The holidays are approaching. It’s time for getting together with family, friends, and others. Here are my 10 tips for entertaining, keeping both budget and nutrition in mind.
1. Planning is Key
Think about and write out your menu in advance. Look for supermarket specials, coupons, and promotions on the foods you will need. Take advantage of foods in season. Get recipe ideas for menus from magazines, friends, TV programs or websites.
2. Invite Guests for Brunch
Suggest that guests come for brunch or breakfast. These meals are usually more budget-friendly than a full-course dinner, especially if there are appetizers & drinks involved. Egg dishes are more economical than meat or seafood entrees. Think about omelets, French toast, quiche, crepes, pancakes, waffles, and other breakfast favorites that are good any time of day.
3. Keep Healthy Appetizer Ingredients on Hand
For pop-in guests, keep a supply of healthy ingredients on hand to make appetizers on short notice. Include items such as whole grain crackers, hummus, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, raw vegetables for crudités, and reduced-fat cottage cheese, cream cheese, or salad dressings.
Think about combining red, white and green foods for a festive presentation. And, hard boiled eggs are always welcome. Try stuffing them with hummus or canned salmon for something different.
4. Double Up on Turkeys
There are many deals on turkeys and turkey parts this time of year. Whether you find turkeys for free or at a big discount, buy two or three, if freezer space allows. You can freeze the turkey whole, in parts or cook it first and freeze it in family-sized portions. Find turkey breasts on sale? Pound it flat, top it with stuffing or vegetables, roll it up jellyroll-style, and roast for a fancy presentation.
5. Think Beans & Grains
Beans and whole grains (such as brown rice, bulgur, quinoa, and whole grain pasta) are inexpensive yet add fiber, nutrients, texture, and flavor to a meal.
Find ways to include whole grains and beans in your meal or, better yet, make them the centerpiece of the meal. Examples include chili, lasagna, baked ziti, pasta with sauce, enchiladas, jambalaya, meatloaf, stews, and soups. Meats, seafood, or poultry can add flavoring, but let the beans, grains and veggies be the stars of the dish. Use a whole grain bread in your stuffing recipe or serve quinoa or other whole grains.
6. Simmer in a Slow Cooker
Less expensive cuts of meat can be successfully prepared in a slow cooker that tenderizes the meat as it cooks. Once assembled, you can forget about this dish and spend your time on other dishes or with guests and family.
7. Serve Extra Veggies
This time of year, there are plenty of vegetables to choose from, including turnips, parsnips, rutabagas, beets, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, onions, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and winter squashes. Buying veggies in season should offer the best prices and flavors. Serve one or two extra sides of vegetables than normal. This will allow guests to fill half their plate with fruits and veggies, the recommendation given by USDA in their new MyPlate graphic. Roasting adds a lot of flavor to vegetables. Or, combine two or more vegetables in a puree for a new flavor treat.
8. Budget-Friendly Beverages
Fill a large punch bowl with assorted 100% fruit juices, with or without the alcohol, for adults and children. Or, add club soda to juices or wine to add carbonation without adding calories, fat, or sugar. Or, combine an inexpensive sparkling wine with orange juice for mimosas or with other fruit juices. Make your own eggnog with fewer egg yolks and more egg white and skim milk.
9. Flip the Dessert
Flipping the dessert means that instead of having a large slice of decadent cheesecake, for example, with a just a garnish of half a strawberry, you have a serving of berries with just a small cube of cheesecake. Decadence, but with portion control.
Or, how about some cranberry or wine poached pears or a mango sorbet? Serve desserts in individual dishes, such as tarts, custards, puddings, or lowfat ice cream. You can serve them in glass dishes on a doily, sprinkled with powdered sugar or cocoa or garnished with a piece of fruit. Add a swirl of fruit puree or dark chocolate sauce to a plate around a piece of angel food cake, apple cake, or gingerbread.
10. Presentation is Everything
You cake turn “everyday” foods into something special simply by paying more attention to how the food is presented. Use fancy plates, bowls, and platters. White or glass plates let the food take the spotlight. Take a few extra minutes during the prep stage to cut your vegetables so they are all the same size. Make an extra effort to garnish food dishes with parsley, greens, spices, fruit slices, or cut up raw vegetables. Little touches can add a lot of pizzazz and eye appeal to a dish.
Also, music helps set a festive mood, as do candles. It’s okay to mix and match dinner plates. Portion control is easier with smaller plates. Consider using 8 or 9-inch plates instead of ones that are 10 or 12 inches in diameter. Use real or silk flowers for a centerpiece or even a small houseplant can do the job. Lastly, remember to relax and enjoy the time with your guests.