Serving healthy food at dinner is not something my grandmother (or, for that matter, no one else in the 1960s) would have done. At that time, large and heavy meals were common at dinners and guests were spoiled with an overload of creamy and greasy foods for “special occasions.”
I know this because I inherited a box of recipes from my grandmother, which has allowed me to peek into the past. Inside it (along with 16 cheesecake recipes) were various menus and shopping lists to prepare her dinners, which had made her famous. Meals were chock-full of meat, starch, butter, and cream — plus, her shopping list always included cigarettes. How times have changed.
Every time I host a dinner party, I find that guests truly appreciate the light, fresh, and healthy food that I like to serve. And they leave the table feeling special, but not too full.
The time and effort you dedicate to preparing a meal for your friends are already a gift. And what better gift than a delicious and healthy meal?
How to organize a healthy dinner at home
The food you serve is of course the highlight of your healthy dinner. Here are some tips to make your healthy dinner dishes more special:
1. Offer eye-catching foods
Dishes with a range of colors are especially attractive, so include lots of colorful and healthy fruits and vegetables in your meal. I like to start with salads because there is a wide variety of vegetables and fruits that you can include.
Simple soups, like carrot or broccoli puree, also make a colorful starter to your meal. To finish, I usually serve a dessert with fruit. Even something as simple as a mixed fruit salad can be stunning.
2. Surprise your guests with unique ingredients
It’s amazing how adding an unexpected ingredient or two can make an everyday dish more special. Roasted carrots look more festive when garnished with a sprinkle of bright green pistachios — adding a little omega-3 fatty acids.
Adding a few very thin slices of pear to your salad will change your salad from routine to restaurant-worthy, plus you’ll be adding more fruit to the menu without much notice. A little berry on the rice, a handful of fresh herbs on the salad, a layer of sesame seeds on the fish — those are the little things that show you love.
3. Give your presentation creativity
The simplest dishes can have a special look with a spectacular presentation. One time for a dinner I made a whole grain vegetable and whole grain dish baked inside a pumpkin. The recipe was really very simple, but when I brought the whole pumpkin to the table and lifted the lid, everyone’s jaw dropped.
If you are serving each person’s plate and you have multiple items, allow space around each for them to be clearly distinguished (this also helps with portion control). Another restaurant trick is to show off your grilling skills by placing your perfectly cooked fish or chicken over some sauce rather than basting it in it. Then add a sprig of fresh basil or chopped parsley to decorate the plate.
4. Prepare the environment
When you go to a good restaurant, you look not only at the food, but also at the surroundings. Soft music (or festive, if it suits your mood), light or candle lighting, sparkling silverware, sparkling glasses, attractive tablecloths, and flowers all help make food more special. So take the time to create a pleasant atmosphere — your guests will be pampered.
When the environment is right, people tend to relax and really enjoy food. If the pace is a little slower, your guests will stay at the table to chat – it’s always nice to take the time to slow down and enjoy each other’s company.
What is a menu for a healthy dinner like?
When planning my menu for a healthy dinner, I like to prepare things that don’t require a lot of last minute work in the kitchen. So I can also enjoy the party.
I don’t go overboard with entrees because I want guests to still have an appetite when they sit down to dinner. I usually start with a fresh salad and turn to slow cooker dishes for the main course. The dishes that you can make in one pot are not difficult to prepare, but their long cooking times suggest that you have spent many hours cooking something special for your guests.
They also make the house smell great. Plus, they are time savers as you don’t have to prepare a main dish and side dish separately.
* Senior Director, Global Nutrition Education and Training for Herbalife.