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Stress-Free Dinner Party

This year, take the tension out of entertaining. Avoid the last-minute scramble with our plan-ahead menu, and wow your guests with scrumptious yet simple dishes. The bonus? Each recipe features healthy ingredients that naturally help keep nerves in check.

It's easy to forget that the holidays are supposed to feel celebratory, not stressful, when you're standing in a supermarket line an aisle long, and your guests are coming over in 20 minutes. So how do you avoid this scenario? Just follow these essential steps guaranteed to keep tension at bay. With hair-pulling successfully averted, you'll remember what this season is all about -- even when you have a house full of people. 

Step 1: Keep it simple.
The holidays are for spending time with family and friends, not dazzling them with feats of culinary wizardry. Save your complicated 12-part recipes and souffles for another day, and instead create a menu full of dishes that only look hard to make. If you use fresh ingredients, you won't have to try hard to produce something flavorful and memorable.

Step 2: Choose power foods.
Pack your dishes with healthy whole foods that contain vitamin B6 (such as avocados and chickpeas), vitamin B12 (chicken, salmon, yogurt), folate (orange juice, spinach, asparagus), and magnesium (spinach, walnuts), all of which increase levels of naturally relaxing chemicals in your brain.

Step 3: Create a plan.
Trying to get everything done at the last minute with guests knocking at your door sparks serious stress. Instead, pace yourself. Think about what you can prepare in advance and make a checklist of all the ingredients you need. When it comes time to shop (ideally a few days before the big event), plan accordingly. Avoid the evening-weekday rush and weekend crowds. The day of, set the table in the morning so that unforeseen events -- a late meeting, a last-minute stop at the wine seller -- don't slow things down. Right before your guests arrive, dim the lights, fire up some candles, pour yourself a glass of wine, and enjoy the spirit of the season.

The Menu
Appetizer
Cucumber Slices with Chickpea Puree and Thyme

Salad
Spinach Salad with Pomegranate and Avocado

Entree
Chicken with Mustard Greens, Olives, and Lemon

Dessert
Orange-Walnut Olive Oil Cake with Sweet Yogurt

The Plan
Up to 2 months ahead
Make orange-walnut olive oil cake (sans yogurt); wrap in plastic and freeze.

Up to 1 week ahead
Make chickpea puree; cover and refrigerate. Make salad dressing; cover and refrigerate. 

Up to 1 day ahead
Trim and wash spinach and seed pomegranate; cover and refrigerate. Trim and wash mustard greens; cover and refrigerate. Thaw orange-walnut olive oil cake (uncovered at room temperature), then rewrap in plastic. Store at room temperature until ready to serve. Make sweet yogurt; cover and refrigerate. 

Up to 40 minutes ahead
Slice cucumber and top with chickpea puree. Make chicken with mustard greens, olives, and lemon. 

Just before serving
Assemble salad.

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