Make it a Party: Pack the Pantry!

January 23, 2014

Make it a Party: Pack the Pantry!

The holidays are over and winter’s blustery bleak days have arrived (brrrrr!). Don’t hibernate until spring! We have a great idea for a casual get together with friends to chop, cook, and chat the day away with a Pack the Pantry party.

Your Party Plan

“What’s for dinner?” is a universal dilemma for even the most enthusiastic home cook. Why not make it a party instead of a daily chore?  Invite friends to join you for a cozy weekend afternoon of pantry packing fun. The gist of this casual gathering? Everyone works together to make large batches of several different make-ahead meals, then you divvy them up at the end to enjoy at home. Dinner that week goes from “daunting” to “done” in one afternoon spent hanging with friends!

Stick with a small group of 5-7 guests so you’ll have enough burners, ingredient prep space, and recipe yield to send everyone home with some of each dish. Here’s how to do it:

Set the menu in advance. You can go two ways here:

1)  You pick recipes: Plan for one salad, 3-4 soups or stews, 1 or 2 easy casseroles, maybe 1 dessert–if you’re feeling ambitious you can shop for all the supplies and let guests know you’ll be splitting the bill.


2)  Assign guests a recipe type or a specific recipe; they bring the supplies needed to make their dish.

Note:  It’s a good idea to send the menu around to the group to make sure there are no food allergies or serious dislikes before it’s finalized.

Need menu inspiration?

Stick with crowd pleasing, freezer-ready, family-friendly faves. Think Chilis, Sloppy Joes, TacosSoups, Macaroni and Cheese, Ziti, Stuffed Peppers, Meatloaf. You can try our recipes for Gingered Butternut Squash Bisque, Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup, Tomato Fennel Soup, or White Bean Chicken Chili.

Make sure you’ve got containers covered

Guests can bring their own containers to tote their goodies home or you can pick up extras for the group when you prepare.  If you’ve got baked casseroles on the menu be sure to pick up smaller foil containers.  It’ll be easy to divide the recipe into and bake at the party or later at home.

Assess and setup your space

  • You may want to ask guests to BYO cutting board, sharp knives, and large soup pots if you don’t have enough.
  • Bust out that food processor (&/or ask friends to bring theirs) and designate one area for chopping en masse.
  • Pull out peelers, measuring cups and spoons, can openers, and mixing bowls and set out in the prep area. Setup a large trash bin nearby too.
  • Put spatulas, spoons and tongs in a jar by the stove and colanders by the sink

On the Menu?

No need to prepare food for this party. Just put out a platter of crudité and dip to nibble on while you work , set up a large pot of coffee or tea or a station with a single-serve coffee machine and a variety of coffee flavors to guests can choose their preferred sipping option. Maybe add a few coffee treats and you’ll be good to go. You won’t be able to resist sampling your goodies after you smell them simmering on the stove; pick up some paper plates and bowls so guests can sample as many as they like.  If you want to serve vino, save it for after all the knife work is done!

Let the Fun Begin!

After guests have arrived go over the recipes and make a plan of “who’s on what dish”.  Some people love zenning out over a pile of onions to chop while others would rather be at the stove or on dish duty.  Look across all the recipes for common prep items to do at once (There’ll be plenty of onions, carrots, and celery to chop!).

Efficiency tip: Cook any pasta, rice, or meat you need for casseroles while you prep ingredients for simmering soups. It’ll maximize your burner usage.

When each dish is done, have fun sampling and then divide into containers to take home. The time will fly as everyone pitches in getting prep done (there’s a reason those elves “whistle while they work”!)  Kick back and relax with a glass of wine after the kitchen is cleaned up –you won’t have to make dinner for days and days!

One last idea? Do a good deed!  This gathering is a great way to help out a friend in need –when you divvy up the dishes set aside a batch for them.  Drop off after the party with a “thinking of you” note and flowers from the gang.

Julie Hartigan

What dish would you like to add to our list of great ideas for this party?

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