9 Secrets for Hosting a Healthy Dinner Party (Plus, 4 Recipes!)

Planning a whole night around a meal doesn't have to mean destroying your healthy habits.I've always loved entertaining in my home. The opportunity to have friends, family and food all coming together on a starry night excites me.

In the past, when I invited new people to my home for dinner, I typically got the following reaction: "Sounds like fun-but is all the food going to be healthy?" Lately, however, I've noticed that people appear to be more concerned about their health and what foods they choose to put into their mouths. So much so that people are actually excited and intrigued to find out what healthy foods I will serve. This has become so prevalent that I've actually printed recipes ahead of time, anticipating at least one request for them.

If your goal is to provide healthy food at your next dinner party and still have your guests come back again, consider these eight tips:

Downsize your plates. Typical dinner parties involve several courses and these courses usually appear on various-sized plates. The bigger the plate, the bigger the portion. I serve appetizers on very small plates and main dishes on larger salad plates. It's not about policing how much food your guests take; it's more about increasing awareness of portion size.

MORE: Want to Make a Good Impression? Serve Vegetables

Expand appetizer options. Instead of serving cheese with crackers as an appetizer (tasty, but high in saturated fat and calories and low in fiber), try healthy bean or non-fat yogurt dips served with vegetables, roasted nuts and grapes or apple slices. Hummus is another great choice and usually a crowd pleaser at my house.

Nix the buffet. While buffets make life easier, they essentially allow all of the food to be eaten at once. Instead, pace the courses like they do in a restaurant rather than serving them in quick succession. Allow adequate time for your guests to enjoy all of the food offerings. Start with appetizers and wine for at least one hour. Once your guests are seated, serve subsequent courses, allowing at least 25 minutes between each course. Taking the approach to stagger food will give you time to breathe as the host/hostess, but it also will give you time to digest so you know when you are full, not stuffed.

MORE: Trick Yourself Into Eating Less

Keep salads healthy. Don't ruin your salad with pre-made bottled dressings that can be loaded with sugar and saturated fat. Instead, make your own with fresh ingredients. Try the Lifestyle 180® salad dressing below at your next dinner party. Another approach is to serve soup instead of salad. Soup makes you feel fuller faster so you won't feel the need to stuff yourself during the rest of the meal. Soups are also an easy way to pack extra veggies into your dishes. I always notice that people are very impressed with a soup alternative since it isn't something you see often at a dinner party.

Don't forget beautiful seasoning options. Just because it's "healthy" doesn't mean it can't taste good. Citrus zest, toasted spices and the classic garlic and onions can give you a major flavor punch.

MORE: Spice Up Your Food to Make up for Missing Fat

The most beautiful meals are full of color. The more colorful items you serve, the more flavor you'll pack into each bite-and as an added bonus, the more nutrition you'll provide to your guests. This goes for when you're roasting or browning vegetables, too. Don't be afraid of golden brown. It's much more flavorful than a limp spear of steamed asparagus.

Know your recipes. Test out your recipes first or if obtaining them online, read the comments. You'll find out how bland or flavorful it is, if others found the recipe to take longer or a lot shorter to prepare than indicated, or if it really isn't what you were hoping it would be.

You can have dessert! Giving a healthy dinner party doesn't mean you have to skip dessert. Dessert can taste great and be healthy at the same time. Fresh or roasted fruit is a great option. If you want to offer chocolate, try out the Cleveland Clinic Lifestyle 180® recipe below

Finally, have fun. I've put recipes and full nutritional information under every guest's plate at dinner parties printed on beautiful stationary and people love it. At the end of the day, it's all about spending time together with friends and family and appreciating that healthy food can taste pretty darn good.

MORE: Healthy Desserts That Won't Derail Your Diet

Recipes

Lifestyle 180 Banana Creamers
Serving Size: 1/2 Banana

1 banana
3 ounces dark (70% or greater) chocolate
½ teaspoon espresso

Procedure: Slice banana into 16 quarter-inch slices, skewer each slice with two prong skewer, place on wax paper and freeze one hour. Create double boiler by placing metal bowl over saucepan with 1 inch of simmering water, add chocolate and espresso, and stir continually until ¾ melted. Remove bowl from heat and continue stirring until completely melted. Take banana slices from freezer and dip in chocolate until completely coated, allow excess chocolate to drip off. Place on wax paper, refrigerate for 30 minutes and serve.

Calories: 70; Sodium: 210mg; Sugars: 2g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Saturated Fat: 0g; Fiber: 4g; Protein: 6g; Carbohydrate: 17g

Lifestyle 180 Less Fat Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
Makes two cups or four 4-ounce servings

1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained
1 (4-ounce) jar roasted red peppers
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Procedure: In a food processor, puree the chickpeas, red peppers, lemon juice, tahini, garlic, cumin, cayenne and salt. Process until the mixture is fairly smooth. Transfer to a serving bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Sprinkle the hummus with the chopped parsley before serving.

Calories: 120; Sodium: 180mg; Sugars: 1g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Saturated Fat: 0.5g; Fiber: 2g; Protein: 1g; Carbohydrate: 4g

Lifestyle 180 Balsamic Vinaigrette
Makes: Five 1.5-tablespoon servings

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice or other vinegars / acids
2 teaspoons agave nectar
1 teaspoon parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, minced

Place all the ingredients in a small bowl, slowly add the oil while whisking.

Calories: 90 Sodium: 0mg; Sugars: 3g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Saturated Fat: 1g; Fiber: 0g; Protein: 0g; Carbohydrate: 4g

Lifestyle 180 Szechwan Noodles
Makes: Six 1-cup servings

1 pound 100% whole wheat spaghetti
3 ½ tablespoons dark toasted sesame oil
3 ½ tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 ½ tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 teaspoon hot sesame oil
½ teaspoon garlic, fresh, fine chopped
1/3 cup scallions, fresh sliced
3 cups broccoli florets
1 ½ cup red pepper, small diced

Procedure for noodles: Cook noodles as directed on package, drain and rinse to cool. In separate bowl, combine the remainder of ingredients except for the broccoli and red pepper, and mix well. Toss with noodles.

Procedure for broccoli: Add water to large pot and bring to boil. Lightly salt the water and add broccoli florets. Blanch for about three minutes or until just tender. Remove broccoli with slotted spoon, drain well, place on flat baking tray, and allow cooling. Then, add to noodles.

Procedure for red pepper: Wash, remove seeds and stem, small dice and use for garnish over the noodles.

Calories: 220; Sodium: 550mg; Sugars: 5g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Saturated Fat: 1.5g; Fiber: 4g; Protein: 7g; Carbohydrate: 29g

- by Kristin Kirkpatrick, R.D.

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