Tips on hosting a dinner party

Emma Brown - Nutritionist | 11 Nov, 2021

It can be a dilemma to know what to serve when you have family and friends over for dinner and you're trying to stick to your diet. We generally assume that we have to cook a lavish, calorie-laden meal – but is it possible to entertain without throwing all of our good intentions out of the window? Yes it is!

First – personal calorie planning

Factor in some extra weekend calories for yourself by using the 'Easier days' setting in your Food Diary – available in the App and on the website. This will redistribute your calorie allowance across the week giving you more calories for the weekend.

Decide on your menu and use the recipe builder in the 'My Meals' section to work out the number of calories per serving in the dishes you're planning to cook. This way you know in advance if you need to go easy on your own servings.

Once you've worked out your menu, check if there are any ingredient swaps you can make to save a few calories but that no one else will notice. For example, if you're using cheese, use a low fat one, if you're using cream could crème fraîche work instead? Use low fat spread where you can, try Frylight instead of oil or skimmed milk instead of semi-skimmed. Making a few changes will help reduce the overall calorie content.

Now you're ready to shop! Shopping online is the best way to stick to your list and not get drawn into making impulse buys.

On the day of the meal, don't be tempted to starve yourself in preparation for the evening. If you feel ravenous beforehand, your brain will be more interested in higher calorie foods and you're likely to give yourself more than you need. Just be calorie-wise during the day by having a healthy breakfast and light lunch. Have a small snack before your guests arrive to take the edge off your appetite. An apple is normally a good option – at around 60 calories it's much less than demolishing the nibbles.

Once your guests arrive and during your meal

Go easy on the alcohol – you could save around 500 calories by sticking to water or low calorie drinks. If you do want a drink, the best option would be a white wine spritzer made with soda water, or a clear spirit such as vodka with a diet mixer.

Limit the nibbles. If you normally put out a bowl of crisps and dips, why not include some carrot, pepper and cucumber sticks with a tomato based salsa as well? Breadsticks are a good option too at around 20 cals each.

Steam plenty of vegetables or make a big salad bowl – fill half of your plate with these before serving the rest of the meal. Green beans, asparagus, broccoli and baby corn all have 35 calories or less per 100g. View your plate in quarters – half should be covered with veg / salad, quarter for protein and quarter for carbs.

Eat slowly and enjoy your food. It will also fill you up more as it takes our brain 20 minutes to register the food we've eaten. So chat, pace yourself and give your meal chance to hit your stomach.

Don't leave the serving dish on the table. Studies have found that when the the dish was not on the table, women ate 20% and men 29% fewer calories.

Listen to your body and stop when you're full. It might seem obvious, but the majority of us overeat because it's on our plate. Serve yourself slightly less than you would normally have – chances are you won't notice once you are socialising.

After your meal

For a lower calorie cheese board choose a reduced fat Cheddar such as Cathedral City Lighter and save over 30 calories and 4g fat per 30g slice. Water biscuits contain around 25 calories each, compared to 45 calories for a Cornish Wafer biscuit. Go easy on chutneys and pickles. Opt for tomato-based ones such as tomato and chilli chutney and avoid 'jams' as these are often higher in sugar and calories. Add fresh fruit and veg sticks to your cheese board. Apple and grapes are perfect partners for cheese, as is celery and pickled onions. All are low in calories, and count towards your 5-a-day.

Try and limit how many after dinner chocolates you consume. An average Thornton's chocolate contains around 70-80 calories. Two or three of these with coffee and you've added over 200 calories to your meal. After Eight mints are lower in calories at 35 calories each. Or choose Elizabeth Shaw chocolate mints at 30 calories each

Probably more of a seasonal dinner tip but avoid the Bailey's! Each 50ml serving has 164 calories and 7g fat (probably more in a generous measure you pour yourself!)

Guests for the weekend

If your guests are staying overnight, you also need to think about breakfast the next morning. Again, planning ahead helps. Here are some lower calorie breakfast ideas:

Croissants – choose 'lighter' or 'reduced fat' versions. Most supermarkets have their own branded option, or you could try Sunblest or Weight Watchers – all are under 170 calories per croissant (saves 130 calories compared to a standard croissant). Skip the butter and just add a teaspoon of reduced sugar jam.

Cooked breakfast – try a toasted English Muffin topped with 2 poached eggs. This contains around 300 calories and is a filling start to the day. Try a wholemeal muffin to be extra healthy.

Fresh fruit – serve up a fresh fruit salad with low fat natural yogurt. As well as being low in calories, it also counts towards your 5-a-day. Chop apple, strawberries, melon, kiwi fruit, tinned pineapple (in own juice) and grapes and serve with a low fat natural yogurt for around 225 calories and 0.5g fat for a large bowl.

A full English breakfast – doesn't have to use up your entire days calorie allowance. Try our 'healthy' version for around 550 calories. Grill 1 rasher fat trimmed bacon, 1 low fat/vegetarian sausage, 1 grilled tomato, half a tin of low sugar beans (such as Heinz reduced sugar & salt), 1 poached egg and a slice of wholemeal toast. Also, by having a bigger breakfast you might find you want less for lunch.

Pancakes – don't have to be unhealthy. Toast 2 Kingsmill pancakes with 100g warmed mixed berries and a dollop of low fat natural yogurt for a different breakfast option. It contains around 260 calories and looks really attractive on a plate too.

Nutracheck's top tips!

  1. Let guests help themselves to bread, rice or potatoes and control their own portion sizes.
  2. Always have a jug of water on the table with a glass for each person. If it's there, people are more likely to drink it. Which is great for those drinking alcohol to pace their drinks, and great for the non-drinkers too who often get forgotten when glasses get topped up!
  3. Avoid putting salt on the table. Not only does it help with the health of your heart, it will also reduce dehydration (especially if you're drinking too).
  4. Use plenty of herbs and spices when cooking – not only does spicy food rev up your metabolism, it will stop you adding condiments to your plate which can really add to your calorie intake.
  5. Follow the principle of the 'Eatwell Plate' – ½ your plate with fresh fruits/vegetables/salad, ¼ of your plate with starchy carbohydrates (wholewheat pasta, brown rice, potatoes) and ¼ of your plate with a protein source such as meat, beans, poultry, fish etc.

Nutritionist Emma Brown (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.