Packing carrot sticks and love notes in a lunch box gave way to placing sandwiches in paper bags, then handing over cash for off-campus lunch. You've spent countless hours preparing food for your high-schooler, and the job isn't done now that she's graduated. Canapes and cocktails might please adult guests, but at her graduation party, all the food -- and the day -- should be about her.
1. Appetizers and Snacks
Chips and pretzels, scattered throughout the party in big bowls, are sure to be gobbled up by hungry teens, but don't assume the new grads can't handle more adventurous snacks and appetizers. Bruschetta is a filling crowd-pleaser that's also easy to prepare ahead of time. Top slices of toasted bread with prosciutto and shaved parmesan or a mixture of roasted vegetables with herbs. Dips always appeal to hungry kids. Serve bowls of crab or shrimp dip, hummus or a chunky bean-and-corn dip with an array of crackers and vegetable slices. A fruit platter is an easy, summery appetizer that takes minutes to put together. Buy fruit in shades that match the school's colors and lay bite-sized pieces out with toothpicks and a bowl of fruit dip.
2. Main Courses
Even if your party is more of a casual drop-in than a sit-down feast, your guests should have the option to eat something more substantial than appetizers. Unless you have a designated adult who's willing to man the grill for an hour, avoid burgers and hot dogs. A big vat of chili is tasty, even in summer; make it with fresh corn and serve with plenty of cold sour cream. Flatbread pizzas can be made ahead and grilled up quickly without too much hands-on work, and a big green salad topped with cold chicken shreds and diced hard-boiled egg will satisfy guests of all ages. If your menu is heavy on appetizers, consider making light pinwheel sandwiches. Top tortillas with different combinations of cold cuts, roasted veggies and cheese, wrap them up and slice them into inch-thick rounds. Each pinwheel will be just a few bites.
A sheet cake decorated with a cursive "Congratulations!" under a photo of her smiling face: this is a classic grad party dessert, and not one you need to forfeit. But cake alone might not be enough to satisfy hungry teens, let alone the rest of the crowd. Dessert is one area where advance preparation is easy. Enlist the help of relatives to bake up dozens of different cookies and freeze them until party day. Anything bite-sized will work for a party; chocolate-dipped strawberries, chocolate-covered pretzels and miniature fruit tarts can all be prepared ahead of time. An ice cream bar is the ultimate crowd-pleaser. Gallons of ice cream, chopped nuts, chocolate sauce and whipped cream will have them coming back for more -- but if the party's outdoors on a hot day, choose desserts that won't melt instead.
Drinks are just as important a consideration as the food when planning a grad party. Individual bottles of water and soda are not only pricey but create a ton of waste. Fill big plastic pitchers with icy cold beverages instead. In addition to ice water and iced tea, set out some drinks that appeal to your teen guests (and sneak some vitamins into their diets). Make big batches of smoothies using real fruit and mix berries into pitchers of lime-spiked lemonade. In the weeks before the party, put your teen in charge of creating her own signature "mocktail" using non-alcoholic mixers like fruit juices and sparkling water. Serve drinks in plastic cocktail glasses with paper umbrellas. If you do opt to serve alcohol, stick to beer and wine, and put a trusted adult in charge of handing these drinks out to keep teens from sneaking sips.
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