Ready for Entertaining, Anytime

Turn your quiet evening into an instant party with a few simple ingredients.


Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, doesn’t mind when guests show up with little advance notice. Blatner, a Chicago-based spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, likes to entertain, and she knows how to keep her cupboards, fridge, and freezer stocked with ingredients suitable for on-the-spot entertaining.

Kathy Wise, RD, a nutrition consultant from Canton, Ohio, also knows how to whip up some fancy snacks on a minute’s notice. Instead of chips and salsa, guests may get shrimp cocktail, buffalo chicken dip, or crostini with roasted red peppers and artichoke hearts.

What’s the Secret?

How do these dietitians prepare for the unexpected? By keeping basic ingredients on hand and knowing how to make ordinary ingredients seem extraordinary with a few simple additions.

“I’m all about taste and flavor without sacrificing health,” says Wise. “When friends stop by, I love to make crostini. All you need is a loaf of frozen French or baguette bread and some flavorful toppings,” she says.

To prepare crostini: Preheat oven to 400°F. Slice baguette into 1/4- to 1/2-inch slices. Brush or spray tops with olive oil and sprinkle with garlic powder. Place the bread slices facedown on a cookie sheet, brush or spray the other sides with olive oil, and sprinkle with garlic powder. Bake until bread is lightly toasted, about six to 10 minutes. You can then top crostini with fresh or canned seasoned, diced tomatoes blended with capers, pizza sauce and grated Parmesan cheese, salsa, hummus with a slice of roasted red pepper, or shredded carrots.

Blatner also knows how to take simple ingredients and dress them up for company. Here are a few of her favorite hurry-up snacks:

  • Pop a bag of plain microwave popcorn, spray on a little olive oil, and sprinkle with Parmesan and oregano for a pizza-flavored popcorn snack. For a sweet treat, spray with light olive oil and shake on some sugar and cinnamon.
  • Make a quick fruit dip. Add 1 tablespoon maple syrup or brown sugar to 1 cup of low-fat sour cream or plain nonfat yogurt. Adjust to taste. Serve with sliced apples, pears, and grapes.
  • Add club soda to fruit juice or wine for a homemade spritzer. Serve with a slice of lemon, lime, or orange.
  • Blend canned cannellini or other white beans (rinsed and drained), canned artichokes (drained), and sautéed sweet onions and garlic until creamy for a great bean dip. Season with salt, pepper, lemon or lime juice, crushed red pepper, and oregano. Serve with whole wheat crackers or pita and cut vegetables.

Entertaining Essentials

These are some of the ingredients Blatner and Wise always have on hand:

Meat and seafood: Frozen, cleaned shrimp; frozen boneless/skinless chicken breasts; canned, shredded white-meat chicken; frozen chicken sausages

Sauces and seasonings: Cocktail sauce, bruschetta topping, pizza sauce, salsa, buffalo hot sauce, soy sauce, olive oil spray, capers, garlic

Dips and dressings: Hummus, low-fat ranch and low-fat Italian dressings, low-fat sour cream, and nonfat plain yogurt

Cheese: Grated Romano and Parmesan cheeses, reduced-fat shredded Cheddar or mozzarella, and reduced-fat feta cheese

Fruits and vegetables: Baby carrots or carrot coins and other precut veggies, canned seasoned tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, frozen stir-fry veggies, jarred roasted red peppers, jarred or canned artichoke hearts, dried apricots, canned white cannellini beans, canned black beans, lemons, limes, oranges

Grains: Instant brown rice, crackers made with whole grain, boxed whole wheat pasta, plain reduced-fat microwave popcorn

Beverages: Club soda, frozen fruit juices, lemon juice, wine, white or green tea bags

Nuts: Almonds, pistachios