The holiday season may have come to an end, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to celebrate. From weddings to babies to birthdays and everything in between, there’s a whole host of reasons to throw some pretty awesome bashes in 2016. Of course, every great party needs a great menu. Why not go outside the box this year and let guest get in on the culinary fun by creating a unique food bar for your next gathering?
Popularized on the wedding circuit, food bars are interactive stations that let guests customize a portion of their meal. They usually feature a base food, like pasta, tacos, or mashed potatoes, and a series of mix-ins for guests to put their own unique spin on what’s being offered. While this may seem like something designed for fancy events with five-star caterers, food bars are actually very adaptable to any budget and can easily be DIYed for any party. Whether it’s dessert or the main dish, all you need is a food that can be customized and some space to display choices and for guests to create their meal.
Need some inspiration? Here are a few great food bars that can be assembled with ease and guaranteed to impress your guests no matter their ages.
Grilled Cheese Bar
Who doesn’t love a warm, melted cheese? Supply a variety of cheeses, artisanal breads, and a variety of veggies, proteins and spreads, and let guests put their own spin on this gooey classic. If you have the space, you can even put out a crockpot of tomato soup for dipping. (Make sure to have a panini press on hand so guests can cook their own sandwiches without the stove.)
Take guests back to a much simpler time when the biggest problem was mom forgetting the lunchtime cookies. Give this beloved childhood staple an elevated twist with gourmet peanut butters and jellies, bakery breads, and favorite add-ons like Nutella, fluff, and fruit. Don’t forget the chips and chocolate milk. (The Peanut Butter Company is a great source for funky peanut butter flavors and a menu of sandwich suggestions.)
Think of this as an adult version of those sleepover make-your-own pizza parties. Give each guest their own crusts and lay out a spread of sauces, cheeses, proteins and veggies. You can even provide recipes for both cooked and no-cook pies. (Be sure to cook proteins ahead of time, so you don’t have to worry about undercooked chicken or beef and to cut down on oven time.)
Sometimes, nothing hits the spot better than everyone’s favorite breakfast staple. Set out a variety of classic and childhood cereals for guests to mix and match, a selection of types and flavors of milk, and fun toppings like fruit, nuts and candies for the perfect late-night snack or early morning pick-me-up. Invest in some clear glass containers and pitchers to create a pretty display where guests can easily access all their options. (Check out the menu from the iconic cereal bar Cereality for ideas on what to offer.)
Whether it’s ten degrees or ninety, you’ll be hard pressed to find a guest who will turn down a scoop of their favorite ice cream. Supply two to four flavors, a few different syrups, whipped cream, sprinkles, cherries, and just about any sweet toppings you can think of. Stick with classic flavors that don’t already have things mixed in for the best customizable canvases. (Concerned with keeping the ice cream cold? Check out these tips from the DIYNetwork.)
Hot Chocolate Bar
When it’s cold outside, warm your guests up with a cup of this wintertime staple. Create a display of mugs, mixes or pre-made hot chocolate, coffee shop syrups marshmallows and whipped cream. You can even include peppermint sticks, cinnamon and cocoa powders, and chocolate treats like peanut butter cups and chocolate nuggets to mix in to really pump up the flavor. (You can either make the hot chocolate ahead of time in a crockpot or use a large coffee urn to supply hot water for guests to make their own.)
Who among us hasn’t imagined creating our own cupcake shop like Max and Caroline on 2 Broke Girls? Bake up three to five flavors of cupcakes, and supply guests with a variety of frostings and toppings for them to create their sweet masterpieces. You can even include a few offbeat toppings like bacon bits and sea salt for a savory twist. (Be sure to label frostings to ensure guest don’t mix them up and utilize some stands to neatly display cupcakes for easy access.)