Well party people, the season is upon us. I had originally planned to write this post about “staying healthy through the holidays,” but I had such a fun and positive “party” hosting experience over the weekend that I just had to share it. I’m really starting to get into entertaining at home, and while I have had friends and family over to my apartment on numerous occasions, this was the first time that everything really fell into place perfectly and I didn’t feel stressed.
Here’s what I learned:
1. Plan ahead and prioritize. I preach this to my clients when it comes to food shopping and working out, and well, the same goes for planning a party. First, take careful consideration of what food you will serve: Is it something you’ve made before? Do you feel comfortable serving it to a crowd? Do you have enough stovetop/oven space for all of the components?
I started thinking about my brunch menu about two weeks in advance. I flip-flopped between an easy egg bake and a more sophisticated warm Brussels sprouts salad with various with breakfast “fixins.” I knew that the egg bake could be made the night before and would be much less stressful to deal with once my guests arrived, which was definitely a plus. However, I couldn’t quite get this Brussels sprout salad out of my head, so I decided to make a serving of it for dinner during the week to test it out.
I liked it, but I decided that serving a warm salad (that could get cold quickly) for a main dish was a little risky. So the Basic Egg Omelet Bake it was. I left the ham out because I find that it usually doesn’t add much flavor, and added sautéed mushrooms and onions instead.
To be honest, it wasn’t a total winner. It needed more mushrooms and onions and a more flavorful cheese, and a sprinkling of bacon probably wouldn’t hurt either. I also think serving it in a deeper pan (8×8) would produce a better result. However, the prep was so easy and I was able to socialize with my guests as it finished baking in the oven. To me, it was worth it to play it safe here — plus, who doesn’t like eggs?
Two additional factors that really helped the prepping process: I made two separate trips to the grocery store for ingredients (less overwhelming) and prepped as many food items the night before as possible. In addition to the egg dish, I chopped veggies and toasted walnuts for the salad on Friday night, and woke up 30 minutes earlier that morning to do a little cleaning and tidying. (You do not want to be frantically sweeping and shoving clothes under your bed 10 minutes before your guests arrive! Been there.) I also set out all of the ingredients, bowls and measuring cups for the dessert out on my counter so everything would be ready to go the next morning. These little tricks may only save minutes, but they help keep you organized and calm, and make the task at hand seem less daunting.
2. Accept help when it’s offered. Everyone offered to bring a dish and I kept saying No, no, don’t worry about it! But when my friend Tiffany offered one more time, I decided to take her up on it. Fruit salad? Fantastic. She also offered to come an hour early to help me set up and I said yes to that, too!
Not only was it a HUGE help to have a second body in the kitchen to assist with chopping, dicing (and yikes, even hand-washing my champagne flutes!), it was a nice bonding moment with a friend I rarely spend time with outside of work. Bonus!
Side note: Many people think that grocery shopping, party hosting and cooking is soooo expensive. However, if you are resourceful, it doesn’t need to be. For instance, instead of letting the leftover fruit salad get soggy in my fridge, I put it in the freezer and added it to breakfast smoothies for the next three mornings! I also had egg and salad leftovers that lasted me throughout the weekend, and I currently have three bottles of bubbly in my fridge that my friends brought as gifts. Perspective, people.
This is a chopped salad I recreated from Blue Apron. I keep the recipes to all of my favorite dishes (I’m a weekly subscriber) so that I can make them again. This was the perfect seasonal salad; everyone loved it and went back for seconds!
3. Serve foods YOU like – but consider your crowd, too. For this occasion, I was serving a pretty health-conscious group, which made my job easy. However, one thing I have learned from experience is that generally most people enjoy healthy food when you offer it to them. Lucky for my guests though, healthy in my household does not mean cooking with fake butter or (heavily processed) low-fat cheese. Whole milk, whole eggs, butter, olive oil…I do not shy away from these foods. I do, however, make healthy substitutions when possible and always serve at least one or two fruits or veggies.
I considered having an appetizer, but given my strong opinion about snack foods, I decided that this was one “rule” I would stick to, so I skipped it. And yes, once again…no one missed it! We socialized with a glass of champagne for 20 or 30 minutes as people arrived and then sat down to the meal. Less really is more sometimes. Who enjoys feeling full going into a meal anyway? Plus, food tastes that much better when you are a little hungry.
4. Minimize stress by taking shortcuts. Confession: I did not wash my hair the day of the brunch. I washed it the day before, then dry-shampooed the heck out of it and re-curled it the day of. No one was the wiser. (Plus, I have learned through trial and error my hair actually looks better when it’s a little dirty). And as Bethenny Frankel says, Don’t be a hero. If maintaining your sanity means serving store-bought muffins or throwing a salad together at the Whole Foods salad bar, then do it. DO. IT. Maybe there’s another way you can add a special touch, even if that simply means putting a little more thought into the food presentation.
5. Make people feel special. The thing I love most about being thoughtful is that it doesn’t cost very much money, yet it’s always what people remember the most. I used the note cards and individual letter stamps (love those!) I received at my stationery bridal shower to make menu cards for each guest. It was a nice little surprise and everyone took theirs home, which I thought was really cute.
I also put a heart sticker on the bottom of one dessert ramekin and gave the “winner” a small fall bouquet of flowers that I got at Whole Foods. I thought long and hard whether or not it was worth spending $10 on this, but after seeing the reaction of my friend who received it, I knew that it was.
So, OK…I lied…I think my guests probably remembered (and enjoyed) the mini apple pies the most.
*Need help with your health and lifestyle goals? Want to lose weight without obsessing about every bite you put into your mouth? I’m a Board Certified Health Coach + Emotional Eating Expert; contact me for a free consultation and let’s get started!