Bring Back the Family Potluck
A simple way to embrace hospitality.

Whatever happened to simplicity in hospitality? Today, in our media-driven world, we can be easily swept up in the hype of staging our home or producing five-star meals for guests. Let’s be honest, our home is not a resort hotel, and we are not tv star chefs. We are home cooks working to nourish family—not to make a name for ourselves.

As a youngster in the Church, I remember our home being a lively place where guests joined us around our table most weekends. We hosted family barbecues, pancake brunches, Sabbath dinners, pool parties, singles’ gatherings, and many other memorable occasions. Some were more formal events, while many others were simple gatherings of friends and family. One thing I remember about those days is that it was common practice for a hostess to invite others to contribute to the meal.

It was daunting to me the first time we were invited to the home of friends in California and I was told not to bring anything to contribute to the meal. Not bring anything? It was a foreign concept. It created a cycle of we didn’t take anything to their place, so we must provide everything when they come to our home. Oh, the pressure in an age of culinary competitiveness!

Being hospitable is one of the hallmarks of true womanhood. How can we regularly open our homes in true hospitality and still be budget conscious?

Bring back the family potluck!

The potluck should not be reserved for the annual Church social or for Thanksgiving. It is the way of family-style eating. It provides an opportunity for variety, for allowing the hostess to be present with her guests, and for those guests to feel more included—like family, rather than patrons at a restaurant. It’s also a great avenue for recipe sharing.

Family potluck. It is a simple concept: A meal is made up of whatever food is available rather than a set menu. The hostess provides part of the meal—maybe a meat dish and a side dish. She invites her guests to bring something to create a balanced meal—such as dessert or another side dish. Once everyone gets on board, a different cycle is created: “Sure, we’d love to join you, what can I bring? A salad, a dessert, or maybe a vegetable dish? Can we bring some wine?”

Being a good hostess does not mean being chained to your kitchen. Nor does it mean creating such a name for yourself that people are afraid to invite you to their own home for fear of not measuring up. Potluck meals create an environment that does not allow for either of these scenarios. Everyone gets involved. Family bonds are strengthened. The family budget remains intact.

As the hostess, you can determine whether you would like guests to contribute something specific or just to bring whatever they like. Remember to let them know how many people will be dining—“a salad for eight people would be marvelous.” Make sure to think about serving utensils for your guest’s contributions. Consider the possible need for a space in the refrigerator for a dessert provided by a guest. Also prepare for the possibility of a request that a dish be popped into the oven. It might be worth looking around for a chafing dish or two that can be used for keeping foods warm. These can sometimes be found secondhand for just a few dollars.

No matter what they bring, always express sincere appreciation for what was added to your table, and send guests home with washed platters or dishes. If a guest leaves a bowl or dish behind, there is an old tradition in some regions that it should never be returned empty. Maybe pop in a handful of home-baked cookies or fill it with a few apples. Even a simple handwritten note would be a nice gesture.

Let’s wind back the clock to the simplicity of yesteryear. Embrace hospitality and bring back the family potluck.