Summer in northeast U.S.A. is the go-to season for healthful, colorful, and delicious fruits and vegetablesÂ and a time when families and friends tend to gather regularly for graduations, weddings, picnics, and backyard barbecues. What better way to celebrate being in the company of people you love and feeding yourself well than planning a party of your own?
Creating a menu doesnâ€™t have to be stressful or sinful when you dish out whole, fresh ingredientsâ€”served buffet-styleâ€”with homemade dressings and dips on the side. Not only will your plates be visually appealing and packed with high-quality nutrients, but you wonâ€™t have to break a sweat putting everything together.
Much like designing any healthful meal, the same rules apply: more variety and colors mean more vitamins and nutrients. Include a mix of animal- and/or plant-based proteins (skinless chicken breast, tenderloin, lentils, black beans, and tofu are great options), carbohydrates (brown rice, corn, and quinoa are versatile grains; Swiss chard, beet greens, and eggplant are nutrient-rich vegetables), and healthy fats (think walnuts, ground flaxseed, and olive oil).
Avoid heavy sauces and let the natural goodness of your bounty speak for itself. To start, make a light, but flavorful, marinade or rub for your protein dishes from a complementary blend of dried and fresh herbs and spices like cumin-chili-cilantro or dill-mustard-yogurt. Next, toss up a simple salad of different colored veggies like thinly sliced summer squash and heirloom tomato over leafy greens. Whisk together a light dressing of lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. For dessert, consider macerated fruit like peaches and blueberries drizzled with honey and white balsamic vinegar. (Check out FoodilyÂ or Yummly for other great recipe ideas.) This entire combination of foods alone offers a beneficial dose of many vitamins and mineralsâ€”like manganese, vitamins C, K, and A, dietary fiber, iron, and antioxidantsâ€”to support your body systems.
Consider the following:
- Plan and prepare accordingly by asking your guests or estimating of the number of vegetarians and non-vegetarians attending your party.
- Serve ingredients separately to accommodate those whoÂ may have special diet requirements so theyÂ can build their own meals. Label each dish so guests donâ€™t have to guess or ask, â€œWhatâ€™s in this?â€
- Provide take-home items. Leftover containers will encourage your guests to continue eating healthfully after theyâ€™ve left your party. Stack printouts of your recipes on the buffet tableÂ so they can try their hands at creating their own versions at home or include recipe links in aÂ thank-you e-mail a few days after the event.
When the partyâ€™s over, revel in the fact that, quite possibly for the first time for many of your guests, nothing was off-limits. Not only will you have enjoyed great company, but you will have served healthful fare to your grateful guests who mayÂ want to know when they can come back for more!
[Versions of this article were written for and published onÂ YoffieLife.comÂ on September 1, 2014 andÂ DishWithDina.com on August 13, 2015.]