Now you are ready to tackle the menu itself which is half the battle of successful entertaining.
First of all, let's assume that you're going to have three courses - a soup or appetizer, a main dish and vegetables and dessert. The basic rule in planning that everything must contrast in terms of texture, color and flavor. For instance, if you're serving a creamed soup to begin with,, don't follow it with creamed chicken and ice cream. Similarly, serve foods of different colors and tastes at each course. A meal that is a symphony in shades of green will probably make your guests feel somewhat the same way by the end.
The same principle applies to the dishes in each course. For an appetizer, serve creamed shrimp on crisp lettuce for contrast in all three departments. For a main course, try slices of pink baked ham, flanked by deep green spinach and orange yams. Or accent the dark brown of a grilled steak with tomato slices, yellow corn, and a baked potato (piled high with sour cream topped with green chives for contrast on contrast[!!!]). By way of comparison, visualize one of the worst meals I ever had in my life: broiled white haddock, white cauliflower and white boiled potatos - served on a white plate.
Generally speaking, you won't go wrong if you keep in mind the following points:
1. Serve only one sauced or creamed anything to a menu.
2. Avoid repeats. If you're going to have carrot sticks to start, don't have cooked carrots with the main course.
3. Proceed from a simple dish to a complicated one to a simple one (or vice versa). For instance, simple cheese appetizers to complicated beef Bourguignon to simple raspberry sorbet. Or, complicated sauced shrimp to simple grilled lamb chops to complicated stuffed dessert brioches.
For a "busy" dish like a casserole, which has lots of bits and pieces, serve simple solid things in large pieces. Cantelope quarters would be dandy after a casserole, a "busy" fruit compote would be de trop.