How to Plan a Healthy Dinner Party: Menu Ideas, Tips, and Recipes

Need healthy recipe ideas for an upcoming dinner party? Try this menu, and with a bit of creativity and planning, your guests will be dazzled by your cooking skills:

Serving healthy foods at a dinner party is not something my grandmother (or anyone else in the 1960s, for that matter) would have done. Back then, rich, heavy meals were a dinner party staple, and guests were pampered with an overload of creamy, fatty “special occasion” foods.

I know this because I inherited my grandmother’s recipe box, which provides a real glimpse into the past. Tucked inside (along with 16 recipes for cheesecake) were several menus and shopping lists for dinner parties, for which she was famous. The meals were heavy on meat, starch, butter, and cream—and her shopping list always included cigarettes. How times have changed.

Whenever I host a dinner party, I find that guests really do appreciate the light, fresh, healthy fare that I like to serve. And they do leave the table feeling special but not stuffed.

The time and effort that you devote to preparing a meal for friends is a gift in itself. And what better gift than a meal that’s both delicious and healthy?

How to Host a Healthy Dinner Party at Home

The food you serve is, of course, the highlight of your healthy dinner party. Here are some tips for making your healthy dinner party meals feel extra special:

1. Feature colorful foods.

Dishes with an array of colors look particularly attractive and special, so include plenty of healthy, colorful fruits and vegetables in your meal. I like to start off with salads because there’s such an array of greens and fruits that you can include.

Simple soups like a carrot or broccoli purée also make a colorful start to your meal. I generally end with a fruit-based dessert. Even something as simple as a mixed fruit salad can be dazzling.

2. Surprise your guests with unique ingredients.

It’s amazing how the addition of an unexpected ingredient or two can make an everyday dish feel more special. Roasted carrots look more festive when they’re topped with a sprinkle of bright-green pistachios—and you’re providing some healthy omega-3 fats that way. Adding some paper-thin pear slices to your salad takes it from routine to restaurant-worthy, and you’re also sneaking some extra fruit into the menu. A few dried currants in your rice, a handful of fresh herbs in your salad, a coating of sesame seeds on your fish—it’s the little things that show you care.

3. Add creativity to your presentation.

The simplest of dishes can look special with a spectacular presentation. One time for a dinner party I prepared a vegetable-whole grain dish that was baked inside of a pumpkin. The recipe was actually very simple, but when I brought the whole pumpkin to the table and lifted the lid, everyone “oohed and aahed.”

If you’re plating each person’s dish and have several items on the plate, leave room around each item to make them distinct from one another (this helps with portion control, too). Another restaurant trick is to show off your grilling skills by placing your perfectly cooked fish or chicken on top of a small pool of sauce rather than covering it up. Then add a sprig of fresh basil or a shower of minced parsley to dress up the plate.

4. Set the mood.

When you go out to a nice restaurant, you notice not only the food but the surroundings as well. Soft music (or festive, if that’s the mood you’re in), gentle lighting or candlelight, shiny silverware, sparkling glasses, attractive linens, and flowers all help make a meal feel extra special. So, take some time to set the mood—your guests will feel pampered.

When the mood is right, people tend to relax and really enjoy their food. If the pace is a little slower, your guests will linger at the table and visit: it’s always nice to take the time to slow down and enjoy each other’s company.

What Does a Healthy Party Menu Look Like?

When planning my healthy dinner party menu, I like to make things that don’t require a lot of last-minute fussing in the kitchen. That way I can enjoy the party, too.

I don’t go heavy on appetizers, because I want guests to still have an appetite when they sit down for the meal. I generally start with a fresh salad, and for the entrée, I often turn to slow-simmering dishes. One-pot meals aren’t difficult to prepare, but their long cooking times suggest that you’ve spent hours cooking something special for your guests. They also make the house smell great. Plus, you don’t have to prepare an entrée and separate side dishes, so they’re a great time-saver.

Healthy Dinner Party Recipes for Six

If you were to come to my house for dinner, the meal below is something I would very likely make for you.

We’ll start off light with an appetizer of raw vegetables and a delicious twist on hummus, then begin the meal with a beautiful mixed green salad with a few special ingredients. For the entrée, we’ll have a one-pot braised chicken and vegetables in white wine, and we finish out with a fresh berry parfait.

Appetizer: Raw Vegetables with Garlic-White Bean Hummus

This hummus is made with cannellini beans, which are mild in flavor and very tender, so the texture is super-smooth. I like to pump up the flavor with a lot of lemon and garlic.

Ingredients:

Instructions:

Note: For a really attractive presentation, I like to serve the hummus in a bowl made from a small, hollowed-out head of purple cabbage (or you could use a bell pepper). Put the cabbage bowl in the center of your serving plate, then surround it with your vegetable dippers.

Also, before juicing the lemon for this recipe, cut off the skin with a vegetable peeler and set it aside in the refrigerator. You’ll use this lemon zest as a topping for your dessert.

Mixed Green Salad with Fresh Herbs, Fennel, Orange, and Citrus Vinaigrette

Everyday salads are usually just some mixed greens with dressing, but adding a few unusual ingredients, like fresh dill, shaved fennel, and orange slices, makes this salad dinner-party worthy.

For the salad dressing:

For the salad:

Instructions:

Braised Chicken and Vegetables with White Wine

Chicken in a white wine sauce tastes “fancy,” but it’s easy to make. I prefer white wine for this dish, although you can use red if you like. I like to load it up with lots of vegetables so that it’s a true one-dish meal. If you have them, this is really nice when served in wide, shallow bowls. You might want to serve this with some good, crusty French bread—I do!

Ingredients:

Instructions:

Fresh Berries with Balsamic Glaze and Maple-Almond Yogurt

This dessert is simple, but it makes a statement. Trust me on the balsamic vinegar. Its flavor isn’t as sharp as other vinegars, and when cooked into a syrup with a little sugar, it brings out the sweetness of the fruit. If fresh berries aren’t available, you can simply thaw out some frozen ones. This is good made with peaches, too.

Ingredients:

Instructions:

Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND –Sr.Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan BowermanM.S., R.D., CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan Bowerman earned a B.S. in biology with distinction from the University of Colorado, and received her M.S. in food science and nutrition from Colorado State University. She is a registered dietitian, holds two board certifications from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a certified specialist in sports dietetics, and a certified specialist in obesity and weight management, and is a Fellow of the Academy.