Prepping for Potlucks: 7 Favorites Lightened Up for Summer

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Potluck dinners are the best kind of dinners. You get the opportunity to impress guests with your own dish while also poking your fork into all of theirs. In that way, potlucks are the perfect places to find new recipes, experience new dishes, and serve new people, but that doesn’t mean the events don’t come without their own challenges.

When you’re cooking for yourself and your family and friends, you control exactly what goes into your dinners. Allergic to dairy? Skip it. Can’t digest gluten? Find replacements. Watching your calories? Lighten up your dishes. Everything’s manageable, but if you are planning to go to any events this summer where you’re not in charge of the food served, then all bets are off.

But that doesn’t mean you have to skip out on attending those fun summer flings — it’s simply all about your planning. If you have a dietary restriction or want to resist indulging in a decadent dish in the next couple of months, make sure your contributions to potlucks this summer are a healthy ones. Pick a dish that is easy on the taste buds and easy on the waistline, and you’ll be sure to be serving a crowd favorite.

If you’re at a loss for potluck dinners that taste good and are good for you, too, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve rounded up seven dishes you can bring to community events that won’t make your neighbors or your neighbors’ pants sizes hate you. You might not have the sweetest dish at the party, but you’ll win in many other categories.

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1. Grilled Shrimp Cocktail with Yellow Gazpacho Salsa

One dish that (almost) everyone craves in the hotter months is shrimp cocktail, and you can serve a lighter variety of that dinner with this recipe from Eating Well. With this dish, it’s all about the sauce, and you can’t go wrong with gazpacho. Loaded with veggies, Worcestershire sauce, and salt and pepper, this salsa makes your shrimp sing — and those healthy dashes of hot sauce don’t hurt, either.

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium yellow tomatoes (1 pound), seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • several dashes hot sauce, to taste
  • 1 pound raw shrimp, (21 to 25 per pound), peeled and deveined
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme

Directions: Mix tomatoes, bell pepper, cucumber, celery, onion, chives, vinegar, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, salt, and hot sauce in a large bowl. Cover and chill for at least 20 minutes or up to one day. Mix shrimp, garlic, and thyme in a medium bowl; cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Coat a grill pan with cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat or preheat the grill to medium-high and oil the grill rack. Cook the shrimp until pink and firm, about 2 minutes per side. Serve the shrimp with the salsa in martini glasses or bowls.

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2. Quinoa Salad with Sugar Snap Peas

If you’re looking to take more of a side dish route at the next summer potluck, you should consider throwing together this recipe from Food & Wine to complement other guests’ main dishes. Everyone knows that quinoa is a superfood in its own right, and when you pair it with sugar snap peas (which just so happen to be in season), you get a healthy salad that no one is going to forget.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound sugar snap peas
  • 1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup salted roasted pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup minced chives

Directions: In a small saucepan of boiling salted water, simmer the peas until bright green and crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Drain and spread out on a large plate to cool, then pat dry. Cut the peas on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces. In a small saucepan, combine the quinoa with 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat until all of the water has evaporated and the quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes. Uncover and fluff the quinoa, then transfer to a large bowl and let cool to room temperature. In a bowl, combine the oil and vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Add the peas to the quinoa with the pumpkin seeds, chives, and dressing; stir. Season with salt and pepper and serve at room temperature or lightly chilled.

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3. Kale and Brussels Sprouts Salad

Brussels sprouts are making a serious comeback, and that’s why we can guarantee that if you whip up this salad developed by Bon Appetit, you’ll have one of the more popular (and healthy) dishes at the party. Healthy can still be delicious, and this summer salad will be a refreshing treat for all attendees at your next potluck party.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt plus more for seasoning
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large bunches of Tuscan kale (about 1 1/2 pounds total), center stem discarded, leaves thinly sliced
  • 12 ounces Brussels sprouts, trimmed, finely grated or shredded with a knife
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/3 cup almonds with skins, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup finely grated Pecorino

Directions: Combine lemon juice, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper in a small bowl. Stir to blend; set aside to let flavors meld. Mix thinly sliced kale and shredded Brussels sprouts in a large bowl. Measure 1/2 cup oil into a cup. Spoon 1 tablespoon oil from cup into a small skillet; heat oil over medium-high heat. Add almonds to skillet and stir frequently until golden brown in spots, about 2 minutes. Transfer nuts to a paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle almonds lightly with salt. Slowly whisk remaining olive oil in cup into lemon-juice mixture. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.

Dressing, kale mixture, and toasted almonds can be prepared 8 hours ahead. Cover dressing and kale mixture separately and chill. Cover almonds and let stand at room temperature. Add dressing and cheese to kale mixture; toss to coat. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Garnish with almonds.

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4. Skinny Tuna Noodle Casserole

Next up is a Skinny Tuna Noodle Casserole from Skinny Taste – this dish is a prime example of a potluck contribution that is not lacking in flavor just because it is healthy.

Ingredients:

  • 6 ounces no-yolk noodles
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium onion, minced finel
  • 3 tablespoons flour (for gluten-free, use rice flour)
  • 1 3/4 cups fat-free chicken broth
  • 1 cup 1 percent milk
  • 1 ounce sherry (optional)
  • 10 ounces sliced baby bella mushrooms
  • 1 cup frozen petite peas (thawed)
  • 2 (5 ounces) cans tuna in water, drained
  • 4 ounces 50 percent reduced-fat sharp cheddar
  • butter-flavored cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons whole-wheat seasoned breadcrumbs

Directions: Cook noodles in salted water until al dente or slightly undercooked by 2 minutes. Set aside. Melt the butter in a large deep skillet. Add onions and cook on medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and a pinch of salt and stir well, cooking an additional 2-3 minutes on medium-low heat.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly spray 9-by-12-inch casserole with butter-flavored cooking spray. Slowly whisk in the chicken broth until well combined, increasing heat to medium and whisking well for 30 seconds. Then, add the milk and bring to a boil. When boiling, add sherry, mushrooms, and petite peas, adjust salt and pepper to taste, and simmer on medium, mixing occasionally until it thickens (about 7-9 minutes). Add drained tuna, stirring another minute.

Remove from heat and add 1 cup reduced fat sharp cheddar and mix until it melts. Add noodles to the sauce and mix until evenly coated. Pour into casserole and top with Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs. Spray a little more cooking spray and top and bake for about 25 minutes. Place under the broiler a few minutes to get the crumbs crisp (be careful not to burn).

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5. Skinny Chicken Enchiladas

Instead of loading your enchiladas and your guests down with heavy sour cream, thick sauce, and butter, go the healthier route and give simple taco seasoning, salsa, and crema a go with this recipe from a Pinch of Yum. All the typical enchilada staples (chicken, beans, corn, cheese, avocado) are still there — they’re just cooked in a more health-conscious fashion.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound chicken breasts
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can corn, drained
  • 16 ounces fresh salsa
  • 3 tablespoons taco seasoning
  • 1/4 cup water (optional)
  • 12 small corn tortillas
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1/4 cup crema
  • fresh cilantro and Cotija cheese for topping

Directions: Put the first six ingredients in a crockpot. If your salsa is not very saucy, be sure to include 1/4 cup water or more if necessary. Cook on high for about 3 hours (or longer on the low setting) until chicken is cooked through. You can also cut the chicken breasts into halves to help them cook faster. Use two forks to shred the chicken and mix everything together. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Soften corn tortillas in the microwave, three at a time, for about 25 seconds. Fill them with a few tablespoons of filling, roll once, and place seam-side down in a large baking dish.

Continue until all tortillas have been filled, rolled and placed in dish. Be sure to pack them tightly next to each other so that they don’t come apart. Sprinkle evenly with the shredded cheese and bake for about 15-20 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly, and everything is heated through. Remove from oven and drizzle with crema. Sprinkle with avocado pieces, fresh cilantro, and Cotija cheese crumbles.

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6. Fruit Pizza

Our final two potluck recipes are of the sweet variety. These two desserts prove that not all after-dinner treats have to be diet devastating, and in fact, this fruit pizza from the Food Network actually looks delicious and nutritious.

Ingredients:

  • 1 package store-bought sugar cookie dough
  • 8 ounces softened cream cheese
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 large peach, sliced
  • 1 large green apple, sliced
  • 1 large orange, sectioned
  • 1/2 pint fresh strawberries, sliced
  • 6 ounces fresh blueberries
  • 6 ounces fresh raspberries
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips, melted
  • 1/2 cup chocolate syrup

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Flatten cookie dough onto a 6-inch pizza pan. Bake until firm, about 11-15 minutes. Cool. In a medium bowl, blend cream cheese and sugar. Spread the baked cookie with the cream cheese mixture and decorate with sliced fruit. In a small bowl, combine melted white chocolate with chocolate syrup. Top the pizza with remaining berries and chocolate mixture. Slice and serve immediately.

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7. Red, White, and Blue-Dipped Strawberries

Our last recipe is America-themed, just in case you want to pull out this prize at a potluck near the July 4 or Labor Day holidays. Make these Red, White, and Blue-Dipped Strawberries from Barbara Bakes and you’ll surely convince your diners that indulging in nature’s candy is the best way to conclude a meal.

Ingredients:

  • 1 quart large whole strawberries
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon shortening
  • blue sanding sugar, sprinkles, or glitter

Directions: Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Pour blue sanding sugar into a small bowl and set aside. In a medium-size, microwave-safe bowl, melt the white chocolate chips in the microwave on 50 percent power. Heat in 30 second intervals, stirring between intervals until chocolate is smooth. When chocolate is smooth, add shortening and stir until smooth. Dip the berries 2/3 of the way up into the chocolate. Dip the tips into the blue sugar and place on parchment paper. Let rest on the paper until they harden; if necessary, place in refrigerator until set.

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