How to Host a Healthy Summer Event
Written by Heather Gerrish, RDN
With summer right around the corner and BBQs, beach trips and late nights all becoming more integrated into our schedules, how do we continue to focus on the healthy habits formed and keep this momentum throughout the change of seasons?
The answer (or part of the answer) is to implement your healthy habits right into your events! Planning a “healthy social gathering” does not have to be complicated to take much more than some extra planning and consideration to what YOU want to get out of this summer, not letting the opportunity to further solidify your foundation for a sustainable nutrition practice slip away.
There are basic concepts to consider with any gathering, regardless of the season but summer specifically has a few sweet treats that can help any party planner include healthy options during their event - fruit! Seasonal changes also influence the fresh produce available to include in your menu planning and can be a fantastic way to keep the good times rolling without sabotaging your hard work.
Here are some examples of seasonal produce available throughout the summer that might just be a hit at your next gathering:
Another concept to consider when considering the menu for a summer social gathering is to focus first of the main dish, then side dishes, salads, desserts and beverages last to give yourself the chance to play with flavor and build on a of variety and complementary flavors.
This method is commonly done in food service establishments and allows for expert analysis and pairing of quality ingredients with variety (color, flavor, texture) to have the best presentation possible. By focusing on the menu items in this order you also can prioritize your budget and menu with integrating healthy options without your guests really knowing you’ve made some healthy swaps.
Let’s put this into practice.
First, select your venue - beach, BBQ, backyard? You want to consider where you will be located and what facilities will be available to ensure that you are practicing good food safety (proper temperature holding, disposal and that you have plenty of space to set up and serve your delicious items!). After you have finalized these details you can experiment with what you are planning to bring if the location is outside or even at your home.
Here are some questions to consider:
What is the fridge space available?
Will guests eat outside or inside, and if outside, are there areas to sit or will we bring blankets and chairs? What about tables?
How will we serve the food? Family style? Is there a way to ensure that proper temperature holding is prioritized? Is there a cooler available, or ice?
How will we dispose of waste? Do we need to bring our own bags or will the [park, beach, backyard] provide this for us?
After finding your location you can then move to your menu! Starting with the main dish, as suggested allows you to customize your healthy habits and integrate this practice by making your own main staple to bring and share with those you love. For example, perhaps you find a recipe for a lean protein and have access to a refrigerator, this could be baked or grilled chicken or salmon depending on your audience and preference or could incorporate a vegetarian spin with veggie burgers! Your options are limitless, and by implementing your own practice of seeking out lean protein and preparing reasonable serving sizes you are not only sharing your healthy habits with those you love but also providing yourself with an option that is within your nutrition goals.
The next step is to select side dishes and salads. Summer is a wonderful season to take advantage of the excellent produce and availability (as well as cost!) of fresh fruit. Specifically, encouraging fruit intake over chips or processes snacks is a key factor in creating a healthy social gathering. This way you can emphasize your main dish but also appeal to your guests by providing a healthy snack to tide them over and keep them energized while enjoying the event. The mentioned recipes are but a few of the hundreds of ways to create a fruit salad or spin on a more traditional combination such as tomato and feta salad, or cantaloupe kabobs! And who knew, grilled cantaloupe might just be a crowd favorite!
Once you have selected your lean protein main dish and side dishes that emphasize fresh produce as much as possible you can have some fun with the other components of a meal. Beverages and dessert!
Beverages during a warm season tend to also emphasize refreshing and cool ingredients such as watermelon or cucumber (keeping with our fresh produce trend!) and can be implemented in many ways. Utilizing the same fruit for your fruit salad for your infused water is a great way to keep with the same flavor profiles and can further compliment your main dish as well. Not to mention, a super simple way to use extra ingredients to add some flavor in your beverage selection.
Infused water is a great example of an easy and hydrating healthy beverage. This ensures 1.) Guests are well hydrated, specifically during those hot and humid summer days and 2.) They have a tasty alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages. Experimenting with infused water is endless, with so many combinations available you most definitely will not be bored with the flavor you end up with!
Now that you have the basics in how to have a fun, but healthy social gathering we can make a pretend menu and practice some of these concepts.
First, let’s pick a crowd favorite: black bean veggie burger
What sides?: lettuce “bun”, tomato, pickle, “hamburger fixings”, condiments
Sides and Salads: fruit salad (in season pick: strawberry + blueberry)
Beverage: strawberry mint infused water
And viola! A healthy summer menu that integrates an alternative protein choice, emphasizes fruit and incorporates the importance of hydration all wrapped up into a fun summer meal! .
Now, during your next event try this method out and see what you can come up with as your new “healthy” summer menu.
Holley, Graham. “Perfect Summer Fruit Salad Recipe.” Allrecipes, 1 May 2011, www.allrecipes.com/recipe/214947/perfect-summer-fruit-salad/.
Althea, and Esmee Williams. “Skewered Cantaloupe Recipe.” Allrecipes, 16 Aug. 2000, www.allrecipes.com/recipe/14576/skewered-cantaloupe/?internalSource=streams&referringId=2774&referringContentType=Recipe Hub&clickId=st_trending_s.
BamaHaole, et al. “Watermelon and Feta Salad with Arugula and Spinach Recipe.” Allrecipes, 26 July 2011, www.allrecipes.com/recipe/218557/watermelon-and-feta-salad-with-arugula-and-spinach/?internalSource=streams&referringId=2774&referringContentType=Recipe Hub&clickId=st_trending_b.