I love to entertain. And generally, I like to keep the food I serve simple, fresh, healthy and delicious. Sure, I have hosted some seriously decadent and labor-intensive dinner parties that wouldn’t fall in my normal guidelines, but I have to say, it’s the more informal buffet-style parties where people don’t feel guilty about the food they’ve grazed on throughout the event that seem to have the best vibe in the moment and positive feedback the day after. If I’m still hearing about a particular item I’ve served years later…that’s how I like to measure a successful party menu!
My secret to a successful and wellness-minded spread is finding an unexpected pairing of just 2-4 ingredients per dish – so easy! In fact, it’s those super simple dishes or quick bites that I have found to really wow a crowd. If you find the right fresh, in-season, organic fruits, vegetables, herbs and cool, unexpected spices you have the recipe for some great food and perhaps even fun conversation starters.
I was recently entertaining some new friends for an afternoon celebration and I wasn’t totally sure about food preferences or allergies. When in that situation I try to make a variety of dishes where people can pick their preferred flavors while avoiding dairy, peanuts, soy, gluten and eggs – common allergens these days. Now, I also know that offering pizza and a good dessert selection is also an important back-up plan so I had that too – but I wanted to feature just a taste of some of my more “Well-Intended” choices as inspiration. Everything here is customizable to your preference, party-size, and ingredient availability. So, have fun being creative, keep the prep short, the ingredient list shorter, and enjoy the party!
Here are some “Well-Intended” Dishes and Bites for your guests:
- Citrus Spa Water
- Berries with Fresh Mint
- (Store-bought) Chicken Salad in a Sweet Bell Pepper with Fresh Basil
- Chili Lime Pineapple Skewers
- Butternut Squash Soup Shooters with Fresh Rosemary
- Celery Sticks Stuffed with Almond Chive Cream Cheese and Paprika
- Roasted Red Pepper Hummus with Cilantro on Cucumber
- Himalayan Sea Salted Radish, Walnut and Fresh Mint Bites
- Pecan Halves with Quince Paste and Blueberry
- Mandarin and Avocado Spinach Arugula Salad
- Salted Watermelon Bites (with Sriracha Salt & Thai Ginger Salt)
Offering an infused water is always a nice touch at a party. Your flavor choices here are endless – fruity, citrus, cool cucumber, or maybe herbaceous! A quick tip: I find that the spring water ice cubes you buy at the store keep the water nice and clear for maximum visual impact. Serve with some pretty paper straws and/or some extra slices of fruit or herb sprigs for guests to place on the rim of their cups.
A bowl of mixed berries topped with some fresh mint is such a beautiful and easy crowd-pleaser. We had 7 kids over under the age of 10 and they just kept coming back for more! A side dish packed with antioxidants that’s a big hit with little effort? Win-win-win!
I skipped the mess of making my own chicken salad and grabbed some at a nearby store that I knew was quite delicious. It doesn’t perfectly fit a “wellness-minded” diet, but let’s chalk this one up to the 80/20 rule. I often put it out in a bowl alongside a fresh salad if people need a protein topper. Or, in this case, I made it look extra fancy and fresh in a hollowed-out orange bell pepper and just put a couple leaves of fresh basil and a sprinkling of smoked paprika for color. Voila! A light and pretty lunch is served!
Trader Joe’s Chili Lime seasoning blend is just delightful. I don’t actually find it spicy at all, perhaps more smoky and definitely a yummy margarita flavor – lime and salt, specifically. Put some fresh pineapple cubes on a stick (optional) and sprinkle some of that goodness on it and you go from average to fancy-pants in just seconds!
Serving soup in shooters always get a wow. Such a simple thing that gets people excited. No one wants to deal with holding a bowl and a spoon. Find a thick, ready-made soup, warm it up if applicable, pour it in the glasses (I can’t remember where I got mine but these on Amazon look similar), and top with something complimentary. I’ve done crème fraîche in the past on butternut squash but opted for a lighter sprinkling of fresh rosemary here from my garden. You will be adulting hard when you present this dish!
I realize that stuffed celery sticks is pretty much a Kindergarten snack staple, but you can take it up a notch with some Kite Hill brand non-dairy almond chive cream cheese and a sprinkle of paprika. It’s fresh, healthy and a familiar appetizer. Why not?
It doesn’t get easier than a dollop of store-bought hummus (in this case roasted red pepper flavor) on some slices of cucumber and topped with a cilantro leaf right out of my balcony garden. Healthy, fresh, bite-size and simply…pretty! What’s left to say?
There is a Persian restaurant nearby that I just love and they start your meal by bringing you a wood bowl of fresh herbs, radish, walnuts, olives and some sort of soft cheese. I wanted to recreate that gem sans cheese just to clean it up. It’s such a fresh bite that makes you want to come back for more. Salting the radish with a bit of Himalayan sea salt (or any other salt you prefer) is an important step to bring the most out of these simple flavors especially in the absence of any cheese (which you’re welcome to add.)
Quince paste – kinda like a super thick quince fruit jelly – is often found in the fancy cheese section of a grocery store – certainly Whole Foods. It pairs amazingly with Manchego cheese but when you put it on a half of a pecan, it taste just like a little pecan pie! Visually it needed a little something so I topped mine with the blueberries I had on hand, but you may be able to find a little something more interesting like lemon zest to bring a little color to these sinful but better-than-pecan-pie’s-corn-syrup bites!
This mandarin, avocado, arugula and spinach salad is so simple but really flavorful. Fresh, sweet, bright, creamy, and just a little bite from the arugula – this salad is both beautiful and full of nutritious ingredients! Buy an organic arugula spinach salad mix (or other), peel and add a couple fresh mandarin oranges, add 1/2-1 avocado, squeeze 1/2 large lemon over the salad (also keeps avocado from browning), drizzle some olive oil and add any salt or pepper to taste. Toss and done! No icky salad dressings and everyone loves it!
Watermelon can be taken from truly average to first class with just a sprinkle of some fancy flavored salt. This is a great conversation starter as everyone loves to try it and see what flavor combination they like most. Alternately, I’ve also been served watermelon (sometimes the yellow kind) with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar over it. Delicious in both cases! On the salt front, I used to work in the Chelsea Market building in NYC and a small store called “The Filling Station” was just below my office. Their super cool salts can make a number of dishes absolutely spectacular! In the picture above I have used their sriracha salt on one piece and a Thai ginger on the other.
I hope these easy peasy ideas will inspire you to invite friends and family over for a healthy and nutritious grazing-style meal that you can all feel good about. The inevitable conversation, the camaraderie, the whole foods, and the love you put into it all will certainly be felt by all. It’s simply the “Well-Intended” way to entertain. Bon appétit!