12/31/2012 09:30 am ET Updated Mar 02, 2013

Go Southern for Luck and Money on New Year's Day


I'm heading out to the store in a few minutes to shop for my favorite party of the year: a New Year's Day buffet. Tradition, science, and my spreadsheets all say it's a great way to start your new year off right.

  • Southern tradition holds that the more beans and greens you eat on New Year's Day, the more luck and money you will have in the coming year. Beans represent coins, and collards kale, and other greens represent folding money.
  • Many studies suggest eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet can reduce your risk of the diseases of affluence, including cancer, heart-disease, and diabetes.
  • And as the author of Wildly Affordable Organic, I have the spreadsheets to show that this is one thrifty party! You can serve everyone a full meal with dessert for less than the cost of taking everyone out for a fancy coffee.

Here's how to throw your own Southern Luck-and-Money Party.

Invite a comfortable number of people. Decide how many people you want to have over for a casual buffet. Don't even think about having a sit-down, formal meal. Even denizens of New York society don't RSVP anymore, reports Guy Trebay in the New York Times piece "Guess Who Isn't Coming to Dinner."

I invite about 25 percent more people than I think will show up and ask for a reply by email or phone. The RSVPs won't indicate who will come but often reveal the total number of guests with Nate Silver-like accuracy. The people who bring unexpected guests balance the people who say they would attend but were felled by a hangover or occupied by new romance.

Make sure your invitation says not only when and where but what to wear and what, if anything, to bring. Many guests will ignore whatever you say, but others will feel more comfortable and likely to come if they know what to expect.

Set a menu. Make it easy and classic with Hoppin' John, collards, and corn bread, or put an ethnic spin on the required beans and greens. This year, I'm making:

Now: Shop for staples. Get your black-eyed peas ASAP and pick up rice, lemons, and other non-perishables while you are at it. The legume aisle can resemble Filene's Basement on New Year's Eve. If you don't have and can't borrow reusable plates and other serving gear, stock up on that too. Make ice.

Saturday: Buy fresh. Get collards or other greens early on Saturday. I store my greens in a cooler on my back porch. Pick up whatever else looks great at the farmers' market, maybe a local sorghum for the gingerbread. Make pickles and more ice.

New Year's Eve. Chop the greens, bake the desserts, and pick over and soak the black-eyed peas. Arrange the furniture if needed and set out the serving plates. Make more ice.

New Year's Day. Put on festive music. Finish cooking. Set out the ice bucket. If you can spare a sink, scrub it and fill it with ice to chill bottled beverages. Label things so people can help you and find their way around. I put up tags in empty serving dishes so early arrivals can help set out the food. Post-it notes on doors and cupboards help everyone find extra silverware and glasses, the trash and recycling bins, and bathroom.

Have a great time! It's your party! Don't be reluctant to accept or ask for help.

After everyone leaves, take a plate to a neighbor or friend who couldn't come but needs cheering up. Refrigerate or freeze the extra beans, rice, and greens for a healthy, thrifty start on lunches for 2013.

Share your party tips and plans in the comments below. Have a great time, and Happy New Year, y'all!

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