While the young people prepare to embark on a new path towards adulthood, parents are thinking: There’s a party to be planned! Where to begin? Who to invite? What about decorations? What food to serve? How will all those people fit in the house? Take a deep breath, make a pot of coffee and grab pen and paper.

Write down dates with goals in mind. You’ll want to keep track of expenses and check off each task as it’s completed. Sit down with your soon to be graduate and have an honest discussion about the expectations of the party. Only you, the parents, know what you can afford and how much space you have to create the perfect party for your young adult.

If you don’t think there will be enough room in your home for all your guests, order a tent from a reputable company near you. Make sure you have a clear idea of how many people will be attending and what the tent looks like. The company usually comes out early on the day of the event to put the tent up for you. You’ll need tables and chairs for food and for guests to sit and eat. They can be rented from the same company that rents tents or you can borrow them from friends.

More and more young people are planning the event around a theme. It’s usually something that brings to light a personal like or personality trait. The school colors are not always used these days. Ask your graduate if he/she has a preference. If not… go with the school colors. 

Graduation and congratulatory decorations abound through the spring. Keep a lookout for unique items. If helium balloons are on your list, be sure to order early and don’t forget the weights to keep them on the tables.

A “Memory Corner” recreates the past 18 years of your new adult. Make a collage of photographs, childhood memorabilia with bits and pieces of all their favorite things. Display any awards, merits and scholarships acquired through their years in elementary and high school. Let your imagination run wild to create a unique display that will be the hit of the day.

Pick up paper products. Specialty stores abound when it comes to party items like paper plates, cups, napkins, fruit cups and plastic spoons, forks and knives. Customized napkins need to be ordered early, but most kids are happy with just the year on it.

Music always adds a festive touch to any party. Choose music that your child loves or even better, leave the task of selecting the music to your graduate.

Since this is a day to honor your child’s achievement, let him/her be your guide. Perhaps all or some of their favorite foods could be served. You might wish to have a chicken barbeque or grill hamburgers and hotdogs. Sandwiches, chips and baked beans are probably the most used menu, but I would go a different route to create a buffet unique to your child. Mexican food, Italian, Greek, Chinese… the possibilities are endless.

A sample menu: Grilled chicken, your best potato salad or Caesar salad with creamy dressing, crusty rolls, a vegetable plate that includes celery and carrot sticks, broccoli, cauliflower, olives, a mixed fruit salad in a watermelon bowl an, of course, the cake.

If you’re expecting a large crowd, place bowls of M&M’s mixed with peanuts on the tables, mints or another finger food. FYI: You can purchase just the color of M&M’s you need at specialty stores. This makes for a colorful addition to the table decorations, especially in school colors.

Find a great cake decorator who creates unique, one of a kind cakes. Have the cake decorated to coordinate with the theme. Order early to assure you get just what you want. You can keep costs down by making your own cake. (See below)

It’s best to not include liquor or beer unless all the attendees are over 21. The temptation for young people to drink may be too great. Keep the drinks to sodas, iced tea, lemonade, punch or coffee.

Organizational Tips:

  • Create a timeline.
  • Ask a friend or two to help you out with kitchen duties and to run last minute errands, such as picking up the cake, getting the balloons, flowers, etc.
  • Create a list just for the menu and food preparation. Put the list on your refrigerator to remind you what needs to be done and when.
  • Do as much cooking beforehand. Meats can be cooked and stored in the freezer.
  • Clean and cut vegetables the day before, place in large bags or plastic containers.
  • Confirm all orders a week before the party. Don’t allow a glitch to occur that day.
  • Set up as much as possible the day before the party.
  • Don’t forget to: Have Fun!

Suggested Party Menu

Minted Citrus Tea

This recipe serves 10. It is easily doubled.


  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 12 fresh mint sprigs
  • 4 tea bags
  • 1 cup sugar, or sugar alternative such as Truvia (Stevia)
  • 1 cup fresh Florida orange juice
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 5 cups cold water
  • 1 Florida orange, sliced for garnish
  • 1 lemon sliced for garnish


Place the tea bags and mint sprigs into a large pitcher. Pour the boiling water over them and steep for about 7 minutes.

Remove and discard the tea bags and mint leaves, squeezing out excess liquid. Stir in sugar until dissolved and then stir in the orange juice and lemon juice.

Pour in the cold water. Serve over ice cubes, garnished with orange or lemon slices.

Arugula, Frisee and Red-Leaf Salad with Strawberries

Serves 8


  • 5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 12 cups baby arugula, washed and dried
  • 12 cups red-leaf lettuce, washed, dried, and torn into bite-size pieces
  • 12 cups frisee, trimmed, washed, dried and torn into bite-size pieces
  • 8 Belgian endives, leaves separated, washed, dried and torn into bite-size pieces
  • 4 pints strawberries, washed, dried, hulled, and quartered
  • 2 cups walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped


In a large salad bowl add the arugula, red-leaf lettuce, frisee, endive, strawberries and walnuts.

In a small bowl whisk together vinegar, oil and thyme; season with salt and pepper.

Pour half of the dressing over the salad and season with additional salt and pepper; toss to combine.

Taste and add more dressing, as desired

Grilled-Steak Sandwiches

Serves 12


  • 2 sirloin, skirt, or flank steaks (about 2 pounds each)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing and drizzling
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 6 tomatoes, sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • 2 large loaves Italian bread, halved lengthwise
  • Garnish: fresh basil and romaine lettuce leaves


Let steaks stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Heat grill to high. Brush grates with oil. Season steaks with salt and pepper. Grill for 5 minutes per side for medium-rare. Let rest for 10 minutes. Thinly slice steaks across the grain.

Meanwhile, drizzle tomatoes with oil; season with salt and pepper. Brush bread with oil. Grill tomatoes until lightly charred and soft, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Grill cut sides of bread until lightly charred, 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

Layer sliced steak and grilled tomatoes over bottom halves of bread. Garnish with basil and romaine leaves, drizzle with oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Sandwich with top halves of bread. Cut each loaf crosswise into 6 sandwiches.

Baked Italian Cheese Sandwiches

Servings: 8


  • 8 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
  • 2 white country loaves of bread—ends discarded, each with at least eight slices
  • 1 pound sliced provolone cheese
  • 1 pound Fontina cheese, coarsely shredded (about 5 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


Preheat the oven to 325°F. On a large rimmed baking sheet, mix the halved tomatoes with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake the tomatoes cut side up for 1 1/2 hours, until soft and starting to brown. Sprinkle with the thyme leaves and bake for about 30 minutes longer, until the tomatoes are very tender and slightly shriveled but still juicy. Let cool. (This can be done a day or two ahead)

Increase the oven temperature to 375°F. Brush 16 bread slices with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil; arrange 8 of the slices oiled side down on a large rimmed baking sheet. Top with the provolone, cover with the tomatoes, 4 cups of the Fontina and the remaining 8 bread slices, oiled side up. Press gently on the sandwiches and bake for about 15 minutes, until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted.

Preheat the broiler. Toss the remaining Fontina with the Parmigiano-Reggiano and sprinkle on the sandwiches. Broil 3 inches from the heat for about 1 minute, until the cheese is melted. Transfer the sandwiches to a serving platter. Cut into smaller pieces, if desired.

Potato Salad with Cipollini Onions, Olives and Fennel

Yukon Golds are the best potato for this salad.

Serves 12


  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 3 pounds baby Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and halved
  • 1 pound cipollini onions, peeled and left whole
  • 1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons white-wine vinegar
  • 1 cup picholine olives, pitted (2 1/2 ounces)
  • 2 small fennel bulbs, very thinly sliced
  • 1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, shaved (2 cups)


Heat a large skillet or Dutch Oven over medium-high heat. Add oil, garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add potatoes, onions and red-pepper flakes. Cook until onions are golden, about 7 minutes.

Add stock and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until potatoes and onions are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove potatoes and onions with a slotted spoon. Reserve 1 cup cooking liquid.

Combine reserved liquid, vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Pour over warm potatoes and onions. Stir in olives and let cool to room temperature.

Add fennel and parsley and combine. Season with salt and pepper. Top with Parmesan.

Mix well. Best served at room temperature.

Note To ensure maximum flavor, toss potatoes with dressing while they’re still warm.

Charred Corn Salad

Servings: 8


  • 8 large ears of corn, shucked
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus extra for brushing on the corn
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 5 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
  • 2 jalapeños, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 6 tablespoons torn mint leaves
  • 6 tablespoons torn parsley leaves


Heat grill to medium high. Brush the corn with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill, turning, until crisp-tender, about 12 minutes. Let cool.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the onion and lime juice and let stand for 10 minutes. Stir in the syrup, jalapeño and the 2 tablespoons of oil and season with salt and pepper.

Working in a large bowl, with a sharp knife, cut the kernels off the cobs. Add the onion dressing and toss. Add the mint, parsley and toss again. Serve warm.

Graduation Cake

Servings: 24


  • 5 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 10 egg whites
  • 1 cup white sugar plus 2 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups shortening
  • 1 3/4 cups milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Creamy Butter Frosting

  • 1 cup butter
  • 8 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Thoroughly spray a large (18-by-12-inch) sheet cake pan (or you can use a slightly smaller jelly roll pan) with nonstick baking spray. Be sure to get in all the corners of the pan.

Measure sifted flour, add baking powder, 2 teaspoons salt and sift together three times. In a separate large bowl beat egg whites until foamy, add the 1 cup white sugar, gradually, and continue beating until mixture  stands in soft peaks.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer cream shortening, add 2 1/2 cups white sugar, gradually, and cream together until light and fluffy. Add the flour mixture, alternately with milk, a small amount at a time, beating after each addition until smooth. Add 2 teaspoons vanilla and the beaten egg whites and beat thoroughly into batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared sheet cake pan. Use a large offset spatula or knife to even out the surface. Bake for 20 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Remove the pan from the oven and allow the cake to cool in the pan for 20 minutes.

Place a large cutting board covered with parchment paper on top of the cake pan, then invert the cake, allowing it to turn out onto the cutting board. Let the cake cool completely before decorating.

When thoroughly cooled, at least 2 hours, brush cake to remove any loose crumbs. You can also cut the cake in half to make two layers, if desired.

Prepare Creamy Butter Frosting and spread the cake with frosting. You can tint the frosting, write on top of cake and add graduation decorations.

To Make Creamy Butter Frosting:

Cream 1 cup butter or margarine; add part of the confectioners’ sugar gradually, blending after each addition. Mix in 4 teaspoons vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Then add remaining sugar alternately with milk, until the right consistency for spreading. Beat after each addition until smooth. Makes about 5 cups.

(While frosting cake, keep bowl of frosting covered with a damp cloth to prevent drying.)