things I have on hand, seasonal produce, etc.). In my group, we always ask, “What can I bring?” And maybe I’ll direct someone to bring some good bread, or a salad, or the dessert (and always, wine!), when they ask what they can bring. But I feel that’s less formal than an official potluck. And maybe I’m an odd duck, but I actually dislike when friends show up to a large party with some giant platter of food because inevitably I have no room for it!

  31. Heidi Louise says:

    What a wonderful community-minded post!
    My niece/nephew live in a surprisingly diverse small city in the Midwest, (the local school accommodates 21 different languages when they send notes home for parents). She said the potluck at her children’s preschool was amazing, as the different families brought foods from their own ethnicities. So add trying new things and meeting people from different backgrounds to the benefits of the potluck!
    A friend always brings hot fresh rolls to potlucks. When she first got married, a family member advised her to establish some attractive dish she could make quickly and inexpensively and well to be relied on to bring, and the rolls work well for that.

  32. Heidi Louise says:

    But you didn’t address how to handle the dance – gestures – stepping back and forth – cajoling – encouraging maneuvers of how to get someone to be first in line?
    Every potluck and most family dinners I have been to seems to have that phenomenon.

    • Lindsey says:

      I’ve gone to community potlucks where they announce they want to honor the elders and ask them to go first. No one ever seems insulted by that but many of the indigenous cultures in Alaska place a large emphasis on honoring elders, so perhaps the attitude is different.

      • Heidi Louise says:

        Excellent!
        That also forces people to slow down and talk while they are in line, because the oldest and the youngest-with-parents often take the longest to fill their plates.

  33. Jen G says:

    We had a wonderful church group that met on Friday evenings. One member had a host of unusual allergies including citric acid. We asked and learned specifically what brand of ingredients she could eat or text her when shopping to make sure we didn’t accidentally cause a problem. After a while we all had it down pat and we were happy to work to make sure she could be included and feel confident that she safely enjoy the food.

  34. Rebecca says:

    In Australia, it’s not called a potluck – we say “bring a plate”. This has caused confusion (from those from other countries) and laughter (from Aussies) when people turn up at a gathering with one bare plate, assuming the host must have a crockery shortage or something.
    Never mind, there’s always tons to go round!

  35. Caroline says:

    An Chinese riff on potlucks: Hot pot! It’s basically soup that is cooked communally on a hot plate. Everyone can bring an ingredient, e.g. beef, leafy vegetables, mushrooms, etc. I’ve done it a few times with friends and it’s always a hit.

  36. J says:

    Stone soup, anyone?

  37. Sharyn Whiting says:

    Yes Rebecca new migrants to Australia have been caught out with “bring a plate”. I had a chuckle reading your comment when I remembered one such instance. I live in rural NSW in Australia and most of our entertaining are “bring a plate” type of get together . Recently my husband celebrated his 70 th birthday and we hosted about 80 friends and relatives . We provided meat and chicken which we barbecued and all the guests brought a salad or dessert. As they RSVP they would ask which do you want and I knew whether we needed more of salads or desserts. We also provided a punch drink, soft drinks for the kids and some champagne for a special toast.
    Some people opted for garlic bread or nibbles to start instead of a salad etc. Everyone always brings their own alcohol to these get together.

  38. Kriww says:

    A-ha! A topic that is near and dear to me. We live in a place where there aren’t many kids friendly restaurant or diner. I do a lot of at home dinners and luncheons with all kind of friends, the main reason is because the thoughts of me hurdling my 3 kids eating out in a restaurant is dreading. I invite all my friends to dine in the comfort of my house: my office mates, my husband’s coworkers, my friends from volunteering missions, my kids’ friends and their moms, my fellow campus alumni, and so on! They all love it (I am a pretty decent cook). I never said beforehand that it was a potluck since I always provided the meals, but everyone did bring something: desserts, side dish, appetizers etc so most of the times it would be potluck with no meal theme and we all love it. And there were always leftovers for everyone to bring back home… I also have a potluck group, the members are 12 moms with kids around the same age. We do potluck once a month or so in each other’s home. We love it because it’s also a playdate, and it (almost) costs us nothing!

  39. cathy says:

    I love potlucks! In our group of friends, both close and extended community, potlucks are standard, but we seem to be more relaxed about it (generational maybe? We’re mostly in our 40s, 50s, and 60s.) I’ve noticed that foods tend to be seasonal, especially during summer when lots of people have garden produce. If you approach it as more of a selection of noshes, rather than expecting a complete meal, it’s less stressful. I will say, though, that the three best approaches we’ve had were 1) theme potlucks (we did this for a free, weekly concert series; the potluck each week matched the music. So if it was a Cajun band, that would dictate the food. Chicago blues? BBQ, etc). 2) For our (mostly) annual holiday party, we ask everyone to bring an appetizer or dessert. We used to say BYOB, but most people bring an offering anyway, so there’s always enough. As hosts, we provide a few appetizers and/or desserts (just in case) a couple bottles of something, and hot apple cider or sparkling apple cider. There’s always plenty of food and a large selection. And 3) in good weather, when people host a potluck, they might ask folks to bring something to grill and something to share, though sometimes the host will provide the grillables. But even if we end up with a table full of chips and salsa (seen it before) or six pasta salads with tomatoes and basil, it’s fine. It’s just one meal, and the company is worth it.

  40. Lisa says:

    I’m envious of everyone whose friends are ok with potlucks. Mine say yes in theory, I host the first, and then they are back to wanting to meet at expensive restaurants. Where I live people don’t seem to enjoy entertaining at home much because they are all stressed with work and kids, and I have found that always being the one to host is not cheap. Little things add up to more than the cost of me meeting them out and ordering a cheaper dish. Curious that you really don’t find hosting to be expensive?Regarding food allergies, my son is allergic to nuts, and we have found the easiest approach to be to eat before we arrive but bring a bit free dessert to share. Or at a wedding, or something formal, I’d let him eat a non healthy meal at the event of stuff like a plate of plain rolls.

    • Silver says:

      Hi Lisa! I totally relate and empathize with your observations! While I really do love the idea of a potluck–it does conjure up warm and fuzzy images of friendship and community–but reality is something else! It didn’t match up at all! I wore myself out cleaning up my place before and after in addition to the organizing, decorating and cooking, and spent more than I would’ve having a modest meal out. (Where I don’t have to cook or clean!) Then, as the cherry on the sundae, nobody else really ever wanted to host afterwards. There wasn’t any reciprocation.

      Now, in recent years, I’ve developed food sensitivities to certain ingredients that will trigger horrific acid reflux/gallbladder attacks! I felt like I was having nine hour heart attacks and barfing on top of it at the end. Thankfully, I’m fine now, due to changing my diet, refraining from triggers, and taking the right meds every day…but not even a hot date with my husband can get me to touch anything that’s gonna make me suffer like that again, which makes eating other people’s cooking iffy, unless they’re close friends who will omit the offending ingredients. Plus I have diabetes II, which really cramps my style, no kidding. Potlucks really aren’t fun for me, they’re now on my s–t list. To me, it’s much more enjoyable and relaxing to meet friends at a great restaurant we all love, and we can each order whatever our little hearts desire. I can enjoy the fun company of wonderful friends, and safely consume a great meal that won’t make me sick or worsen my diabetic neuropathy. I don’t have to cook or clean and it’s cheaper than hosting!

  41. Annie says:

    I love your writing! You are so funny. And you get life with kids. In Vermont. Love it. Keep it coming!

  42. Katie Camel says:

    My Great Depression-surviving grandparents used to spend their winters in a snowbird trailer/RV park in Arizona. We went one year and had a blast. Most of their friends were multi-millionaires, but you’d never guess by looking at those frugal folk. Anyway, since everyone lived in an RV, 1 bedroom trailer, or maybe an ultra-luxurious 2 bedroom trailer and had very limited space, they used to throw driveway potluck parties. Sometimes they were planned, other times they were impromptu, but it provided a chance for all the elderly people to eat together and socialize. It was a lot of fun! So, I can imagine how your various potlucks must be similarly fun. (I’m a little jealous here!) We often do potluck parties at work, though a lot of non-contributors are guilty of sponging off us contributors. Usually, there’s so much food it’s not an issue, but it’s an annoyance nonetheless when the same people routinely fail to contribute.

    Anyway, I’m curious why you haven’t taken advantage of being surrounded by so many great cooks? Sounds like a great way to improve your own cooking skills, while creating stronger friendships. And it’s much better than learning through a YouTube video — not that I don’t love these videos.

    “Don’t make them when you’re home alone and hungry… not that I’ve ever done that…” My thoughts exactly! Equally guilty here. 😉

  43. Tara says:

    I love work potlucks and am the organizer of choice for said events at my jobs. I really recommend for larger potlucks using Sign Up Genius or something similar that makes it easy to sign up for the event but also allows the organizer to limit/suggest what can be brought. This ensures you don’t end up with 10 desserts, 10 bags of chips and dip and 2 savory dishes. I create the sign-up and then create categories for main dishes, savory sides, desserts, drinks, serveware, etc. with limits, and ask people to indicate what they’re bringing if possible. People don’t always say what they’re bringing, but this has really helped avoid too much junkfood so people really get a good meal out of it (and we always end up with leftovers).

    For something smaller, just telling people what type of food to bring ahead of time also avoids the-too-much-junk scenario, and most people appreciate the food suggestion as it limits their recipe searching.

    My last-minute fail-safe and easy/filling dip to bring is buffalo chicken dip with either pita chips or sliced grocery store french bread. You can make it with canned chicken and can make it mild/non-spicy so any dairy-eating carnivore can consume, and then keep it warm in a crockpot.

    If I have time, I make hoagie dip, (from Mary Alice’s Food Network recipe, subbing in quartered cherry tomatoes and going heavy on the Italian seasoning), which is a cross between a dip and a main dish due to it’s filling nature. A lot of prep, but super delicious if you’re into Italian subs/hoagies! Also served with sliced french bread or mini Amoroso rolls or similar.

  44. Xara Buckingham says:

    I’ve hosted a LOT of potlucks. Since the fall of 1991 I have hosted hymn singing parties every quarter; in November we had Hymn Sing #81. There are between a dozen and thirty of us singing hymns a cappella for two hours (hey, I know, this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but some of us absolutely love it!) followed by a potluck dinner. My approach has always been to emphasize the *luck* part of pot*luck*. As the hostess I make sure to make a generous amount of a main dish, and often will do a salad and dessert also in order to cover the bases. I also provide beverages. Beyond that, whatever shows up is a surprise. Far more often than not we have a very nice variety of food from which to choose. People with special dietary requirements tend to bring things they will be able to eat. It all works out very nicely. There is the fallback of being able to order in some food if not enough of the right sort of thing shows up, but in twenty years that has never happened.

  45. Wendy says:

    At my work place, we have potlucks for all sort of occasions. However, there are two individuals who habitually bring empty Tupperware containers and/or Ziplock bags to fill and take home “extra” servings. Frequently, they’re dishing up their “to-go” portions, while others haven’t yet made it through the line for the first time. Any suggestions as to how to address this? I find it incredibly rude. For the record, neither of these folks is undernourished or financially unable to feed themselves.

  46. Would you believe we don’t do ‘pot luck’ in Australia? Most of the time if its a bbq we will ask if we should bring something and usually the answer is no. For work morning teas etc they encourage money so one person can buy the food. Its super lame. I always love to bake but have no one to feed!

    • B says:

      I am Australian too and it isn’t common here. I think you and I need to start the new trend! I love, love, love the idea of it.

  47. Katie says:

    We are potluck fanatics!!! For awhile we did monthly themed dinners…one month was based on a color, or another was based off of one ingredient etc. I used to be a part of a book club that included a potluck dinner as well which was fun. I am now in a monthly cookbook club where we rotate hosting and the host gets to pick out the cookbook. I utilize the library for the cookbook selections and then everyone who comes makes and brings a dish from the cookbook to share..Its really awesome!

  48. mollyjade says:

    I’m vegan, and vegans love potlucks. Especially ten or fifteen years ago when it was hard to find food at restaurants. My tips, bring enough food to serve more people than just yourself. If you ate everything you brought and would still be hungry, you didn’t bring enough (i.e., don’t be the jerk who brought one sushi roll.) And if you’re more than one person, bring even more. If you’re bringing premade food, be more creative than chips and bad jarred salsa. Bringing your own plate and silverware cuts down on waste and work for the host, but some hosts strongly prefer to use their own real dishes. Don’t plan to cook/finish your dish at the host’s place without clearing it first. They may be using their oven/stove or counter space for their own dishes.

    • Sarah says:

      Yeah, mollyjade, we love potlucks with each other–but how tough is it to go to an omnivore potluck and realize you can’t eat half the stuff and don’t know about the other half because the omnis don’t think about labels? I have this struggle every single month at my church’s monthly potluck lunch and honestly, it’s become MORE expensive for me because I’m bringing an entire meal’s worth of food for my family and also enough to share. Liz, the “potlucks are cheaper” thing is true for omnivores without food allergies and preferences only, or for people who start out sharing food-based values. Not really for the rest of us.

  49. frenchmama says:

    What we prefer to do is: host rotating meals. Potlucks are tricky beasts to manage when people are used to a few different courses (yes, I really do live in France, so a separate salad course and cheese course after the main dish are de rigueur here, for example, and people like to make sure that the food pairs with the other food nicely…). Sorting out the menu is just so much easier when one household does it, imo, but we ask people who really want to bring something to bring a drink they would enjoy. Other people/families who are more organized than me delegate various courses for the potluck, though.

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