How to Plan a Healthy Dinner Party: Menu Ideas, Tips, and Recipes (2023)

Susan BowermanM.S., R.D., CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Need healthy recipe ideas for an upcoming dinner party? Try this menu, and with a bit of creativity and planning, your guests will be dazzled by your cooking skills:

  • Raw vegetables with garlic-white bean hummus
  • Mixed green salad with fresh herbs, fennel, orange, and citrus vinaigrette
  • Braised chicken and vegetables with white wine
  • Fresh berries with balsamic glaze and maple-almond yogurt

Serving healthy foods at a dinner party is not something my grandmother (or anyone else in the 1960s, for that matter) would have done.Back then, rich, heavy meals were a dinner party staple, and guests were pampered with an overload of creamy, fatty “special occasion” foods.

I know this because I inherited my grandmother’s recipe box, which provides a real glimpse into the past.Tucked inside (along with 16 recipes for cheesecake) were several menus and shopping lists for dinner parties, for which she was famous.The meals were heavy on meat, starch, butter, and cream—and her shopping list always included cigarettes.How times have changed.

Whenever I host a dinner party, I find that guests really do appreciate the light, fresh, healthy fare that I like to serve.And they do leave the table feeling special but not stuffed.

The time and effort that you devote to preparing a meal for friends is a gift in itself. And what better gift than a meal that’s both delicious and healthy?

How to Host a Healthy Dinner Party at Home

The food you serve is, of course, the highlight of your healthy dinner party.Here are some tips for making your healthy dinner party meals feel extra special:

1. Feature colorful foods.

Dishes with an array of colors look particularly attractive and special, so include plenty of healthy, colorful fruits and vegetables in your meal.I like to start off with salads because there’s such an array of greens and fruits that you can include.

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Simple soups like a carrot or broccoli purée also make a colorful start to your meal.I generally end with a fruit-based dessert. Even something as simple as amixed fruit saladcan be dazzling.

2. Surprise your guests with unique ingredients.

It’s amazing how the addition of an unexpected ingredient or two can make an everyday dish feel more special.Roasted carrots look more festive when they’re topped with a sprinkle of bright-green pistachios—and you’re providing some healthy omega-3 fats that way. Adding some paper-thin pear slices to your salad takes it from routine to restaurant-worthy, and you’re also sneaking some extra fruit into the menu. A few dried currants in your rice, a handful of fresh herbs in your salad, a coating of sesame seeds on your fish—it’s the little things that show you care.

3. Add creativity to your presentation.

The simplest of dishes can look special with a spectacular presentation. One time for a dinner party I prepared a vegetable-whole grain dish that was baked inside of a pumpkin.The recipe was actually very simple, but when I brought the whole pumpkin to the table and lifted the lid, everyone “oohed and aahed.”

If you’re plating each person’s dish and have several items on the plate, leave room around each item to make them distinct from one another (this helps with portion control, too).Another restaurant trick is to show off your grilling skills by placing your perfectly cooked fish or chicken on top of a small pool of sauce rather than covering it up.Then add a sprig of fresh basil or a shower of minced parsley to dress up the plate.

4. Set the mood.

When you go out to a nice restaurant, you notice not only the food but the surroundings as well.Soft music (or festive, if that’s the mood you’re in), gentle lighting or candlelight, shiny silverware, sparkling glasses, attractive linens, and flowers all help make a meal feel extra special.So, take some time to set the mood—your guests will feel pampered.

When the mood is right, people tend to relax and really enjoy their food.If the pace is a little slower, your guests will linger at the table and visit: it’s always nice to take the time to slow down and enjoy each other’s company.

What Does a Healthy Party Menu Look Like?

When planning my healthy dinner party menu, I like to make things that don’t require a lot of last-minute fussing in the kitchen. That way I can enjoy the party, too.

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I don’t go heavy on appetizers, because I want guests to still have an appetite when they sit down for the meal. I generally start with a fresh salad, and for the entrée, I often turn to slow-simmering dishes. One-pot meals aren’t difficult to prepare, but their long cooking times suggest that you’ve spent hours cooking something special for your guests. They also make the house smell great. Plus, you don’t have to prepare an entrée and separate side dishes, so they’re a great time-saver.

Healthy Dinner Party Recipes for Six

If you were to come to my house for dinner, the meal below is something I would very likely make for you.

We’ll start off light with an appetizer of raw vegetables and a delicious twist on hummus, then begin the meal with a beautiful mixed green salad with a few special ingredients. For the entrée, we’ll have a one-pot braised chicken and vegetables in white wine, and we finish out with a fresh berry parfait.

Appetizer: Raw Vegetables with Garlic-White Bean Hummus

This hummus is made with cannellini beans, which are mild in flavor and very tender, so the texture is super-smooth.I like to pump up the flavor with a lot of lemon and garlic.


  • 2 cans (15-ounce, 425 g) cannellini or small white beans
  • 4 TBSP olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, lightly smashed with the side of a knife
  • Juice of one lemon
  • ½ cup (12 g) fresh basil leaves
  • ¾ tsp salt, or to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Fresh vegetables for dipping:sliced cucumber, carrot, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, celery stalks, lightly steamed asparagus spears, broccoli florets


  • Drain liquid from beans, rinse under cold water, and drain thoroughly.
  • Put beans, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, basil, salt, and pepper into a blender or food processor and blend until thoroughly smooth.
  • Serve with vegetable dippers.

Note:For a really attractive presentation, I like to serve the hummus in a bowl made from a small, hollowed-out head of purple cabbage (or you could use a bell pepper). Put the cabbage bowl in the center of your serving plate, then surround it with your vegetable dippers.

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Also, before juicing the lemon for this recipe, cut off the skin with a vegetable peeler and set it aside in the refrigerator. You’ll use this lemon zest as a topping for your dessert.

Mixed Green Salad with Fresh Herbs, Fennel, Orange, and Citrus Vinaigrette

Everyday salads are usually just some mixed greens with dressing, but adding a few unusual ingredients, like fresh dill, shaved fennel, and orange slices, makes this salad dinner-party worthy.

For the salad dressing:

  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 TBSP fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp sugar, honey, or agave syrup
  • 1 tsp grainy mustard
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For the salad:

  • 12 cups (350 g) mixed baby lettuces and greens (try to find mixes with an array of colors and textures, like lettuces, kale, spinach, radicchio, frisée). Wash, rinse, and chill several hours ahead so that the leaves will be as crisp as possible.
  • 2 fennel bulbs, tops removed, bulbs sliced paper-thin across the grain
  • 2 fresh oranges, peeled, cut in half and thinly sliced
  • 1 TBSP fresh dill leaves


  • Place all dressing ingredients in the bottom of a salad bowl large enough to hold the salad ingredients and mix well with a spoon or whisk.
  • Add lettuces, shaved fennel, orange slices, and dill.
  • Toss thoroughly and serve immediately.

Braised Chicken and Vegetables with White Wine

Chicken in a white wine sauce tastes “fancy,” but it’s easy to make.I prefer white wine for this dish, although you can use red if you like.I like to load it up with lots of vegetables so that it’s a true one-dish meal.If you have them, this is really nice when served in wide, shallow bowls.You might want to serve this with some good, crusty French bread—I do!


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  • 6 chicken breast halves, bone-in, skin removed
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • 3 TBSP olive oil
  • 12 carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into 2” (5 cm) lengths
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled, cut in half and thinly sliced
  • 4 stalks celery, cut into 2” (5 cm) lengths
  • 2 leeks, white part only, cut into 1” (2.5 cm) lengths
  • 12 large white or brown mushrooms, cut into quarters
  • 1 shallot, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups(500 ml) chicken stock
  • 2 cups (500 ml)dry white wine
  • 1 TBSP chopped fresh tarragon
  • ¼ cup (15 g) chopped Italian parsley


  • Pat chicken pieces dry with a paper towel.Chop each breast half into two pieces. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt, pepper, and paprika.
  • In a large, heavy casserole, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
  • Dredge the chicken pieces on all sides in the flour mixture, then brown in small batches on each side. (If you crowd the chicken pieces, they won’t brown.)Remove the chicken pieces from the casserole and set aside.
  • Add the carrots, onions, celery, leeks, mushrooms, and shallot to the casserole and stir for 5-7 minutes to allow the vegetables to soften.
  • Add the chicken stock and white wine.Bring liquid to a boil, cook, and stir to loosen any browned bits on the bottom of the casserole.
  • Add tarragon, then arrange the chicken pieces on top of the vegetables.Lower the heat to medium-low, cover the casserole, and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally until chicken is cooked through.
  • Garnish with fresh parsley.

Fresh Berries with Balsamic Glaze and Maple-Almond Yogurt

This dessert is simple, but it makes a statement.Trust me on thebalsamic vinegar. Its flavor isn’t as sharp as other vinegars, and when cooked into a syrup with a little sugar, it brings out the sweetness of the fruit.If fresh berries aren’t available, you can simply thaw out some frozen ones.This is good made with peaches, too.


  • 1 cup (240 ml) balsamic vinegar
  • 4 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 6 cups fresh mixed berries
  • 2 cups (450 g) nonfat, plain Greek-style yogurt
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) maple syrup
  • ½ tsp almond extract
  • Thinly sliced zest from one lemon


  • In a small saucepan, combine balsamic vinegar and brown sugar.Place over medium heat, bring to a simmer, then lower heat to low and let simmer for 20 minutes or so, stirring a few times until vinegar mixture is reduced by about half.The mixture should be syrupy.Pour the balsamic glaze into a small bowl and set aside at room temperature to cool.This can be made ahead of time.
  • Gently stir together the yogurt, maple syrup, and almond extract.This can be made up to a few hours ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator.
  • When ready to serve, divide the fruit among 6 serving dishes.Drizzle the balsamic glaze over the berries, then top with the maple-yogurt. Sprinkle with lemon zest and serve.

Susan BowermanM.S., R.D., CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan Bowerman is the senior director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife. She also serves as the Vice Chair of the Dietetic Advisory Board (DAB). As a registered dietitian, she educates distributors about our global nutrition philosophy and is responsible for developing nutrition education and training materials. Bowerman earned a B.S. in Biology with distinction from the University of Colorado and an M.S. in Food Science and Nutrition from Colorado State University. She is a fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and holds two board certifications as a specialist in Sports Dietetics and in Obesity and Weight Management. When she is not busy teaching and writing, Susan enjoys spending time with her family, cooking and gardening. Her favorite Herbalife products include Simply Probiotic and Herbalife Formula 1 Healthy Meal Nutritional Shake Mix Banana Caramel.

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How do you make a healthy menu? ›

Choose fish, poultry, beans, and nuts; limit red meat and cheese; avoid bacon, cold cuts, and other processed meats. Eat a variety of whole grains (like whole-wheat bread, whole-grain pasta, and brown rice). Limit refined grains (like white rice and white bread).

What are the 3 steps in menu planning? ›

Follow these three steps and you'll be planning and prepping nutritious and delicious meals that fit your preferences and lifestyle!
  • Step 1: Make a Menu. First, think about your approach to meal planning — do you: ...
  • Step 2: Stock Your Pantry and Freezer with the Five Food Groups. ...
  • Step 3: Keep a Running Grocery List.
Jul 18, 2019

What is a well balanced menu? ›

A well-balanced meal typically consists of a source of carbohydrates like grains or starches, a source or serving of protein, some fat, and one or more servings of vegetables and fruit. A great “rule” of thumb to consider is aiming to fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruit at most of your meals.

What is a balanced menu plan? ›

In general, you'll need some form of protein, carbohydrates in the form of whole grains, and fruits or vegetables. Healthy fats from foods like avocado, whole-milk dairy products, nuts, and olive oil are also essential in a balanced diet.

What should be included in a dinner party? ›

Dinner Party Essentials
  • Dinnerware. Aside from the food you serve, your dinnerware is the most important part of your dinner party. ...
  • Flatware. Each place setting at your dinner table will also need a set of flatware. ...
  • Serving Dishes. ...
  • Serving Utensils. ...
  • Water Glasses. ...
  • Pitcher. ...
  • Wine Glasses. ...
  • Placemats.

How do you make a dinner party not awkward? ›

Music fills in the gaps, helps people feel at ease and it sets the tone better than any bit of decor. Even if you're eating outside... there MUST BE MUSIC. So turn it on WAY before your guests are supposed to arrive so you can be sure that you are ready for them even if they are early.

What are some tips for hosting a fantastic dinner party? ›

15 Easy dinner party hosting tips
  1. Candles are lovely.
  2. Avoid stragglers.
  3. Be specific with your timeline.
  4. Avoid menu experimentations.
  5. Hand off dessert to a guest.
  6. Accommodate dietary restrictions.
  7. Order a case of vino.
  8. Don't play bartender.
Mar 3, 2020

What are the 4 aspects of planning a healthy menu? ›

Four Things You Need to Know to Plan a Healthy Menu
  • Know what heathy means for you. The term "healthy" often leads consumers to believe there is a right and wrong regarding foods and diet. ...
  • Incorporate carbs, protein, fats, fiber. ...
  • When in doubt, add fruits and vegetables. ...
  • Alter recipes you like. ...
  • You might also enjoy.
Oct 6, 2020

What are the 3 keys to planning healthy meals? ›

There's no “perfect” diet for optimal health and performance. No matter what your eating plan is, there are 3 keys to good nutrition to keep in mind: balance, quality, and timing. Look at the graphic below to see if your eating plan includes balanced meals that contain high-quality foods and drinks at regular times.

What are the 5 principles of menu planning? ›

Key Principles of Meal Planning
  • Adequacy.
  • Balance.
  • Variety.
  • Moderation.
  • Nourishment.
Jan 28, 2020

What are the six basic tips in meal planning? ›

6 Tips to Meal Plan Like a Pro
  1. Embrace the planning stage. There are two aspects of meal planning you can't skip: the meal and the plan. ...
  2. Set aside the time. ...
  3. Choose recipes that share ingredients. ...
  4. Find inspiration throughout the week. ...
  5. Organize your prep. ...
  6. Cook what can be cooked beforehand.
Mar 12, 2021

What are the 6 principles of good menu planning? ›

To improve food quality, household meals should be planned based on six principles; namely adequacy, balance, calorie (energy) control, nutrient density, moderation and variety.

What would be an example of a well balanced meal for dinner? ›

Balanced Meal Plate Examples

Here are some general examples: Tortilla + Refried Beans + Vegan Cheese + Sautéed Peppers and Onions. Toast + Avocado + Tofu Scramble with Spinach and Tomatoes. Pasta + Vegan Meatballs + Salad with Olive Oil.

How do you structure a dinner menu? ›

Oftentimes, three or five courses are good options for home cooks. A three-course meal will generally contain an appetizer or salad, a main dish, and a dessert. While there's some debate on the components of a five-course meal, it often contains hors d'oeuvres, an appetizer, a salad, an entrée, and a dessert.


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