Stacking dishes for an eventual small crowd
March 8, 2021 9:58 AM   Subscribe

I need to replace some dishes (due to breakage over time). In hopes of being able to have people over again in the future (with a specific set of food sharing needs), can you help me figure out a good set of dishes that a) take up minimal cabinet space, b) are affordable, and c) feel good to use? Ideally while being harder to break or chip.

I live by myself. (The cat has her own dishes.) But, I have a small coven (currently 5 people), which will maybe again sometime in the future meet at my apartment. This has involved people being over 2-3 times a month, with a meal as part of the post-ritual stuff at least one of those times, and snacks sometimes.

We eat in the living room, with TV-tray tables, or on the floor (as people prefer) so being able to have say, a plate and a bowl and a notebook on the TV-tray table all at once is good. I have limited cabinet space, so stuff that stacks in the cabinets, also really good.

The meals involve a potluck mix of foods, so there might be soup, stew, more solid things, dessert, etc. but we don't want to go through tons of plates. I don't have a dishwasher, so cutting down on the things that need to be washed later is great.

I have some chronic health issues that make me extra clumsy when I'm tired or something's flaring: I lose a dish or mug every 2-3 months on average (hence why I need replacements sooner than later.)

I'm open to considering something like melamine, if it feels good to use on a daily basis, but I don't have space/desire to store two sets of dishes (one common solution for this kind of group stuff is cheap plastic picnic plates for group use.)

My hopes are for soup size bowls and medium size plates that:
- Can be bought online

- Price range under $100 for everything, for 8-10 of each, ideally.

- Not all pure white (my current set are blue or black, and I like that a lot. Open to considering green, purple, and other dark colours.)

- Stack well so that they take up a modest amount of cabinet space. (A stack of plates and two stacks of bowls are fine, but 3 stacks of bowls would be tricky.)

- Easy to wash and handle (no dishwasher)

- I don't need mugs or big plates, so buying a set of things (my previous solution) doesn't make a lot of sense.

- Microwave safe

I currently have remains of different sets of meaningfully sized soup bowls, which works well for me for daily use, and two small plates (and about five larger ones, because I don't use those often.)

I've been eyeing these bowls and these lipped plates from Sweese, but I'm sure there are other options out there I haven't thought of.

Thanks for any ideas! Especially interested in any ideas from people who've done similar kinds of "food together is important, but the way the food is served is casual" kinds of hosting.
posted by jenettsilver to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I love Corelle. They are reasonably priced, have cute patterns, are slim, lightweight, and wash easy, and they're hard to damage. Growing up my parents occasionally threw our Corelle ware at each other during fights. As a less mercurial adult myself I just like that I can be clumsy and they fare just fine.
posted by phunniemee at 10:04 AM on March 8, 2021 [24 favorites]

Look at porcelain, which is very tough and lightweight compared to other ceramics. I like Crate and Barrel basics like Mercer.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 10:09 AM on March 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

Seconding Corelle, but I've only ever seen them with accent colors on white. I've also had good luck with IKEA's lines of tempered glass dinnerware, (also mostly white, but my partner came home with some lovely blue cereal bowls that kinda fit the bill.)

I have a feeling it's a lot more seasonal and temporary than something you'll be able to find replacements for forever, but right now they've got the Besegra line in a pale robin's egg blue that's tempting me, and the funny-shaped Backig line in black.
posted by fountainofdoubt at 10:11 AM on March 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Outside of Corelle, most cheap stuff isn't going to be especially durable.

If you're willing to spend a bit Fiestaware is pretty great, and it's all nice colors and you can mix and match. I have friends who have plates in every color. Mine happen to all be one color, but you can do according to your preferences.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:24 AM on March 8, 2021 [5 favorites]

For Corelle, I want to add the note that if you buy the plates, you could get the "salad" plates, rather than the dinner plates. They are plenty big enough for meals but much smaller than the dinner plates.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:27 AM on March 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

Corelle and other dishes show up at thrift shops. Corelle is thin and durable. I have thin glass dishes that I like a lot, also easily found in thrift shops, and enamel, because I have a big deck and don't want breakage. Enamel mugs are easy to find thrifted, plates are more difficult.

In addition, I often see gorgeous sets of fine chine for low prices; it's not popular right now. You could be extravagant and thrifty.
posted by theora55 at 10:29 AM on March 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

My kitchen life changed dramatically, saving both time and space, once I realized that my frequently-used dishes don't accumulate dust, so they can be stored very well in neat stacks on a side table. Super fast to put away, super fast to get out when needed, and -- bonus -- easy for guests to find.
posted by amtho at 11:03 AM on March 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Oh, and they can dry in those stacks too, most of the time.
posted by amtho at 11:03 AM on March 8, 2021

...and I think I'm less likely to break things if I'm not constantly trying to maneuver them into and out of cabinets.
posted by amtho at 11:04 AM on March 8, 2021

Best answer: Corelle, again. When it breaks, it shatters. But it is very hard to break.

The pieces are very thin and nest together. more closely than any other china I've ever seen. My corelle set took 1/3 the space of the china it replaced.

I grew up with it and - per my Mom - the only time pieces broke was when my baby brother dropped his small plates edge down over the side of his high chair (early '70's).
Now, her set is over 50 years old and again lives with a small child. A few pieces a year are breaking. It seems to take very excessive clumsiness or a kid.

I tried everything to not pick corelle, ( it is just.. so white.. and so plain) but everything was at least 3 times heavier, chipped easily or downright shattered in the microwave (beautiful 'microwave safe' recycled glass dishes. Nope). So, now I've returned to the corelle cult. I could not find a pattern that I could live with for more than a year, so have the white square dishes. It's been at least 10 years and I've yet to lose a piece. Note, when I bought my dishes, they were making a line of china with real colors. This was still china, not glass, and prone to all of the breaking issues.
I try to make up for the white dishes by using colorful stuff - napkins, tableclothes etc.
If you get a set, the mugs are tiny. I donated mine.

28oz bowls are a great extra purchase as a small serving dish or a big 'stuff on rice/soup' bowl. You can also buy a corelle branded plastic cover for these for a little more $$, but it is difficult to get these on properly If you get a round set, the small salad plate fits on top. As my main set is square, I use elasticized bowl covers.

I've been tempted by the IKEA glass dishes. But they've seemed to be thinner than corelle. So, far, I've not tried them, or met anyone who has.
posted by gardenkatz at 11:07 AM on March 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the comments already!

(Leaving them out is not a great option: I am both more likely to drop stuff in the middle of the cooking/putting food on it/washing process, rather than putting away, and I don't have an easy 'out' space where I could put things that wouldn't be subject to potential cat.)

For people commenting on breakage: one reason I've gone for heavier ceramics so far is that when I do drop it, it produces big opaque pieces rather than glass shards (and even the small bits tend to be easy to spot.)

Is that still true for Corelle? (My current kitchen floor is white tile, which complicates this.) I live in fear of shards getting me, or worse, the cat, because I didn't spot one.

Please assume that my clumsiness, when it happens, is in fact the excessive sort, too.
posted by jenettsilver at 11:48 AM on March 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Corelle shatters rather impressively when it shatters, but it does that very rarely. My 2 kids (now 3 & 5) have never managed to do it even with regular dropping and whatnot. In the ~10+ years I've been using my current ones them daily, I've done it once (when a bottle of wine fell off the top of the fridge and onto the edge of a bowl. Ugh what a mess. But counterintuitively, the shards are so small that they're not especially sharp. I feel more comfortable with a smashed corelle plate than with, say, a glass drinking glass that breaks.
posted by brainmouse at 11:57 AM on March 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Melamine meets most of your needs (a good set feels nice to the touch), but is not microwave safe. Restaurants often use melamine bowls. Target has a decent selection, Bed Bath & Beyond has a red set, even Home Depot carries them.

Corelle would be a disaster on your white tile floor. I love Corelle but the shards are so hard to locate.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:59 AM on March 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

on corelle and tile floors
posted by aniola at 12:23 PM on March 8, 2021

Best answer: Fiestaware! Mismatching is the point and there are many options for colors, it's pleasantly heavy to touch and very durable. You can get them as ebay lots or at department stores on sale frequently. You should expect $3-$5 per piece depending on size if you're buying new, non-vintage/non-retired colors. It's union made in America, and in my opinion, the larger mugs do great for both soup and beverages. The shallower bowls also make a nice bowl-plate hybrid for meals with sauce.
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:42 PM on March 8, 2021 [6 favorites]

I use dishes from this "Everyday White" line from Bed Bath and Beyond. It's not that inexpensive, but it's open stock, so you can purchase 2 or three plates now and then without worrying about getting a complete set. Plus, the plain minimalist white will look lovely with, say, a set of colorful blue-and-white soup bowls you might find at a thrift shop. I have a couple of chips off of some plates, but it's not shattering like corelle would.

However - if you live near a large Asian grocery or variety store, sometimes you can find amazing dishes there. I'm very much into the large ramen bowls, which serve me (finally) appropriately-sized portions of salad that I can actually toss with dressing, or soup without having to worry too much that it will slosh out - there's enough extra bowl height that that's not likely.

And sometimes the prices and quality at the Asian store near me are really good.
posted by amtho at 12:44 PM on March 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

I would go for something porcelain over Corelle. I like Corelle. I occasionally sell vintage Corelle on eBay/Etsy! But it really does shatter when it shatters, and it's almost all white.

My current daily dishes are porcelain from the Crate & Barrel Essentials line, which unfortunately only comes in white. They've held up way better than my previous stoneware dishes, and they're very reasonably priced. Their Hue collection looks to be of similar quality and you could get 8-10 each of bowls and plates (I second whoever recommended salad plates over dinner plates) for under $100 no problem.
posted by mskyle at 12:44 PM on March 8, 2021

I think both BBB and WorldMarket sell plain white tableware that is marketed specifically for “entertaining,” stuff you stack on the sideboard when feeding extra people, basically like what caterers use.
posted by scratch at 1:14 PM on March 8, 2021

Thanks for any ideas! Especially interested in any ideas from people who've done similar kinds of "food together is important, but the way the food is served is casual" kinds of hosting

BYOB (bring your own bowl, or plate, or ___). The host is short on storage space, has chronic health issues which can cause poor coordination leading to broken dishes, and their place doesn't have a dishwasher = guests bring their own dishes, and are welcome to wash them in the sink after the meals/snacks or can tote them home as-is for a soak in their own kitchen sinks. Please, don't undervalue what you have lovingly provided and plan to provide again, 2-3x/month, to your community: a warm, welcoming, safe, and relaxed gathering space.
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:57 PM on March 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

My mother has similar issues due to arthritis and neuro issues (she calls it the dropsies), and dad was partially paralyzed for decades and couldn't handle heavy dishes either. She has given away all her fiestaware (to me, yay) because of the weight.

She does have some melamine but she really prefers enameled metal plates and bowls, the type usually marketed for camping these days. They are not micowavable, but she hates the microwave anyway. They are a joy to hold, lightweight, and unbreakable. The only real danger is chipping the finish at the edge, and they are cheap enough to replace. The camping sets are usually designed to stack compactly.

Mom has a full set like this example in cobalt blue, and has had a lot of fun collecting interesting patterns and pictures from thrift stores - they used to be commonly made for children and there's a lot of cute stuff out there.
posted by buildmyworld at 2:08 PM on March 8, 2021

Best answer: teema from iittala fits a lot of your needs. Right now, a lot of the colored stuff seems to be out of stock, so you may have to wait a bit. I don't have a lot, but I really like what I have: stackable, robust, colorful, easy to handle, not huge. I can't see the US prices from here, but fear they are a bit on the high end.
IMO, IKEA has great robust tableware, at prices that are hard to match. If I were to buy there now, I'd combine stuff from their FÂRGRIK line with their ENTUSIASM line.
posted by mumimor at 2:45 PM on March 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have become a big fan of getting my kitchen gear at commercial supply shops. Acopa 8 1/2" Azora blue porcelain plate is 4 for 20$, the 7 inch set is 14$ and four matching low bowls are 24$. These are microwave safe, oven safe, and even come in red.

I am have some blue fiestaware - a case of 8 blue bowls is almost 50 and the Cobalt colored medium plate is almost 55 for 12! So with shipping it's pushing your budget a bit. And these are rather stout and take up extra room over regular dishes. And heavy. But. So good. If you pick up any other gear double check where it is shipping from - the only downside to this particular shop is that you will pay for shipping from each warehouse.
posted by zenon at 3:23 PM on March 8, 2021

I am ride or die for Fiestaware. We received some for our wedding 12 years ago and have lost less than 4 pieces despite being clumsy, having wood floors, and adding a kid to the house.
posted by notjustthefish at 5:26 PM on March 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What about something like bamboo dishware? It can probably chip and break if you hurl it but I have a bamboo pasta style bowl and it's lightweight, feels sturdy and has a lovely feel to it and color. I did a quick search and these look very similar - you could get all four colorways and it would be so cute! I kind of love a wide, flat bowl for all kinds of meals. More options....

ETA: might not be microwave safe. I don't know that I've ever microwaved mine. Sorry.
posted by amanda at 5:46 PM on March 8, 2021

Best answer: Another vote for Fiestaware. Our kid is now five and we have only ever broken one item since he was born. Given that he went through a phase as a toddler of throwing his bowl across the table when served vegetables, I feel like this is a miracle. That stuff bounces, I swear.
posted by EllaEm at 7:23 PM on March 8, 2021

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for all the suggestions. I've marked a few of the most personally helpful, but everyone chiming in about options and breakage patterns has been super helpful.

I think I'm going to aim at the Fiestaware (though maybe waiting on some of it until May, because wow, is that new Twilight colour exactly the thing.) Being able to replace pieces and mix and match colours will be handy in the long run. Also, pretty colours!

(To give all due credit: my visiting folks are fantastic about doing the dishes when we're done. A couple have long stretches on public transit to get here, so I don't want them to have to haul more stuff than actually necessary.)
posted by jenettsilver at 9:50 AM on March 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

OP, I didn't second the Fiestaware suggestion; besides the cost, it's heavy, and tends to scratch when stacked. The scratching is more noticeable with the darker/richer colors (which I also find the prettiest; that Twilight's a knockout), though I think any marks will buff out with Bar Keepers Friend (applied really, really sparingly). While durable, Fiestaware seems a bit fussy and pricey for the scenario described in your Ask.

I realize you nixed the "BYOB," but I'd like to offer another version of the idea: one potluck contribution is dishes for all. Folks with longer commutes bring disposable dishes, those close by bring disposable or washable, and you stow a couple of packages of sturdy, tossable plates and bowls in a closet for nights when all your guests bring food (or someone forgets to bring dishes). Some weeks, a non-edible potluck item may better suit a visitor's budgets (money, energy, or time).

Again, it's really lovely that you host, and I hope you can have your coven over again soon.
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:35 AM on March 10, 2021

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