Foods to serve for National Neighborhood Night Out block party

National Neighborhood Night Out (NNO) is around the corner which means coming up with an assortment of delicious picnic foods. NNO is a community sponsored event in which citizens, law enforcement agencies, local officials, neighborhood associations and others come together to strengthen community spirit through block parties, cookouts or parades.

Last year, our neighborhood hosted its first even Neighborhood Night Out even which drew close to 400 people. Cooking for a crowd like this was definitely a challenge, though we pulled it off by serving up easy to prepare and easy to serve picnic foods. If you're planning the menu for a Neighborhood Night Out in your subdivision, here's our suggestion of foods that can be served.

The main course. So who pays for all this food? The neighbors, which is why keeping down costs is the goal for an NNO event. We serve hamburgers & hotdogs at our NNO cookout which are inexpensive to buy and quick to prepare. Burger patties and dogs can be bought in bulk at local restaurant supply houses; it was at a wholesaler like this where our group found 1/5lb Angus beef patties packaged of 60 for $20.

Other inexpensive main course items include Sloppy Joe meat and chili, both which can be made ahead of time and keep hot in crockpots.

Side dishes. Prepping side dishes for 400 people is a huge challenge, both in making the side dishes, keeping them chilled, and in serving them in a germ free way.

Potato chips are an obvious choice of side dish for hamburgers and hot dogs. Individual chip bags can be found packaged 60 for $10 at your local warehouse grocery store. Other side dishes that work at NNO block parties include:

Baked barbecue beans (kept hot in a crock pot)

Individually wrapped corn bread wedges (to serve with chili)

Watermelons sliced in a two-inch wedge

Steamed corn on the cob (wrapped in foil)

Chilled carrot salad

Skewered fruit kabobs

Desserts. At our NNO cookout last year, a number of the ladies brought home made pies which while delicious, only fed about 100 people. Better options for a large scale cookout should include portable deserts which can be eaten with the hands. Ideas here include treats such as brownies, cookies, lemon bars, homemade ice cream, skewered lemon pound cake squares topped with maraschino cherries, and slices of bundt cake.

Beverages. Individual cans of soda pop and water are expensive and more often than not, are often left half-consumed on tables and curbs. We discovered the cheapest solution was to serve ice water and lemonade in 2-5 gallon Gott thermoses. A winning lemonade recipe to serve at large block parties is the one found on the back of the ReaLemon concentrated lemon juice bottles (1 cup juice, 1 cup sugar, 6 1/2 cups water and ice per 2 quart serving.)

When it comes to organizing a cookout for a crowd, the key to a successful cookout is limiting the menu to inexpensive, easy to cook and easy to serve foods. This keeps the food line moving smoothly and helps ease the stress on the people staffing the grills and chow line at your National Neighborhood Night Out event.

More by this contributor:

Feeding a crowd on a budget

How to host a neighborhood association social.

How to organize a neighborhood plant exchange