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Planning an Atkins Dinner Party

March 4, 2012

An estimated 10 million Americans are following some variation of a low-carb program, so it only makes sense that some of your nearest and dearest friends -- not to mention a family member or two -- are among these weight-loss winners. (Larger picture: Our nation is in the midst of a serious epidemic of obesity.) So what better way to spend some quality time with your loved ones than to throw a fun and flavorful Atkins-friendly dinner party?

Stuck for a theme? The sky's the limit. How about Caribbean, Hawaiian, Mexican or Chinese food? Your goal: to give your guests a meal that's every bit as tasty as it is healthy! It can be done… very easily, in fact. You don’t have to be a chef who’s worked with top-notch food celebrities to throw a world-class get-together.

Even if your guests aren’t controlling their carbs by doing Atkins, it’s the perfect way to give them an exquisite taste of your healthy new lifestyle. There’s a good chance you’ll quickly see some converts.

When you start to plan a dinner party, start with your entrée and play around with that. The entrée is usually your protein source, whether it’s chicken, fish, pork, lamb or whatever you want. Then move on to your sides. Instead of starchy sides, make two vegetable dishes. It’s an opportunity to try some interesting veggies you haven’t used before such as kale, asparagus or mustard greens.

There are plenty of things to consider, including how many courses to have, how to achieve proper portion control and the best way to ensure that your guests leave the table with full stomachs and satisfied palates. This can all be accomplished in low-carb fashion -- you’re only limited by your imagination.

Start the evening on a light note with drinks and appetizers. Your beverages of choice can range from low-carb beer to "white liquors" such as vodka, gin and rum. (Be sure to have some nonalcoholic beverages for any of your guests who are in the Induction phase of Atkins or who would prefer not to drink alcohol.) Kick it up a notch with sparklers, using mixers such as flavored sugar-free sodas. When served up with marinated olives, a cheese plate, endive leaves filled with seasoned cream cheese, shrimp cocktail or smoked salmon, you have a great beginning to your night to remember.

For a more informal do, prepare an antipasto salad with meats and cheeses or sliced low-carb veggies (try jicama, celery, radishes) with a basic sour cream dip.

As a rule of thumb, I like to have the appetizers and hors d'oeuvres out when people arrive; it’s an easy way to serve a first course while your guests are mingling. I also like to include protein in the first course.

This is a great opportunity to use fish because the sooner you get protein in your system, the sooner you feel satisfied, and so you’ll likely eat less in the rest of the meal. As opposed to a bread-heavy first course that leaves you filled up and feeling uncomfortable, protein tells the body to do the job and self-regulate"

Because you can enjoy such a diversity of healthy fats on Atkins, feel free to serve a cream sauce with a meat entrée or sauté shrimp in butter. Even gravy is a feasible option, so long as your recipe doesn’t include flour. Or try Thicken Thin not/Starch thickener, an all-natural controlled-carb product you can use to make gravy.

Atkins doesn’t limit healthy fats, fat is very important. It leads to satiety and makes foods rich and flavorful. Going low carb does not mean that flavor isn’t still a high priority. Fresh herbs and spices add even more flavor."

For most low-carb meals, portion control is almost automatic. Each small Cornish hen or fillet of salmon is naturally one serving. If you prepare a four-pound roast, you have between eight and 12 servings. Sides are another story. While many people like to start off with a soup or salad, consider serving a creative salad as a side.

I once threw a dinner party for clients who had two main vegetable sides; they wanted one side to be a salad passed around the table family style. They used the salad in place of the starch. You do want to have two sides along with the main dish. Just because you’re not having potatoes or rice doesn’t mean there need to be an empty spot on the table. Fill it in with a colorful, beautiful salad of roasted eggplant or something equally delicious.

In general, use as much color as you can. Have a leafy green such as creamed spinach and a salad with cucumbers, tomatoes and feta cheese. Enjoy a diverse array of acceptable veggies: alfalfa sprouts, mushrooms, radicchio, bok choy, romaine lettuce, fennel, artichoke, pumpkin, celery root, rhubarb, chard, snow peas, scallions, summer squash, kale, Brussels sprouts, string beans, hearts of palm, beet greens, cauliflower, zucchini, onions, okra, cabbage, leeks, turnips and much more. You’ll never miss those starchy high-carb foods when you’re feasting on mouthwatering dishes like cauliflower-leek purée and Swiss chard gratin.

What is a dinner party without decadent desserts and after-dinner drinks? Even on a low-carb diet, which eliminates unhealthy carbs and sugary processed foods, you can still enjoy gourmet sweet treats without having to ride the roller coaster of rising and falling blood sugar. It’s all the pleasure without the pain. Parfaits, flan, mini cheesecakes and fruit kabobs are excellent party favorites.

Unless you are especially sensitive to the effects of caffeine, you can certainly enjoy a cup of coffee with cream as an accompaniment to dessert. But if caffeine makes jittery, stick with decaf coffee or herbal teas. Make the after-dinner drinks into a bit of an event. Stay away from the sugary liqueurs. Instead, bring out a platter with some beautiful cheeses and nuts and serve up Scotch, whiskey or grappa, a potent drink made from grape residue.

It’s almost intuitive to throw an Atkins dinner party; this is when you can splurge. This is when you can serve salmon with herbed butter, an avocado salad with Roquefort dressing, and whipped cream with Irish coffee. Its fun -- and it’s a great way to introduce your friends to your healthy way of eating"

Maybe you don’t know where to start in planning a menu. Help is on the way. On the Atkins Web site, you’ll find more 700 recipes for low-carb dishes, 100-plus desserts, and more than 70 soups and 80 salads. It’s as if you have the greatest low-carb cookbook in the world at your fingertips.

Here is a light menu that would be ideal for your first low-carb get-together. Your guests are sure to leave wanting more… Atkins dinner parties, that is.

Peppery watercress and baby radishes add zest to this colorful salad, which showcases seasonal produce.

Green Goddess Dressing. The anchovy paste is optional, but it is the secret ingredient in this tangy dressing.

Maple-Mustard Glazed Baked Ham

Only four ingredients in this special entrée! Slice the ham thinly for extra tenderness and fan it out on a platter for extra visual appeal.

Baked Artichoke-Parsley Cheese Squares

This easy side dish can be made up to three days ahead, and can be served hot, at room temperature or cold.

Roasted Asparagus

Roasting brings out the natural sweetness in most vegetables, and intensifies their flavor. This recipe may be doubled.

Atkins Coconut Layer Cake

Moist, tender and full of flavor, this special cake is a perfect finale to any meal. The cake may be made a day ahead. Look for unsweetened coconut in health food stores.

Register with Atkins today for additional tips, low carb recipes, and ideas on how to overcome your weight loss plateau.

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