Before I was a busy mom, I loved to cook and entertain even though I was not that skilled at it. I enjoyed the creativity and the challenge of laying out a party spread or meal that people would gobble up.
Now that my kids are adults, I am spending more time volunteering in my community and that keeps me busy. One of my greatest pleasures from my volunteering is cooking for crowds, both small and large.
Recently, I found myself at Trader Joe’s with the task of laying out a party spread for our valued volunteer staff of about 10 people. So, of course I did what any multi-tasking mom would do. I decided to make it into a blog post to meet a fast-approaching deadline.
Our volunteer staff is awesome and our monthly meeting is for them to enjoy without having to do a thing. Which basically means that I am doing it all myself and happily so.
Last meeting to make it ultra-easy on myself, I threw a pizza party with assorted slices from our favorite neighborhood pizza place. This time, the volunteers thought I had our meeting catered!!!
With a $40 budget, 20 minutes of shopping time, and 30 minutes of prep time I put on a spread that looked like a catered affair!
Menu Planning and Shopping
Because we have eaters of all types including paleos, gluten-frees, dairy-frees, and vegetarians I shopped with the goal of providing a diverse spread that could offer each of them something they could eat as a small meal or snack.
Being a health-conscious eater myself, I know how much I HATE it when there is NOTHING I can or want to eat at a party.
On the Menu:
- Pesto and Chicken on Baguette Slices
- Carrots with assorted Hummus
- Brie Cheese with Brioche Toasts*
- Mixed Lightly-salted Nuts*
- Kalamata Olives and Sliced Salami
- Sweetened Dried Orange Pieces
- Gluten-free Chocolate Chunk Cookies*
* Note: see below for additions, substitutions and money savers.
Prepping and Presentation
COOL TIP ALERT!!!!! One of my friends gave me this great tip, which I learned after trying to return a tray to her after a party at my house.
She told me that she buys serving trays, for about $1 each at thrift stores and dollar stores, and just plans to leave them at the parties she brings a dish to.
Kind of as a hostess gift, but really more for the convenience of not having to collect her things if she wants to leave before the party ends or the food is gone.
After I matched the food items to the trays, the only prepping I did at home before taking it all to the meeting place was cut the bread into thin little slices and the orange slices into quarters.
Once at the meeting place, I cut opened packages and arranged food. The most time consuming thing was topping the baguette with pesto and chicken.
The Final Party Spread… by a Caterer or Busy Mom?
Yeah, I’m a busy mom who can throw down a spread like a caterer…. and now you can too!!!
*Additions, Substitutions, and Money Savers to the Original Plan
After tasting the Chocolate Chunk Cookies, I decided they were not for the crowd I was serving. I substituted with Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels I had previously purchased at Costco.
The salted caramels ended up being the perfect complement to the Sugar-coated Dried Orange Slices. Trader Joe’s does have some yummy candy and cookie choices to substitute instead to keep it to one-stop shopping.
The Brioche Toasts got nixed because they were too crumbly to spread the Brie on. So, I plated all the cut up bread for use with the cheese and salami instead. You may want to buy a box of crackers, of which Trader Joe’s has many choices.
I also saved and plated chicken and pesto separately, so that my ‘gluten-frees’ (including myself) could simply spread pesto on the chicken slices, maybe add an olive, and enjoy.
Because I knew I had leftover fruit salad from a prior event, I added that to my spread. If I did not have the fruit salad, I would have bought a big bunch of grapes instead. To save money, you could buy less expensive nuts. The nuts were the most expensive thing I purchased!!!
OOPSIE!!! Busy Mom Problems 🙁
I forgot my bag with my computer, meeting notes, and volunteer sign-in/sign-up sheets.
But, I did have what our volunteers would say are the most important things…. the food and door prizes!!!!
What are your favorite Trader Joe’s items for a party spread? Share in the comments!