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Explore nutrition tips, kids’ meal plans, kids’ activities, recipes and more from pediatric nutritionist, Melissa Halas, MA, RDN, CDE.

A Guide to the Perfect Potluck: A fun way to celebrate family, friends and food

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A Guide to the Perfect Potluck: A fun way to celebrate family, friends and food

Potlucks are a great way to create a fun and social atmosphere without the task of picking and paying for a nice restaurant meal. Here are some quick tips for easy planning!

Food is a basic human necessity for survival. We eat to live, but we also eat to enjoy and savor the taste of food. Most Americans plan their day around mealtimes; we wake up and eat breakfast, break for lunch and then gather around the dinner table to relax and talk about our days. Sharing meals with family and friends can be a fun time to socialize but also can lead to less than healthy eating habits.

Make the potluck a time to relax and enjoy your friends and family. You can celebrate girls’ night out, gather together to watch your favorite television show or start a book club.

Tips to Make Potlucks Fun and Healthy:

  • Ask likeminded people to join, or let friends know you are creating a healthy potluck.
  • Share website links to healthy recipe sites or magazines that offer quick, healthy meals.
  • Set up the guidelines up front. Let people know this is a healthy potluck with simple agreements that include lots of vegetables and low-fat desserts with fruit.
  • Each week, have one person come up with an idea and send a mass e-mail out to everyone, letting people know the theme and giving them the opportunity to share what they will be contributing. Make sure that the theme is sent out a week in advance to give people time to shop for their ingredients on their weekly market run.

Get Creative!

You may ask, why choose a weekly theme? Themes are not only fun, but also give people ideas to come up with creative foods. Themes can encourage people to try new recipes that they would have otherwise not attempted. It also brings variety to the dinner table: the more creative the theme, the better the meal turns out. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started.

  1. Brinner: Favorite breakfast items for dinner; this can also be brunch.
  2. Sandwich night: everyone brings a different sandwich or topping. Don’t forget the homemade ice cream sandwiches for dessert (try whole grain graham crackers with low-fat ice-cream)!
  3. Tapas: Try a delicious bit of everything.
  4. Kids’ night: Foods you enjoyed as a child.
  5. Foods that start with the letter __: Any letter works.
  6. Favorite holiday foods: Try to stay away from desserts.
  7. Foods inspired by music: examples include Snoop turkey dogs, Korn bread, Cranberry chicken and stuffed peppers for the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Balance Out Your Meal

Another important element to think about when creating a successful healthy potluck is balancing out the meal. When you prepare a meal at home, your nutrition knowledge leads you to choose a protein (bean, meat, chicken, fish, tofu, etc.), carbohydrate or starchy vegetable (rice, pasta, potato, corn) and vegetable to create a well-balanced meal. You can rotate who brings the vegetable choice, often a hard component to tackle at potlucks, to keep your potluck meals equally balanced. Motivate creative vegetable dishes so people do not think it is a chore, but rather a challenge. Encourage people to try new recipes, but keep it simple with just one to two vegetables in a dish. Remind them that they can always purchase pre-packaged vegetables and create something wonderful in under 30 minutes!

Grilled Shrimp and Arugula Salad

Prep time: 30 minutes 6 servings


3 Cups fresh Arugula 1 Garlic Clove, minced
1 lb De-veined Shrimp 1 Tbsp Olive oil
½ Cup tomato, chopped Dash of Salt and Pepper
1 Whole Orange, peeled & cut (try to cut between the slices to avoid the skin)


1 Whole Lemon Dash of Salt and Pepper
½ Cup Olive Oil Dash of Garlic Powder

Marinate shrimp in a bowl with the garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Heat sauté pan to medium heat and cook shrimp mixture until pink and firm. Place on a paper towel to soak up excess oil and let cool.

Mix arugula, oranges and chopped tomatoes in a salad bowl, add shrimp once cooled to room temperature and place to the side. To create the dressing, squeeze the lemon juice into a small bowl, stir juice and slowly add in the olive oil while whisking the mixture. Add in garlic salt, salt, and pepper to taste. Toss salad gently with dressing and enjoy!


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About the Author

Picture of Brooke Horn Dekofsky, MPH, RD, CDE, CLE

Brooke Horn Dekofsky, MPH, RD, CDE, CLE

Brooke is a registered dietitian who holds a Master's Degree in Public Health Nutrition and is certified in Diabetic and Lactation Education. She works in the Los Angeles area, specializing in weight loss, treatment for eating disorders, and chronic disease management.

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