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Why I Love Potlucks: A Recipe for Community

Why I Love Potlucks: A Recipe for Community

I have a very special place in my heart for potlucks. A tradition of weekly potlucks on Monday evenings was a part of my life for years, and some of my favorite recipes and favorite people came from this cherished Monday night gathering. It was probably because of these regular gatherings with homemade food & friendship that I realized food is a magnet for community and glue for relationships.

Monday Night Potlucks began when I was in college. Two of my good friends (one of whom is now my sister-in-law) decided we needed something to look forward to each Monday, so they began a tradition of inviting pretty much anyone who wanted to come to bring a dish and join in for a casual evening of chatting and eating.

A few years later, the tradition eventually made its way from my friends’ home to mine. My husband and I began hosting Monday Night Potlucks at our little apartment, and once again, our potluck suppers were made up of a hodgepodge of people – friends from work, church, college, the neighborhood, and really, anyone who wanted to join!

Folks would come over to our apartment for a few hours every Monday evening to enjoy different foods we all made, share stories about our days at work, chat and joke about life, play games, and just enjoy each other’s company. Evenings were casual – we used paper plates, most of us ended up sitting on the floor, and sometimes our dog, Gipper, helped himself to someone’s plate when they weren’t paying attention. He can be pretty sneaky.

We had our potluck “regulars,” but that crowd grew as the regulars, week after week, brought along a sibling, significant other, coworker, or friend just needing some company. I loved that we had a core group that did life together, and I loved that we could always welcome a stranger to join us in our beloved weekly tradition.

chocolate guinness cake with ganache and pecans on top

Weekly Potlucks Made Me Look Forward to Mondays

With each week came a new theme for our food contributions. We occasionally repeated a theme worth repeating (Mmm-mmm, Southern Food Night!), but most of the time we enjoyed the challenge of crafting a unique theme and making the food to correspond. Mondays became highly anticipated for us.

We all experimented with different recipes – old favorites and new ones we were anxious to try. We created a Facebook event each week where we’d share the theme and everyone would post what they were bringing so we knew what we could expect and get excited to try. Then, come Monday, our kitchen became a laboratory of flavors – a place where we tried and tested foods, and a place that saw repeat customers throughout the evening coming back for seconds, thirds, and to scrape the platters clean.

pan of green chile and spinach chicken enchiladas

Potlucks Fueled Relationships and Community

On Monday evenings, our separate lives all merged together. Everyone would come one-by-one (or with a new potlucker in tote) and step through the threshold of our home – a retro 1960s apartment with stained carpet, peeling wallpaper, and a shiplap fireplace that was built long before shiplap was a thing.

Why I Love Potlucks: A Recipe for Community - Our first apartment, a place where so many potluck memories were made!

Why I Love Potlucks: A Recipe for Community - Our first apartment, a place where so many potluck memories were made!

Why I Love Potlucks: A Recipe for Community - Our first apartment, a place where so many potluck memories were made!

Why I Love Potlucks: A Recipe for Community - Our first apartment, a place where so many potluck memories were made!

After everyone arrived, we’d casually gather round to make some semblance of a circle, pray together, and then form a line to begin creating a color palate of tastes on our plates. The guys were always such gentlemen and rarely allowed themselves to fill their plates before the girls were through the line.

Gipper always made sure to lounge in the middle of the commotion – he found his home between the threshold of the kitchen and living room; a speed bump for those who wanted to travel quickly from filling their plate to filling their stomachs. Though we had a kitchen table, we all typically congregated in our living room, sprawled out between the couch, arm chairs, and the floor. Once several people had made themselves comfortable with their plates, Gipper made his way into the living room and transformed himself from a speed bump into a beggar, hoping someone might just feel sorry enough for him to offer him a bite. I’m sure he accomplished his feat on occasion.

Why I Love Potlucks: A Recipe for Community - Our dog, Gipper, loved being in the middle of everything!

Before, during, and after supper, we talked about everything and we talked about nothing. Topics of supreme significance, and topics of conversation that led us down nonsensical rabbit trails. I loved all of it. We often put on a Planet Earth or a sporting event on TV in the background as we made our plates and then played games as we munched on dessert (these games are some of our favorites).

After we’d spent the evening with one another and finished up our last round of dessert and games, folks would eventually begin to pack up their trays, dishes, and platters to begin their brief treks home. Our goodbyes were full of continued conversation, and we always tried to decide on the next week’s theme before everyone made their way out the door – we wanted to know what to look forward to for the following Monday. Often, at least one or two people stayed back to linger and continue a conversation; anyone was welcome to stay and delay the end of the night. Mondays became so beloved that we were hardly anxious for Tuesdays to begin.

I learned a great deal from our potlucks, but one of my main takeaways was learning how food is such a natural catalyst for community. Our Monday supper offered much more than our evening sustenance – it nourished relationships. It broke barriers and built bridges between strangers; it opened the door for meaningful friendships to form. It created a commonality between all of us and gave us an excuse to gather.

Frog Eye (Pearled Couscous) Soup - An easy-to-make, healthy, hearty, delicious soup with tons of flavor, protein, and fiber! Great for a weeknight meal!

Creative Potluck Themes Made for Fun Conversation

The fun potluck themes always led to new conversation – we exchanged fun and interesting stories about how we made a certain dish, and even the recipes themselves were a topic of conversation. The food, fun, and fellowship made Monday something to actually look forward to. In our group’s vocabulary, “Monday” was no longer a bad word. Some of my favorite recipes and favorite friendships came from our potlucks, and that weekly tradition is cataloged in my mind as one of my fondest memories!

Now that you’ve heard my (perhaps overly) sappy and sentimental reasons I love potlucks, are you inspired to go host your own?! Head over here to see the list of our 10 favorite themes – some of which we repeated over and over again.

Enjoy breaking bread with others!

Top 10 Favorite Creative Potluck Themes

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