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Your New Year’s Eve Dinner Needs A Risotto Bar

Your New Year’s Eve Dinner Needs A Risotto Bar

There is something truly magical about New Year’s Eve. You are reflecting on the year that’s passed, and all the wonderful life experiences you had. You’re also looking forward to the coming year, making resolutions and anticipating the adventures that lie ahead. One staple of a fun celebration is the New Year’s Eve dinner. Nothing brings people together like a convivial meal with delicious food, and this is an occasion to really make it special.

If you are like me, you think a celebratory dinner should be fun and festive, but it shouldn’t break the bank. Enter, the risotto bar. With this New Year’s Eve dinner idea, you can satisfy every guest with sensitivity to dietary needs and a range of culinary flavors that everyone can savor.

first, the planning

When planning the perfect New Year’s Eve dinner menu, you should take your guests’ food preferences into consideration. Many parents tell me their kids are not likely to eat foods that look or taste unfamiliar, while adults often like imaginatively prepared food that packs a punch for the taste buds. With this in mind, you should try to strike a balance of the exotic and the ordinary, with different flavors and textures, in the menu items you choose. That way there will be something to please everyone at the table.

Another factor to consider is whether any guest has dietary restrictions or a food allergy or sensitivity. Diversifying your menu allows you to welcome all ages and types of eaters to gather around the table and enjoy each other’s company. Fine food, lots of laughter, maybe a party hat or two – that’s the goal on New Year’s Eve!

THE IDEA: “Choose Your Own Adventure” Risotto Bar

As a mom of two young kids, with family and friends across the dairy-free, gluten-free, meat-free, and meat lovers spectrum, I’ve learned that setting up a “Choose Your Own Adventure” meal can often be the best way to please all eaters. While this does entail preparing more dishes, it also means that you don’t have to do as much work to accommodate dietary restrictions, and there are fewer potential awkward dinner table conversations about guests not liking the food. Plus, you get to show off more of your prettiest serving dishes. (While you may favor using a matching set for serving ware, I love to show off my eclectic connection of dishware.)

The good news about this “Choose Your Own Adventure” meal is that it can still be elegant, and also leave your guests raving about the food. For my own 2021 New Year’s Eve dinner menu, I will be serving a delicious risotto buffet with lots of different varieties. I’ll let each guest choose the base and toppings to suit their tastes, and it’s fun to see what risotto concoction each person comes up with. If you have never served a meal like this, I will now teach you how to prepare it, what ingredients and toppings to include, and how to ensure your guests have a great time.


  • Risotto
  • Protein Options
  • Vegetable Toppings
  • Cheese Toppings
  • Other Flavorful Toppings

How to create a “Choose Your Adventure” Risotto Bar for New Year’s Eve

STEP 1: Start with a Risotto Base

Risotto is a great choice for a meal base because it is naturally free of gluten and dairy, and it offers a nice change of pace from a plain rice dish. When shopping for risotto rice, choose arborio rice which is naturally gluten free, or check to make sure the rice package bears a “gluten free” label. This will ensure no cross-contamination may have occurred.

Risotto is fairly easy to make, but while preparing the dish you should give it your undivided attention and not try to multi-task. Risotto takes 20-30 minutes of cooking time until it is tender and ready to serve, and it requires stirring every 30 seconds. You should stir the risotto enough to keep it from sticking to the pan, but not so much that you give the dish an unwelcome pasty texture.

To accommodate dairy-free guests you should split the risotto into two batches before cooking. The more traditional risotto batch will be heavy on the cheese of your choice, as well as butter to achieve the creamy consistency everyone loves. The second batch, dairy free and vegan, contains vegetable broth, miso paste, and plant-based butter to create a flavor-packed risotto base every bit as yummy as the traditional dish.

Serve your risotto immediately! It’s best when it’s steaming hot. 

STEP 2: OFFER Protein Options

Another benefit to providing different menu choices is your guests get to choose the protein toppings that best please their individual palates. For my own family’s meals, special occasions call for a seafood, a meat, and a non-meat for the protein options.

Seafoods that pair well with risotto include scallops, mussels, and shrimp. For my own risotto eating choices I typically choose just one seafood, but feel free to offer multiple choices to your guests so that they can mix seafoods or pick their favorite.

Meat that pairs well with risotto includes sausage and baked or fried chicken. All offer a unique flavor punch and can also pair well with the other topping options.

Some good meatless foods for your pairings with risotto are mushrooms and baked tofu.

STEP 3: OFFER Additional Toppings

Now that the flavor is booming from the risotto base and protein of choice, guests can top the dish off with a few vegetables to further complement the flavor profile. I generally encourage each eater to choose the taste they want to “pop” and then select up to three vegetable toppings. My favorite additions are asparagus, butternut squash, caramelized onions and broccoli.

Walnuts and dried cranberries also blend well with these vegetable toppings and bring amazing flavor to the dish. You should also include a variety of cheese toppings. Parmesan, Gruyere, Asiago and sharp cheddar are some of my favorites. For a non-dairy option you can serve nutritional yeast, which is surprisingly tasty, with a creamy texture and a cheesy flavor.


If you are planning just a just small family gathering for your New Year’s Eve, you probably needn’t offer so many proteins and topping choices. If you’re inviting a larger group of guests, like extended family and friends, then you’ll need to plan accordingly and create more options. Keep in mind that just a handful of protein and topping options opens up a variety of delicious risotto combinations.

For a New Year’s Eve dinner with my immediate family, I generally just serve the risotto base, one meat protein and one meatless protein, two vegetables, and two varieties of cheese. For a larger gathering of family and friends, I would add a seafood option, additional vegetables, and more cheese varieties.

If you are just eating this meal with your immediate family and don’t mind repurposing the ingredients, this “Choose Your Own Adventure” meal like the risotto bar usually generates a lot of tasty leftovers. I like how it gives picky kids plenty of food choices for the first couple of days of the New Year, plus it offers up something fresh for partners who don’t like “typical” leftovers. You can repurpose a risotto base with new proteins and toppings, or even use the protein and vegetables in a newly made soup or dish.

Enjoy the food and the company

Over the years, I have found that the key to a pleasurable and entertaining gathering is not a perfectly planned menu or activities, but by focusing on you and your guests enjoying yourselves even if things don’t go perfectly. As moms, we tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make sure everything is picture-worthy and perfect. Nevertheless, as in life, parties and dinners often involve unexpected and unwelcome surprises. Dinner party guests have way more fun when the host is able to enjoy themselves as well. You can be a wonderful host and not allow yourself undue stress over a “perfect presentation.” Another tip: if you’re thinking of inviting someone judgmental who might make you stress out about the quality of your dinner party, it is probably not the type of person you would want to spend your New Year’s Eve dinner with in the first place.

Remember, New Year’s Eve is about toasting the year you just came through, and focusing on setting your energy and intention on the New Year and opportunities ahead. Do it with food, fun, and connection with family and friends, and welcome 2022 with a bam!


Set Your Table in Style

Prep for NYE dinner with festive settings and home décor from our kitchen and dining collection

About The Author

Chelsea Skaggs

Chelsea Skaggs is a postpartum advocate and coach who is committed to helping women kick the pressure to be "Pinterest Perfect" and have real, raw conversations to acknowledge and empower the postpartum experience. She provides small group coaching, eCourses, online communities and helps other women start motherhood-centered businesses. She believes that normalizing and empowering all the changes in life after baby can change the world and leads that effort at

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