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How to feed a crowd with less stress

photo by Vlasovalana

Party On!

By Sara Bruskin

Hosting a crowd for the holidays? Try a DIY food bar. They’re perfect for large parties, and you won’t have to gather intel on every guest’s allergies or dietary preferences. Latecomers can still assemble fresh fixings, and picky eaters can pile their plates high with foods that please them.

Taco, burrito and pizza food bars are definite crowd-pleasers, but here are out-of-the-box suggestions that are sure to impress guests.

photo by Leigh Anne Wilkes

Breakfast: Crêpe Bar

Crêpes are pleasant breakfast surprises for overnight guests. You can cook them that morning or make a batch in advance and warm them in the oven. Make one batch with vanilla extract and a little sugar for sweet crêpes, and one batch with black pepper and herbs for savory crêpes. Or just make one big plain batch and let everybody go to town.

Savory Fillings

  • Cooked bacon, chopped
  • Cooked andouille or chorizo sausage, chopped
  • Meatless vegetarian sausage patties, chopped
  • Shredded cheese
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Sliced avocado
  • Chopped arugula, kale with stems removed, and/or spinach
  • Chopped bell peppers
  • Chopped jalapeños
  • Shredded chicken
  • Pesto sauce
  • Hot sauce
  • Fresh salsa

Sweet Fillings

  • Sliced strawberries
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Sliced bananas
  • Chocolate hazelnut spread
  • Honey
  • Jam
  • Lemon curd
  • Chocolate mousse
  • Whipped cream
  • Lemon wedges and sugar

Beverage Pairings

  • Coffee, tea, mimosas, bloody Marys
photo by Leigh Anne Wilkes

Lunch: Grilled Cheese Bar

Grilled cheese has come a long way from American cheese singles and white bread. Just set up a panini press or a large griddle to make cooking a snap.


  • Sourdough
  • Focaccia
  • Multigrain
  • Ciabatta
  • Rye
  • Pumpernickel
  • Olive loaf
  • Gluten-free


  • Fontina
  • Cheddar
  • Swiss
  • Gruyère
  • Chèvre
  • Brie
  • Blue cheese
  • Dairy-free vegan option

Precooked or Cold-Cut Meats

  • Turkey
  • Ham
  • Roast beef
  • Prosciutto
  • Salami
  • Mortadella
  • Chicken


  • Sliced tomatoes
  • Caramelized onions
  • Spinach or arugula
  • Jalapeños
  • Granny Smith apple slices
  • Fig spread
  • Olive tapenade
  • Sundried tomato spread
  • Mustard

Beverage Pairings

  • Beer, cider, homemade lemonade, chocolate milk
photo by Natalia Lisovskaya

Dinner: Pho Bar

When the weather turns chilly, pho is a nourishing treat—just keep the broth hot in a slow cooker and let guests fill their bowls with add-ins that make it a gourmet meal.


Combine the following in a slow cooker and simmer all day or overnight. Strain before serving. Recipe courtesy Sharon Cutler.

1 big chunk of ginger (to taste) peeled and chopped
1 shallot, chopped
3-4 whole garlic cloves
½ onion, chopped into four chunks
2 whole star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
1–2 bouillon cubes (beef, chicken or vegetable)
4-6 cups water (to taste)


  • Cooked noodles
  • Eggs (hard- or soft-boiled)
  • Steamed bok choy
  • Steamed shredded carrots
  • Seared thin-sliced pork
  • Seared thin-sliced steak
  • Cooked shrimp
  • Cooked chicken
  • Tofu
  • Steamed mushrooms


  • Thai basil
  • Sliced shiso leaves
  • Lime wedges
  • Cilantro
  • Thai chile peppers
  • Scallions
  • Bean sprouts
  • Sliced radishes
  • Jalapeños
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Sriracha sauce

Beverage Pairings

  • Thai beer, Thai iced tea
photo by Julia Sudnitskaya

Dessert: Tartlet Bar

Tartlet bars are a nice alternative to cupcake bars. Just buy or make mini pie shells and set them out with your favorite fillings.

Tartlet Shells

  • Traditional pie crust
  • Graham cracker crust
  • Oreo cookie crust
  • Gluten-free crust


  • Vanilla custard
  • Chocolate pudding
  • Lemon curd
  • Cherry pie filling
  • Caramelized apple slices
  • No-bake cheesecake filling
  • Sweet mascarpone filling


  • Sliced strawberries
  • Sliced kiwis
  • Sliced peaches
  • Blueberries
  • Cherries
  • Mandarin oranges
  • Whipped cream
  • Caramel sauce
  • Assorted chopped nuts
  • Mini dark chocolate and/or peanut butter chips

Beverage Pairings

  • Coffee, tea, hot apple cider
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