Last week, I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with my Mom and a favorite caterer of ours to plan my upcoming wedding reception. So far, the wedding planning has been easy. Flowers? Whatever the florist thinks will look nice. Ceremony lineup? Let's look at what the strings quartet recommends. The reception food, however, is a different story. As a budding foodie (if craving box-mix brownies and three-ingredient-or-less appetizers even gets me there), I'm super invested in the food, but I quickly learned that there's more to think about than just pleasing the palate.

The caterer gave me a list and asked me to mark of the things I didn't want. Or maybe she didn't. (I was HUNGRY!) Either way, that's what I did, which narrowed out, among others, mini quiches, tiny sandwiches, and chicken fingers. The list of things I loved was small, but powerful, including crab cakes, smoked salmon, pork tenderloin, shrimp & grits, and more.

She told me she'd sit down with the chef to figure out the plate. The plate? Aren't we using their standard white set? She gently corrected me, "Think of having all your offerings on one plate. What does it look like? Do the flavors mesh? Are they balanced?" It dawned on me: planning a party, even one with passed appetizers and dishes, was just like planning a dinner, only on a massive scale.

We're still working on the menu, but once I thought about "the plate" instead of individual dishes, I started to understand what she meant. Ahi tuna doesn't really swim nicely with chicken tenders, and a heavy, creamy pasta bar might not sit well with an imported cheese offering. It's all in the balance.

How did you pick the menu for your last party? Are you a plate planner or a "my house, my favorites" kind of cook?

By Ashley Kappel and Ashley Kappel