Do you want to know how to plan and prepare nutritious and delicious team dinners that everyone will enjoy and benefit from?
Are you an athlete, parent, coach or supporter who wants to help your team perform better, recover faster and stay healthy?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this blog post is for you.
In this post, I’ll share some of my tried and true team dinner ideas that are both delicious and nutritious, and of course team favorites.
Ready to get started? Let’s dive in and explore these winning strategies for your next team dinner.
Why do team dinners matter?
Team dinners are more than just a meal. They are a chance for the team to bond, celebrate achievements and fuel for the next game. (1)
As a team mom and a dietitian, I know how important it is to feed your team well. A good team dinner can:
- Boost morale and motivation
- Enhance teamwork and communication
- Provide essential nutrients and energy
- Prevent injuries and illnesses
- Support recovery and growth
What should you serve for team dinners?
For team dinners you should serve a meal that’s a balanced combinations of macronutrients such as carbohydrates, protein and fat as well as a variety of fruits and vegetables.
By using the the performance plate method you can make sure you’ve got the right nutrients to meet energy needs for pre game or recovery.
The main components of a meal will include a lean protein source such as chicken, turkey, beef, fish, tofu or eggs. Then you’ll also want to serve a complex carbohydrate source such as brown rice, whole grain pasta, potatoes, quinoa or beans.
When you’re serving team dinners the the night before a game, make sure to follow the game day performance plate to ensure muscles are properly fueled with carbohydrates and athletes are well hydrated.
Encourage athletes to stay hydrated throughout the meal. Offer water, milk, sports drinks or electrolyte-rich beverages.
Also offer a diverse range of foods to cater to different tastes and dietary preferences. Be aware of any dietary restrictions or food allergies among the team.
How do you feed a sports team?
Feeding a sports team team dinner requires planning and coordination. Planning ahead is the key to a successful team dinner. You don’t want to be stressed out or unprepared on the day of the dinner.
Schedule team dinners in advance and communicate with the team members and their families. Make sure everyone knows the date, time, location and menu of the team dinner. You can use online tools to organize the event.
Create a menu and shopping list well before the dinner date. Choose dishes that are easy to make, transport, and serve. You can also ask other parents or volunteers to help you with the cooking, set-up or clean-up.
“Build your own” meal team dinners
One of the easiest and most fun ways to plan team dinners is to let your players customize their own meals according to their preferences and needs.
This way, you can cater to different tastes, allergies and dietary restrictions without having to cook multiple dishes. Plus, you can save time and money by buying ingredients in bulk.
Here are eight examples of my favorite easy and fun “make your own” food bars that you can set up for team dinners.
A pasta bar is the number one team dinner favorite. Since it’s a great way to provide a variety of carb options, including gluten free carbs, while also allowing each athlete to customize their plate, athletes often request this for a team meal.
Offer a variety of pasta shapes and types including whole wheat and gluten-free, sauces such as marinara, meat based red sauce and pesto.
Include protein rich toppings like meatballs, ground turkey, grilled chicken, shrimp and plant based meatballs.
Then also serve a variety of veggies from roasted broccoli or cauliflower, roasted red peppers, olives and sautéed mushrooms. Plus you can serve a leafy green salad or Caesar salad on the side.
Baked potato bar
A baked potato bar is a fun and easy way to provide a nutritious meal for a large group. Offer a variety of toppings like cheese, broccoli, salsa and chili. For added protein, include options like pulled pork or chicken.
A sandwich bar is a classic option that is always a crowd-pleaser. Offer a variety of whole grain breads, deli meats like turkey or ham, cheese, lettuce, tomato and condiments and toppings such as mustard, mayo, guacamole and hummus.
You can also offer veggie options like tofu, sliced tempeh, roasted eggplant or portobello mushrooms.
Serve with different types of whole grain rolls and whole wheat breads.
Rice bowl bar
Starting with a base of brown rice or quinoa, you can add a variety of protein options like grilled chicken, tofu, egg or shrimp, along with colorful veggies like broccoli, cucumber, bell peppers or avocado.
Top it off with a flavorful sauce and your favorite garnishes like cilantro or crushed peanuts.
Taco or burrito bowl bar
A taco bar is a fun and flavorful option that everyone will love. Offer a variety of tortillas such as whole wheat, corn and flour. Or for the burrito bowl option, make some brown and white rice to serve as the base.
For protein, ground beef, shredded chicken, roasted tofu, pork and shrimp make good options.
For vegan or vegetarian athletes, you can also offer veggie options like tempeh, black beans, corn, peppers, onions, mushrooms.
Serve with sides of beans, cheese, lettuce, shredded purple cabbage, tomatoes, salsa, sour cream, guacamole and lime wedges.
A hot soup or chili bar is a simple and fun idea that allows everyone to customize their own bowl of soup with different toppings and flavors.
You can have multiple hot soups in a few crock pots, such as chili, chicken noodle, tomato basil, broccoli cheese or minestrone.
Set up a table with various ingredients that your team can add to their soups, such as cheese, croutons, bacon bits, sour cream, green onions or fresh herbs.
You can also serve a crusty bread and green salad on the side and have a complete and satisfying meal.
If you have a small team dinner, a pizza bar is a fun and easy way to let everyone customize their own pizza with their favorite toppings. You can use store-bought or homemade pizza crusts, sauce, cheese and various toppings, such as ham, pineapple, mushrooms, olives, and peppers.
Or you can also get creative and try some different sauces and toppings, such as pesto, barbecue sauce, chicken, spinach and artichoke hearts. Just serve the pizzas with a green salad and some drinks, and you have a delicious team meal that everyone will love.
For a fresh and healthy team dinner idea, you might want to try a Mediterranean bowl. A Mediterranean bowl combines whole grains, lean protein, vegetables, fruits and herbs. You can use any whole grain, such as farro, quinoa, rice, or couscous.
Then, you can add some legumes, such as lentils or chickpeas, for plant-based protein and fiber. Next, you can offer toppings like raw or roasted vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, bell peppers or red onions.
You can also add some fruits, such as avocado or lemon slices. Finally, you can drizzle some tahini dressing over your bowl and sprinkle some feta cheese and olives for extra flavor.
Slow cooker team dinners ideas
Another easy way you can cook large quantities of food with minimal effort is to use a slow cooker. You can prepare the ingredients ahead of time and let the slow cooker do the work for you.
These protein based meals can be served with carbohydrate rich grains such as rice, pasta or crusty whole wheat rolls. Here are some slow cooker ideas that your team will love:
Chili is a classic dish that is perfect for a cool night. You can make a beef, chicken, or vegetarian chili with beans, tomatoes, spices, and your favorite toppings. Serve with cornbread or tortilla chips.
Meatballs are a versatile dish that can be used to top pasta, rice or bread. You can make meatballs with ground beef, turkey, or chicken and cook them in a sauce of your choice, such as marinara, barbecue or teriyaki.
Pulled pork or shredded chicken
Create a tender and juicy dish that can be served as sandwiches, tacos or salads. You can cook a pork shoulder or loin or chicken breasts in a sauce of your choice, such as barbecue, honey mustard or apple cider vinegar.
Make a hearty and comforting stew that can be served over mashed potatoes, noodles or bread. You can cook beef cubes with potatoes, carrots, celery, onion and herbs in a beef broth or red wine sauce.
Sandwich and salad team dinners
If you want to switch it up from traditional sandwiches, offer sandwich wraps. Use whole grain wraps and fill them with lean protein like grilled chicken or turkey, veggies like lettuce, tomato, and cucumber and low-fat cheese.
You can also offer a veggie option with hummus and roasted veggies.
Salads are a great way to pack in a variety of nutrients. Offer a base of greens like spinach or kale, and add in a variety of veggies like cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers.
Top it off with lean protein like grilled chicken or tofu, and a light dressing like vinaigrette. Add whole grains like quinoa and brown rice, beans and whole grain rolls to boost carbohydrates.
Pasta salads are a great option for a cold, refreshing meal. Use whole grain pasta and gluten free options and a lean protein like grilled chicken or garbanzo beans. Then add in a variety of veggies like cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and olives.
Top it off with a light dressing like Italian or balsamic vinaigrette. Serve this with a fruit salad.
Casseroles and baked team dinners
For a hearty and satisfying team dinners idea, you might want to try some filling casseroles. Casseroles are baked dishes that combine different ingredients, such as meat, cheese, pasta, rice, vegetables and sauces, into one delicious meal.
Casseroles are also easy to make and can feed a large crowd and make serving a breeze. Here are some filling casserole ideas that your team will enjoy:
Lasagna is classic Italian dish that layers pasta, protein-rich ground beef, turkey or plant based meat and calcium-rich cheese. It’s a good source of complex carbohydrates, protein and color that makes a balanced performance plate.
Additionally, by adding colorful veggies like spinach, zucchini or mushrooms, you can increase the nutrient density and fiber content.
Whether you make it from scratch or buy a pre-made option, lasagna is a hearty and satisfying meal that everyone enjoys.
Enchiladas are a popular dish that consists of tortillas filled with various ingredients and baked with sauce and cheese. You can use corn of flour tortillas.
For the filling, use proteins such as chicken, beef or pork, or vegetarian options, such as cheese, beans, or vegetables.
Top with your favorite red or green sauce and cheese. Some common toppings for enchiladas are sour cream, cilantro, olives, lettuce, tomato or avocado.
Baked chicken and veggies
If you have access to an oven, try baking chicken and veggies for a hearty meal. Use boneless, skinless chicken breasts and add in a variety of colorful veggies like sweet potatoes, broccoli, and bell peppers.
Drizzle with a little olive oil and bake in the oven until cooked through.
Pasta or rice bakes for team dinners
A rice or pasta casserole is a great way to make a filling and comforting meal with simple ingredients. You can easily customize your casserole with different kinds of pasta, rice, cheese, meat, vegetables and sauces. Here are some ideas:
- Cheesy chicken casserole: Combine cooked chicken, rice or pasta, cream of chicken soup and sour cream in a baking dish. You can also add some broccoli, carrots or peas for extra veggies. Sprinkle some bread crumbs and cheese.
- Spicy sausage casserole: This casserole combines cooked sausage, rice or pasta, cheese, tomato sauce and salsa in a baking dish. You can also add some corn, black beans or green chilies. Sprinkle with cheese and tortilla chips.
- Creamy mushroom casserole: This casserole combines cooked mushrooms, rice or pasta, cheese, cream of mushroom soup, and milk in a baking dish. You can also add some spinach, asparagus, or zucchini. Sprinkle some Parmesan cheese and parsley on top.
Grilling ideas for team dinners
Grilling is a great way to cook meat and vegetables and also enjoy the outdoors and socialize with your team while grilling. Here are some grilled food ideas that your team will love:
Skewer a variety of marinated meats and vegetables to make kabobs and grill. Choose proteins such as chicken, beef, pork, tofu or shrimp. You can also add some colorful vegetables, such as bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, or cherry tomatoes.
Serve the kabobs with carb rich rice and pita bread as well as a green salad.
Burgers are a classic and satisfying grilled food that everyone enjoys. You can make burgers with ground beef, turkey, chicken or veggie and season them with salt, pepper, garlic powder or other spices.
You can also add some cheese, pickles, lettuce, tomato, onion or avocado to your burgers. Toast whole grain buns to boost fiber. Serve with roasted veggies or sweet potatoes, a green salad and watermelon.
Breakfast for dinner ideas
Serving breakfast for dinner is a fun and easy way to enjoy some breakfast favorites anytime of day. You can make different kinds of breakfast dishes with eggs, cheese, meat, bread and fruits.
A smoothie or smoothie bowl bar is a refreshing and healthy option for team dinners. You can make different kinds of smoothies or smoothie bowls with fruits, vegetables, yogurt, high protein milk, juice or plant-based alternatives.
You can also set up a table with various toppings, such as granola, nuts, seeds, coconut flakes, chocolate chips or honey. Players can choose their own smoothies or smoothie bowls, or you can make some in advance and serve them in cups or bowls.
A smoothie or smoothie bowl bar is a great way to provide your team with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and hydration
Egg and sausage casserole with potatoes
Egg casseroles are a filling dish that can be made ahead of time and baked in the morning. You can mix eggs, cheese, sausage and potatoes in a baking dish and refrigerate it overnight.
Consider adding your favorite veggies, spices or cheeses to add additional flavor. This makes a great one pan dish that serves easily and can be served with a fruit salad or green salad.
Quiche is a versatile dish that you can serve hot or cold. You can choose from a variety of savory flavors and combinations of meat, cheese and vegetables. Some popular quiche fillings are bacon and cheese, ham and spinach or mushroom and onion.
Most grocery stores have pre made quiche in their deli coolers or you can buy pre made pie crust so all you’ll have to do is make the filling. Serve quiche along with a green salad or fruit salad on the side for a balanced and nutritious meal.
French toast casserole
French toast casserole is a sweet breakfast dish that you can be prepared the night before and baked in the morning. Layers of whole grain bread, eggs and milk combine with maple syrup in a baking dish soak overnight.
You can also add some fruit, nuts or chocolate chips as toppings and serve with lean breakfast meats.
Pancakes are classic breakfast favorites that are easy to make and customize. You can use a mix or make your own batter from scratch. You can also add some ingredients to the batter, such as blueberries, bananas or chocolate chips.
They can be kept hot in a warm oven until you have enough stacked high to serve the team. Top with butter, syrup, jam, nut butter or fresh fruit. Serve with a side of lean meat or plant based breakfast sausage.
These team meals will help you feed your team well, boost their morale, and optimize their performance.
Whether you choose to make a pasta bar, a grilled chicken salad, tacos or a smoothie bowl, you will find something here that works for you and your team. I hope this helps you plan your next team meal.
Check out our other posts on meals and snacks including dinner meal ideas for athletes.
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Steph Magill, MS, RD, CD, FAND has over 22 years of experience in public health and nutrition. As a performance registered dietitian nutritionist, Stephanie specializes in sports nutrition and provides simple and actionable information so that athletes can be well fueled for high performance on and off the field. Stephanie has a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.