I take several things into consideration when planning a party menu.
1. The Season. Clearly, I'm not going to be serving chili and cornbread at a July garden party. Hot weather = light, cool foods that won't get funky in the summer sun.
2. The Occasion. Football viewing in February? I went with pulled-pork sliders and bacon-wrapped jalapenos. Grandparents' 60th anniversary party? Upscale island fare with lots of fresh seafood, fruit, and veggies.
3. My Guests. It's pretty tough to please every palate, but if I know a lot of vegetarians or health-conscious eaters are going to be attending, I try to be accommodating to their preferences.
All things considered (hot, sticky weather + 30-something birthday + plenty of healthy-eating friends), I came up with a DIY, mix-and-match menu of customized crostini, salad, and pasta with assorted toppings.
Planning what food went in what bowl/platter ensured I wouldn't need to make any last minute trips to Target the day of the party.
I made a menu with recommended combinations for the salads and crostini.
Farfalle with homemade basil pesto
Baked basket with crostini
Artichoke pesto: phase 1
Roasted red peppers
Spreads for customized crostini: goat cheese, artichoke pesto, white bean dip and bruschetta topping
Roasted stone fruit to pair with walnut-honey pesto
I used these templates from marthastewart.com to make tags for the food
Light, healthy and I didn't have to spend the party behind a stove. Just the way I like it.