These days, dining out can be a pretty scary proposition for dieters who don't know what's getting past their lips. Ask the waiter how many grams of fat are in the glazed pork tenderloin or how many carbs are in the seafood risotto, and you might get a blank look, or a scowl. A safer, healthier alternative to dining out can be eating in and putting a fresh, healthy spin on the good old potluck.
But don't loosen your belt buckle and see this as a chance to chow down -- today's potluck can be the perfect chance to sample and exchange a bunch of healthy recipes and foster some good eating habits. "Variety is one of the keys to having a healthy diet, and potluck dinners are a great way to try different foods," says Kathy Romses, RD, a community dietitian in West Vancouver. That's because, the more different foods you eat, the more likely you are to get a good cross-section and amount of different nutrients.
If you're hosting a potluck, all you need to do is set a healthy tone and make it fun. Here are a few ideas to get you started and excited:
Pick a theme. It can be as simple as choosing a type of cuisine, such as Mexican, Thai, maybe go global. Or go beyond what kind of dish you choose to how you serve it, says Romses. For example, a "100 mile" theme would mean everyone has to pick foods produced locally within 100 miles of the place that you live. "Flavour and nutrients are retained in locally produced, in-season foods," says Romses. That's because they don't travel long distances before landing in your supermarket. A "rainbow" theme would mean assigning everyone a different colour of dish that they need to prepare.
Set the challenge. You could assign each person a type of dish, such as meat or pasta entrÃ©e, dessert or vegetable side dish. Or you can make it a little more interesting by giving some guiding criteria to friends. Set challenges, suggests Romses, such as keeping recipes "under 300 calories per serving" or "make it in 20 minutes or less."
Make a day of it. Invite your friends to meet up at the farmer's market, share a coffee, then split up to hit fruit and veggie stalls, bakeries, deli counters, and fine food shops. Sampling is fun and much more forgiving and guilt-free than having whole servings of dessert or cheese. Then depending on the size of the party, you could even head back to your place and prepare everything together.
Dish out some “can't-cook&" recipes. For the eternally kitchen-challenged, there are lots of easy dips, salsas, fresh fruit and veggies you can suggest instead, so they don't have to learn how to operate their oven after all. Of course, if they're tired and embarrassed about being relegated to salad duty again, send them to the library or bookstore instead to pick up a cooking 101 lesson. A fitting choice might be The Girl Can't Cook: 250 Fabulous No-Fail Recipes a Girl Can't Be Without by Cinda Chavich (Whitecap Books, 2004).
Eat right. When it's time to enjoy all the great dishes, the key is to fill your plate, not your belly. "When choosing foods at a potluck dinner, aim to fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruit, one quarter with meat and alternatives, and one quarter with grain products. And remember to include a milk product choice with your meal," says Romses.
Create an electronic recipe exchange. If everyone brings a copy of their recipe or shares an electronic version, it helps to add more variety to everyone's recipe files, suggests Romses.
Do up some doggy bags. So everyone has a healthy lunch tomorrow, and doesn't overeat tonight, have everyone fill a plastic containers. It's one way to share the wealth, and get the excess out of your house before you're tempted to eat it all.
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