A lot of thinking goes into the perfect potluck dish.

It may be surprising, but I don’t have a go-to potluck dish. Each time I get a potluck invite, I go through a whole thought process to figure out what to contribute (yes I tend to lean towards type A).

Here are some of the thoughts I have when deciding on what potluck dish to bring.

Has the host given me any direction?

Do they prefer a hearty main dish, side dish, veggies, dip, chips, bread, fruit, etc.? Is there a theme? Maybe they’ve had something of yours in the past and would love to have it again. Maybe they know they’ll have lots of veggies, but would love a fun dip. Or perhaps they don’t have any veggies and you can jump in with some.

Sometimes extremely organized hosts will assign everyone a dish. Be very mindful of this. Do not go outside the specific request unless you are looking to annoy your host! After all, they’re still hosting the party which is no small task.

Do I know if the host does not eat certain foods?

If you aren’t sure, just ask. If there are any restrictions, then try to make something everyone can eat. Restrictions can include food allergies, intolerances, or a specific diet (fad or not). I like to think of working around restrictions as a challenge.

Vegan + gluten free + peanut allergy = BRING IT ON!

Does the dish need to be at a certain temperature?

Dietitians are always thinking about food safety and I am no exception. I tend to lean toward bringing something that can be at room temperature for hours. If I bring something warm, I will bring it in a crockpot that can be plugged in. If it’s cold, I will transport it in a cooler with ice packs and try to keep it on top of the ice back while it’s out at the party.

Anything that should be hot or cold should only be at room temperature for a max of two hours! Longer than that it’s encourages bacteria growth – no one wants that.

How much time do I feel like spending on preparation?

Sometimes I feel like cooking up a storm or making something complicated. Other times I just want to spend 15 minutes in the kitchen and move on. The picture for this post is an example of keeping it simple and quick. Rosemary Roasted Cashews from Ina Garten fit the bill at the last party I went to!

When in doubt, make it finger food and make it small

I have noticed that sometimes people bring a dish large enough for everyone to have it as their main course. While that’s nice, it’s totally not necessary. Now, with a small potluck with a handful of people, that’s a handful of dishes and everyone will probably have a little of everything. BUT, with a bigger group (think 20 guests), not many people will have a serving from all twenty. And if they do, they’re likely just having a small taste of everything.

Other tips

If your potluck dish requires a utensil to serve it, bring the utensil. Hosts don’t always have oodles of spare serving spoons and forks.

If your potluck dish doesn’t need a utensil, but could benefit from one, bring a utensil… there’s no reason to expose everyone to germs they do not need. Bringing some crunchy chickpeas? Then bring a spoon or ladle. Same thing goes for a bowl of nuts. Save everyone a cold by encouraging them not to put their hands directly in the bowl.

Happy eating!