From graduation get-togethers to pool parties, barbecues and birthdays, summer is a season that's packed with parties. Sure, it's easy enough to prep for these parties by buying a couple bags of chips, some hot dogs and a veggie tray from the grocery store. But this summer, consider upgrading your hosting game, especially in terms of serving healthy, delicious meals. Whether you've invited friends over for a simple cookout or you're hosting the in-laws for the weekend, there are always ways to prepare and serve nutritious meals to impress your guests.
Read labels. If you've served the same brand of store-bought cookies for years, take a look at the nutrition label. You may want to take it off your go-to list if you see they're packed with unpronounceable ingredients and trans fats! Always, always read the labels of anything you're serving to your guests. Look for prepared foods with fewer than ten ingredients, as well as those that are clearly labeled non-GMO. Look at calorie counts, serving sizes and the amounts of fiber and protein. If you can't find any foods you feel confident about, cooking yourself is always an option – you know exactly what goes into your own dishes!
Be cognizant of dietary restrictions. Has your cousin gone gluten-free? Has your friend started a vegan diet? One way to make guests feel welcome is to make sure you serve food they can actually eat. It can be as simple as pointing them toward the soy-cheese nachos, but if you want to go all out, it's easier than ever to go online and find appetizer, dessert and main dish recipes for every dietary restriction under the sun. I like to use Pinterest to find recipes that are visually pleasing, too.
Simple swaps. You don't have to forego favorites like potato salad just because of all that unhealthy mayonnaise. Try Greek yogurt in recipes that call for mayo, nutritional yeast instead of cheese in dips, or edamame in place of avocado in your guacamole. I also love to use lettuce to replace hamburger or hot dog buns and oversized slices of eggplant or portobello mushrooms for a veggie-friendly burger alternative.
If you're looking to really impress your guests, I have a few suggestions for recipes, too.
For overnight guests, wow them with frozen treats made from yogurt and granola bars:
Milk, Oats & Honey Frozen Yogurt Breakfast Pops
Place the granola bars in a resealable plastic bag and gently crush with the back of a knife or the heel of your hand. Set aside.
Mix the remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. Pour mixture into a bowl and stir in the crushed granola bar pieces.
Set six paper cups on a small baking sheet and divide the mixture evenly between them. Place in the freezer for 15 minutes, then insert a Popsicle stick into the center of each cup. If the stick doesn't stand up in the middle of the mixture by itself, let the mixture freeze for another 5 to 10 minutes. Continue freezing until ready to serve.
Instead of same-old, same-old hamburgers and hot dogs, why not grill a low-calorie fish like halibut? Make it flavorful with a dressing or marinade, like in this recipe:
Grilled Pacific Halibut with Asian Sesame Slaw
Remove the halibut from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature for 10 minutes.
Heat a grill or grill-pan to medium-high heat. Brush the halibut fillets with the coconut oil and sprinkle it evenly with salt and pepper. Grill the fillets for 2 minutes on each side, until the fish is opaque, firm to the touch and it flakes easily with a fork. Set aside and tent with foil.
Combine the scallions, napa cabbage, red onion and carrot in a large bowl and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the next nine ingredients and stir. Just before serving, toss the slaw with the dressing. Place a bed of slaw on each plate and top with a halibut fillet.
For a refreshing afternoon treat that's a lot lighter than ice cream or iced coffee, serve this simple peach granita:
Minty Iced Green Tea and Peach Granita
Brew the tea according to package instructions, adding one whole sprig of mint while brewing.
While the tea is brewing, place the peaches in boiling water for 30 seconds, and then place them in ice water. Peel the peaches and slice them into wedges or chunks. (They'll be pureed, so don't worry about size or shape.)
Chop the leaves from the remaining mint sprigs and place them in a blender or food processor with the peaches and half of the brewed iced tea. Puree until the peaches are mostly smooth. Pour mixture into a 9 1/2 by 11 inch glass baking dish and place it in the freezer.
After 1 hour, scrape at the mixture with the tines of a fork and place back into the freezer for another hour. When ready to serve, scrape the mixture with the tines of a fork and place in cups.
Hungry for more? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, concerns, and feedback.
Heather Bauer, RD, CDN , is a nationally-recognized nutrition expert, author, and entrepreneur. She is the author of two top selling books, The Wall Street Diet and Bread is the Devil. She is the founder of Nu-Train, a nutrition consulting company, and Bestowed, a subscription service that offers consumers a personalized way to discover, sample, shop, and learn about the best nutrition and lifestyle products on the market.