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A table filled with seasoned buffalo wings, celery sticks, small bowls of pretzels, and football trinkets and decor.

Finger Foods and First Downs

How to plan a fun (and safe) Super Bowl LVI party.

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Super Bowl parties are often the same. People crowd around a screen and any surface in the vicinity is overflowing with chips and dips, plates of chicken wings and celery, and tiny sausages rolled tightly into tiny croissants. The drinks are flowing, the excitement is rising, and the harmony of cheers (or groans) fill the rooms as the teams play for the coveted champion title. Let’s face it: whether you’re a football fan or simply at the party for the food or the fun, Super Bowl Sunday can be somewhat of a holiday. “It’s the second-best food holiday after thanksgiving,” Lee M., a Vox Creative coworker, told us just a few days ago.

Avid Super Bowl fans have go-to dishes they rely on, year after year. Some are passed down via family traditions: “Growing up, my dad would host a Super Bowl party every year,” Gaby G., another colleague, told us. “It was quite literally his Super Bowl. We would always get a deli platter from our favorite kosher deli and he’d have all his friends over to scream at the TV. Personally, I would always scurry back in to laugh at the best commercials and sneak a snack or two.”

Interested in Super Bowl snack trends outside of our office, we conducted a quick online poll asking for game day must-haves and the expected responses listing expected dishes — think chili, buffalo wings, and nachos — rolled in. Some leaned away from family traditions: “My family always ate crab legs and cheese dip for the Super Bowl. But since I’ve moved out and learned to grill, I like to make grilled or smoked chicken wings,” Arkansan Zach K. said. Some were made by happenstance: “One year a friend brought spicy tuna rolls and now I can’t imagine a Super Bowl spread without sushi,” Chase O., from Washington, said.

With Super Bowl LVI quickly approaching, you might be wondering just how to celebrate (or specifically how to comfortably, and safely, celebrate amidst Covid-19). Where’s the optimal spot for the food? Does anyone have allergies I should be worried about? How soon before kickoff should people actually arrive? Am I way overthinking this? We forget just how much detail goes into planning a successful party. So, we’ve pulled together tips, tricks, recipes, and recommendations to help any aspiring Super-Bowl-party-planner trick their guests into thinking they’re a pro.

Be sure to celebrate safely by checking your local regulations, researching updated information on coronavirus cases in your area, and following strict social distancing and other safety guidelines.

A couple of days before: Decide on the menu (and pick up your supplies)

If you’re not someone who hosts often, deciding which foods to serve can be a stressful feat. Keep things simple and easy by narrowing things down to:

  • At least three, but no more than five, hors d’oevres.
  • Two main dishes.
  • At least two, but no more than four, desserts.

To avoid accidentally excluding anyone with food allergies or dietary preferences, aim for variety. If queso con carne is one of the appetizers, consider including this vegan and gluten-free Muhammara dip alongside it. To simplify food prep and serving, consider dishes that can be made in individual servings (like these seven-layer dip cups) or are easy to self-serve (like barbacoa tacos with all toppings portioned out buffet-style). If you’re worried about accidental double-dipping or cross-contamination, you’ll want to avoid any dishes that require constant serving from a communal bowl.

Once you’ve set the starting roster with your food and drinks picks, it’s time to actually stock up on the supplies and decorations. Similar to avoiding the grocery store the night before Thanksgiving, you won’t want to do this the weekend of. Pick up all ingredients, drinks, extra cups, plates, trash bags, and any serving utensils you might need. If you have space in your freezer, add some bags of ice to that list. If not, plan to pick up the ice morning-of (or recruit a couple of guests to bring a bag, or two, with them).

If the thought of cooking every dish causes dread, don’t forget that local businesses can be your saving grace. Check if any of your favorite restaurants have any Super Bowl Sunday or large-portion deals, swing by your go-to deli or grocery store to find a deli platter, sandwich selections, or bulk orders of crowd-favorite sides, or order from a nearby bakery to help with any dessert needs. Whether everything’s made from scratch, cooked from frozen, or delivered to your door, there’s no wrong way to eat on Super Bowl Sunday.

The day before: Set up the space

You don’t want to be unnecessarily stressed the morning of, so take care of the room layout — and TV viewing experience — the day before. If you have the space, have snacks in the game room, but set up the meal table in a side room or separate area so people who feel like eating and chatting won’t disrupt those glued to the TV. Remember to keep some space open on the tables for potential dishes or drinks a guest might bring. Have a counter or table designated for drinks with a cooler below or nearby to hold individual cans or bottles and keep sharpies nearby for everyone to mark their cups. Have a bucket of ice with a scoop available for easy serving and place the trash and recycling bins in an obvious, but not intrusive, place. To avoid crowding around the sink, have hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes in the kitchen, main area, and entrances/exits.

To avoid overcrowding in the main TV area, set up additional viewing options by setting up additional laptops, tablets, or other streaming devices wherever they fit. No one wants to hear Uncle Brad complain about missing the game-winning helmet catch or 99-yard kick return just because he was in the kitchen. Increase seating areas by utilizing floor pillows and avoid blocking easy exits. If you have an outdoor space, make it available for anyone needing some fresh air, and (weather permitting, of course) crack a window to keep fresh air circulating.

Day of

Guests will be arriving in just a few hours, so you want to make sure you’re ready for kickoff. Follow this chronological checklist to take some pressure off.

9 a.m.: Look at the recipes and check cook times, which items need the oven vs the stove, and other planning considerations to outline a cook and baking schedule for the day.

11 a.m.: Start thawing and marinating any meats that’ll be used and prep your ingredients and appliances in order of use. Start the most time-consuming dishes first.

1 p.m.: While the heavy-lift menu items are cooking, start on the easier food prep. Roll those mini sausages in croissants, mix the brownie batter, portion out the seven-layer dip cups.

3:30 p.m.: While everything is cooking or waiting to go into the oven, clean up the dirty dishes that have inevitably accumulated. Have a plan for keeping dishes at their desired temperatures before the guests arrive. Aluminum foil, insulated carriers, crockpots, and a low-temperature oven all do the trick for keeping dishes warm.

5 p.m.: Stock the snacks, fill the ice, and turn on the TV.

5:30 p.m.: People begin to arrive. Step back, relax, and have fun.

Halftime: Do a quick trash and dish pickup to keep things clean (and to avoid being slammed at the end of the night).

The day is about more than your favorite teams or foods: it’s about creating memories, spending time with loved ones, and celebrating the little joys in life. With these easy-to-follow tips, bringing people together to watch the Super Bowl LVI can be a breeze.

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