Nutrition Diva joins Modern Manners Guy in a very special episode to discuss how to be a good host when throwing a dinner party (especially if some guests come with dietary restrictions).
ND: Including a few healthy options on your menu or buffet is easy to do and always appreciated. I’m not saying that your entire menu needs to look as if it were catered by the Pritikin Institute! But I know I am always happy to encounter at least few items on a buffet that have not been rolled in bacon, battered, and deep-fried.
Shrimp cocktail, for example, is always popular and also healthful. Those little spinach pies wrapped in phyllo dough are another nice option. And although they are not low in fat, nuts are quite nutritious.
MMG: Should there be separate tables to let people know which foods are healthy? Or calorie cards that show how fattening something is? Or is this taking nutrition and partying to an unnecessary level? Would that scare people off?
ND: Personally, I don’t want to go to a party and see calorie counts posted next to the food--and there’s no need to segregate the “healthy” food on a separate table. Anyone who is that concerned about it can probably tell the difference between high and low calorie options. One exception might be to identify foods that are vegan or gluten-free (if you’re sure they are). It can be hard to tell by looking and that would certainly make life a lot easier for guests with special dietary needs.
MMG: What is the biggest misconception between making party dishes that are “healthy” and “low-fat”? How can people get over the stigma that these terms sometimes carry?
ND: One big misconception is that low-fat foods are always healthy and vice versa. There are lots of healthy foods that are high in good fats—like avocadoes, nuts, and fish. By the same token, something can be low-fat but high in sugar, sodium, and pretty much nutrient-free. I’ll take some spicy guacamole over a fat-free cracker any day!
As for the stigma associated with healthy foods, I think the trick is to make the healthy options as tempting and sexy as the bacon-wrapped ones—and this is not hard to do. Instead of a sad little plate of celery sticks with fat-free Ranch dressing, how about a gorgeous platter of jicama, red and yellow peppers, purple cauliflower, endive scoops, and blanched asparagus, and some garlicky hummus or a savory dip made with Greek yogurt?
MMG: If you have only one person in the dinner party who has special dietary issues, how can you make them still feel welcomed and not out of place with your food selection?
The trick is to make the healthy options as tempting and sexy as the bacon-wrapped ones—and this is not hard to do.
ND: At a large cocktail party, I think it’s enough to simply make sure that you’ve included a few items that guests with special dietary needs can enjoy. Don’t be afraid to ask the guest for direction or clarification—it shows that you are concerned for their comfort If you’re throwing a dinner party, and one of your guests follows a special diet, you have the option of planning the menu around the guest's needs. It’s optional, of course, but it can actually be a fun way to expand your repertoire.
For example, I have a good friend who has Celiac disease, for example, and when she comes to dinner, I really enjoy finding interesting recipes that are gluten-free. Because of her, for example, I learned how to make socca--a delicious flatbread made from chick-pea flour. I loved it so much that I often make it even when she’s not coming to dinner.
MMG: What is a go-to food to have on hand at all times for a health conscious eater? Again, something other than just veggies cut-up? Something easy to store and then present.
ND: I always have hummus in my refrigerator. It’s healthy, vegan, gluten-free, and you can get it in lots of different flavors. It goes great with crackers or baby carrots or those cut-up vegetables that you seem to be so hostile toward. (What did cut up vegetables ever do to you, anyway?)
MMG: Thanks Monica for your wisdom and advice. You can check out more of Monica's practical tips for eating well and feeling fabulous at quickanddirtytips.com/nutrition-diva. And if you're looking for a great holiday gift, check out Monica's book, Nutrition Diva's Secrets for a Healthy Diet. It's filled with tons of great advice about how to enjoy food while staying healthy.
As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.
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