Think Green

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Tips for throwing a green buffet dinner

Buffet-style parties allow guests to sample many different dishes while giving hosts the freedom to serve a variety of their favorite foods. Buffets also make a great option when entertaining guests who have various dietary restrictions, as the more options guests have, the more likely everyone will find something they can enjoy.

Although buffet service is convenient, it can produce a lot of waste, which may be a cause for concern among eco-conscious hosts. But a few modifications to a buffet-style party can make such a gathering a more eco-friendly affair.

* Skip the disposable dinnerware. Plastic cutlery and paper dishes are convenient when hosting a crowd, but such items eventually end up in landfills. Rather than contributing to more waste, opt for reusable forks, knives, dishes, and cups. Such items will need to be washed, but the extra effort is worth it.

* Clearly label garbage and recycling pails. Guests are more likely to dispose of their garbage responsibly if you make it easy for them. Label your trash receptacles with the words "recycling" or "trash" so that everyone will know where to put their used items.

* Buy bulk-sized beverages.Instead of purchasing individual cans of soft drinks or beer, buy larger bottles or a keg and let guests pour their own drinks. This minimizes the waste and the cleanup you will be left with when the party ends.

* Avoid buying extra food. Figuring out how much food to have for a buffet can be challenging. It depends on how many guests are invited, whether there are more men than women and how many children will be in attendance. Expect to serve between six and eight ounces of meat, 1/2 cup of vegetables and perhaps a 1/3 cup of a starchy food, like pasta, rice or potatoes, per person. Then multiply this number by the guests you are having. Although you do not want to run out of food, you do not want to have so much leftover that it ends up going in the garbage.

* Serve foods that can be used again as leftovers. Leftover casseroles, pastas, meats, and noodles can be stored in the freezer and enjoyed at a later time. Encourage guests to take food home as well. Seafood, cold cut platters and dairy may not make for great leftovers, particularly if they have been sitting out for a while on the buffet table.

* Only replenish food as needed. Keep backup trays of food available to refill chafing dishes rather than putting out everything you have at once. Encourage guests to dine on what has already been served before laying out extra food.

* Invest in chafing dishes. Chafing dishes used in conjunction with sterno heaters are staples of buffet services, making it easy for hosts to keep food hot and prevent spoilage and waste. If you frequently entertain, purchase a set of chafing dishes you can use over and over.