It may not be holiday season, but special occasion eating is always a struggle. Birthdays, showers and anniversaries happen year round and these can be challenging and stressful situations for anyone trying to lose weight or stick to a healthy diet.
I could give you plenty of tips for how to navigate these situations (and I will soon!), but today I want to focus on the host. Cooking for a party is stressful. One has to consider timing, plating, and navigating any special dietary needs or preferences and create a menu everyone will love. There’s a lot of pressure on the host. Thanks to pinterest, we’ve been inspired to create ridiculous concoctions like six layered rainbow cakes, deep fried tequila shots and to put bacon in, well, everything.
Sometimes I like to use a party as an excuse to break out a decadent recipes I’ve been wanting to try. I think it’s okay to indulge a bit on truly special occasions. Food is a big part of holidays and special events. It’s how we share love and celebrate our heritage. But I promise, your guests will thank you if you serve at least a few nutritious options. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest baked tofu at a tailgate a lovely lettuce cake for your kids birthday, but I think there’s a balance that can be found between extravagance and nutrition.
Here are some of my favorite healthy hosting tips and recipes:
– Instead of a raw vegetable plate, which is easy, but you know, kind of boring, serve grilled vegetables with a homemade dressing, like my spicy jalapeno pesto or vegan tzatiki
– Everyone loves pasta salad – it’s easy, tasty and cheap! I promise, no one will know if you use whole grain pasta. Sneak in extra veggies with this gazpacho inspired pasta salad or this one with figs and greens.
– For a brunch wedding shower I hosted last year, I made a cake made from these gluten free pancakes layered with chia seed jam. It was a super cute centerpiece (until I stacked it to high and it tipped over, oops!) and when I was surprised with a gluten free guest, I was really glad I made it!
– Hummus is another party pleaser everyone loves. Make it a pretty color by bending in a colorful vegetable like kale or beets.
– Everything is cuter on a stick, including fruit salad.
– Make a crostini bar with yummy, whole grain bakery bread. Try toppings like grilled tomatoes, caramelized Brussels sprouts and asparagus with an assortment of cheeses and spreads.
A few weeks ago, we prepared a birthday dinner for Scott’s mom. Since I know she’s trying to make healthy changes to her diet, we prepared a vegetarian feast packed with summer produce from the farmer’s market. For a main dish, I prepared quinoa baked eggplant and zucchini with mozzarella. Although it was a little heavy on the cheese, compared to deep fried and cheese smothered eggplant parmesan, it was pretty nutritious! And I loved how the quinoa provided crunch without frying. Along with it, I served a simple salad garnished with sweet and spicy candied walnuts. Dessert was my favorite! Who knew Greek yogurt could make such a creamy and decadent stand in for creme brulee? This menu is a great example of how eating healthy doesn’t have to sacrifice pleasure!
- 1 large eggplant, cut into ½-inch slices
- 2 medium zucchini, sliced into ½-inch slices
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa
- 1 cup whole grain panko (or gluten free whole grain breadcrumbs)
- ¾ cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 3 eggs
- 16 ounces ricotta cheese
- ½ cup basil, chopped
- 1 clove garlic,minced
- ¾ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 6 cups your favorite tomato sauce
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together quinoa, panko and ½ cup parmesan cheese. In another medium bowl, whisk together 2 eggs.
- Working in a line, dip the eggplant and zucchini slices in the eggs, then in the quinoa mixture. Press to adhere, then place vegetables on an oiled baking sheet. If it's not sticking, feel free to sprinkle to quinoa mixture over the vegetables.
- When all the vegetables are coated, spray with olive oil, season with black pepper and bake for 20-25 minutes until crisp and lightly browned.
- Meanwhile, mix 1 egg, ¼ cup parmesan cheese, ricotta, basil, and garlic in a medium bowl. In another bowl, mix red pepper flakes with tomato sauce.
- In a 9X13 inch baking dish, spread about 2 cups of sauce on the bottom. Place a layer of a third of the vegetables over the sauce and spread the vegetables with half the ricotta mixture. Top with another cup of sauce, then layer with another third of the vegetables. Top with the other half of ricotta and half the mozzarella cheese and another cup of sauce. Top with the remaining vegetables, 2 cups of sauce and mozzarella. Cover with foil or a lid and bake 30-35 minutes, then uncover and bake an additional 15-20 minutes until bubbling and cheese is melted and lightly browned.
- 2 cups blueberries
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted
- 2 cups plain Greek yogurt, preferably full fat
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 6 teaspoons turbinado sugar (or regular white sugar)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss blueberries with coconut oil and spread evenly on a baking dish. Roast 10-15 minutes until bluberries are starting to burst. Check them after 10 minutes - I let mine go a little too long and some were gummy and burnt. Remove from oven and set aside.
- In a medium bowl (or the yogurt container), mix together yogurt, honey and vanilla extract.
- Divide blueberries between four ramekins. Top each with ½ cup yogurt and shake side to side to even out the top. Sprinkle each with 1½ teaspoons sugar. With a kitchen blow torch, heat the sugar until bubbling and dark golden brown, being careful not to burn it. The ones pictured here aren't quite dark enough - I thought I burnt it but I really just melted it at this point, so I had to go back again before serving with the blow torch.