Summer is just about officially here, which is the season of bridal showers, graduation parties, outdoor gatherings! Some of my favorite things to do when I host (or cater for a friends party) is do a food or dessert bar. The great thing about a food ‘bars’ is that they are easily put together, they please a crowd, and they look simply adorable, making them one of the most memorable parts of any party!
Here are some tips and steps that will help you create a dessert and/or food bar that your guests are sure to love!
Step 1. Decide whether you want to serve food, desserts, or both.
This decision will primarily be made based on the time of day that you are hosting the party. If you are throwing the party at noon for example, your guests will most likely be expecting lunch. If on the other hand you plan to only serve appetizers or desserts, just be sure your party is not around a general meal time, or you may have very hungry guests! Also, as a general rule of thumb, I always write something about what I plan to serve on the invites, just so there is no confusion.
Step 2. Evaluate your crowd to determine what types of food/desserts to prepare.
The next thing I begin to think about when catering or hosting a party is who will be there. For example, if I know there are mostly women coming, my thoughts automatically lean more towards a salad bar. (No offense guys, but this tends to have more of a feminine appeal, and turns out really pretty!) For example, for my sisters wedding shower, I did a huge salad bar that not only looked really elegant, but it also also pleased all of the girls there, whom all enjoyed a salad! If I am throwing a party with a more diverse crowd, I might do something with multiple meats and different options to choose from, like a taco, pizza, or chili bar. When ti comes to dessert bars, the great thing about those is you pretty much can’t go wrong. As long as you have a few different options, most people will find something they enjoy. I also think about where the location of the food and party will be, which will make a difference in the types of food I will serve and prepare, based on if it will be indoors or outdoors. Also, when it comes to choosing foods, I try to keep most of my food items healthy, but still appealing to a large crowd (that is where Dashing Dish recipes come in!) Of course, I might have a few things that are not the healthiest, such as chocolate chips, but for the most part, I try to keep the main dishes on the healthier side!
Step 3. Select a theme and/or colors.
This might not always apply, especially if it is a casual party, but if I know there will be a theme to the party (especially if it is a wedding or baby shower), then I like to start thinking about the colors of the food, napkins, plates, etc. For example, this may help you pick the flavor of cupcake, frosting flavors, or desserts you will make, and of course it will help you think about decorations you may need. The great thing about food and dessert bars is that they are often cute enough by themselves, and the food is decoration enough, so I often only plan for a few little decorative accents such as flowers, paper straws, wooden spoons, and possibly linens to drape across the table, which I set the food on.
Step 4. Begin to think about numbers.
Once you know what your menu will look like, you will need to start planning your grocery list. I often do this well in advance, and just as soon as I have a rough head count for the party. I like to be prepared ahead of time, and even get ingredients that might be hard to find ahead of time if possible. I like to safely assume that each guest will have at least one serving of food and/or dessert, and I generally multiply that number by at least two per guest. From there, I determine if anyone will be bringing a dish to the party, and if so, I generally give them a few specific ideas to choose from so it will go with the theme. Once I know about how much food I will need to buy/prepare, I start to write up a rough grocery list.
Step 5. Think about set up and details.
Once you know where your food/dessert bar will be located (any long table will work), and what you will be serving, it is time to plan the set up! This can be really simply done, or a bit more extravagant, based on the look you are going for, and the type of party.
1. The first thing I think about is linens. The type of linen or runner you choose for your bar will vary based on the party, and the great thing is you can either rent them or purchase them for a great deal if you buy some fabric from the craft store, or you could buy one or two basic runners, so that you can keep re-using them, (I have a burlap runner that I re-use for almost every party). I also like to get paper plates and napkins that go with the color and theme.
2. After choosing the linens, I think about if I want different elevations. This can be simply done by using cake plates, boxes, crates, trifle bowls, basic plates, trays, or even a stack of books! The key here is just simply to add different heights to the bar, which allows you to place some things in the back, and some things in the front without things getting lost. Otherwise, it would just end up looking like a huge pile of food, and it will be hard for your guests to sort through.
3. Choose plates, bowls, trifle bowls, cake plates, jars, and trays you will want to use. I like to use mason jars for a lot of my food and dessert bars, because you can buy them in bulk for really cheap (Walmart has a great deal on a 12 pack). I like to use the bigger ones for larger items such as salad toppings, and smaller ones for my dessert bar toppings. As far as plates go, you can really get creative and mix and match what you have, but if you don’t have much to work with, you can always go to a second hand store such as Good Will (you’d be surprised how many cute dishes they have there), or look at an inexpensive store such as Home Goods! In general, when I am buying plates, trays, etc., I try to think practically, and buy white or clear items, so I can keep re-using them in the future. Also, don’t forget about serving utensils! Be sure that every dish has something you can serve it with, such as a spoon, tongs, or a pie server. I even like to practice ‘setting up’ my food/dessert bar the night before the party sometimes so that I can be sure I have all the right serving items.
4. Think about details. Like I said earlier, you won’t need to buy a lot of decorative details, because the food/dessert bar in itself is generally pretty adorable, so I like to just pick out a few little accents to bring out the color and/or theme that I am going for. One great way to do this is by using colored paper straws and wooden utensils (I buy them at Home Goods or on Etsy or Amazon for a few dollars.) I also like to make little signs/labels which can be done really simply by cutting out little pieces of paper, and folding them, or with something like mini chalk boards (Amazon/Etsy have great deals, and these can be re-used). You can also make little paper tags for things, buy colorful candies to tie in your color theme, and even buy flowers (or use fake flowers) for an elegant touch!
and last but not least…
Step 6. Think about ways to save money!
Let’s face it, throwing a party can be pretty expensive. When it comes to entertaining or catering, I always try to think about ways I can save money. One great way to do this is by planning ahead. When you plan ahead and know what you are going to buy, this will allow you to look for sales on food (as long as they are items that will stay fresh until your party, or can be frozen), and other items such as paper plates and napkins. Buying things in bulk can also be a great way to get a deal, as long as you know you will be able to use it all. When it comes to saving on serving wear and the details, I like to start by looking around my house for items I already have. Also, like I mentioned earlier I like to shop at second hand stores, and craft stores (which usually have great coupons) for little details, crates, and mason jars, and I like to get a few items on Etsy and Amazon if I need something special. You can also plan to do the food and/or dessert bar with someone. For example, my sisters and I generally work on them together, which makes the work and cost go down, as it is divided among two or three people. The general thing that I try to keep in mind when I am hosting or catering any party though is that I am doing it to bless the person that we are celebrating, or just to bless my guests! When you think of it that way, it always makes the time and money invested worth while!
Now, to give you guys an even better idea on how to put these steps together I thought I’d share a few pictures of some events I prepared food and dessert bars for! Here is an example of a salad bar that Id did for my sister Emily’s wedding shower. The shower was held at my sister Sarah’s house this past summer.
We also did a dessert bar for her shower, which was really fun. It was sort of a ‘build your own trifle’ theme, and Sarah had cute little sunday cups for each girl to build their own mini dessert parfait in.
Emily’s wedding colors were coral and gold, so I threw in a few items to tie in her colors.
The beautiful bride had a great day, and it certainly was a shower to remember!
Another bridal shower that I recently did the dessert bar for was my good friend Heather. This shower was put on by my friend Dayna (who is also an amazing photographer, and took some of these amazing photo’s! :)) The theme for this party was a tea party, with whites and golds being her colors, so we did something a little more elegant, yet still rustic because it was outdoors.
Dayna asked friends and family to borrow tea cups, and plates, which helped lower the cost, and she rented a lot of the other items, such as the barrel table, crates, and linens.
Dayna also made all the tags for everything, and used a lot of her chalk boards that she already had to make signs for things. This attention to detail really made each item feel personalized and very special.
For the dessert bar, I chose to do cake pops and cookies that were the brides favorite flavors, (pistachio and white chocolate macadamia nut cookies), and I even made a personal little pistachio cake for the bride to enjoy after the shower!
I also made no bake cheesecake trifles (recipe coming soon), white chocolate drizzled rice crispy treats, blondies, and chocolate covered pretzels. For most of these items, I made healthier options whenever possible.
Here I catered a business meeting for 40 + women! I did a breakfast bar, followed by a salad and dessert bar for lunch!
I hope these ‘how to’ steps were helpful in learning how to set up a food or dessert bar! It really can be quite fun, and they certainly do present quite beautifully at any party! You can keep it quite simple, or do something extravagant if you choose, but the key is to have fun and celebrate the ones you love!
Traveling can be so refreshing. It is a time away from the every day ‘routine’ and a time to rest and relax! This can also mean a time of seriously getting off track when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. To some to degree, this can be a good thing- I always think it is good to change things up from time to time, so I take this opportunity to try some new foods, enjoy a few treats, and shake up my workouts!
However, if you don’t plan ahead, it can definitely go from being a good ‘change’ to a bad one, especially if you find yourself completely skimping out on fiber, water, and indulge in too much sugar and processed foods. Without some sort of balance, I can tell you from past experience that it is only a matter of time before you start to notice that your body (especially your digestive system) will not be happy!
For that reason, I always make sure I plan ahead when I travel and bring some healthy snacks and options with me. I hope this inspires you guys to plan ahead and pack some of your own favorite healthy treats on your next vacation! In the end, I can promise that your body will thank you!
For snacks I like to bring fruit, particularly apples because they are high in fiber and lower in sugar. They also keep fresh for a long time. I also like to bring a small bag of baby carrots. I am not a huge fan of eating them once they are warm, so I try to eat those first when I’m on a long car ride, or I bring a small cooler or lunch bag if possible. I also enjoy small 100 calorie bags of popcorn on trips, because let’s face it, sometimes you need something salty and crunchy! I found this amazing kettle corn at Trader Joes, and it is amazing! I always try to stock up on it if I know I’m going to be traveling.
Whenever I travel, I try to pack some good sources of protein that are portable. The best option I have found when I don’t have access to a cooler or fridge is protein powder and peanut flour. I also bring oats with me and make peanut butter protein oatmeal with just a little water, oats, stevia, peanut flour, and protein powder! You would be amazed at how good it tastes and how much it fills you up!
I also enjoy protein bars when I travel, because there are times when you need protein, and fast! I like Mojo, Quest, Chocolite, and Think Thins! The main thing to look at with bars is the calories, protein, and sugar! I always check to make sure the calories are not much over 200 per bar, the sugar is less than 10 grams, and the protein is around 10-20 grams per bar.
I don’t always bring wrap bread with me, but if I am going somewhere that I can prepare my own food (and I will have a kitchen and fridge), then I like to bring a few packs of high fiber wraps with me. Wrap sandwiches are great for packing up in a cooler and taking with you to the beach for example! Jospeph’s and La Tortilla are my favorite brands. High fiber bran crackers are also a great thing to have around for a quick snack! I like to put a little peanut butter and low sugar jelly on them or some tuna salad!
I love to bring a water bottle with me just about everywhere I go. I like to fill it up with ice water and carry a few all natural drink mixes around in my purse! That way I always stay hydrated, without filling up on chemicals, sugar, or calories that are in most beverages!
If possible, I like to make a batch of my homemade muffins to bring with me. I love bringing muffins to snack on because they taste delicious and are packed with protein and fiber to keep me satisfied for a long time! They also stay good for about 1 week, which is perfect for a trip!
And last but not least, I do like to bring a few different flavors of gum. Now, I am the first to admit that there are chemicals in sugar free gum, but to me, if you chew it in moderation, I feel like it’s better than chewing on sugary gum anytime, especially when it comes to my teeth. I like the dessert gums by Extra, Orbit and Trident flavors!
These are just a few ideas of some of my favorite travel snacks and treats! Of course, it really depends on the type of trip you are going on, how you are traveling, and where you are going, but I almost always try to plan ahead and pack accordingly. Being prepared and planning ahead is one of the best things you could do when traveling! I also always carry stevia packets in my purse (I like to use them in my coffee), and I try to always have a protein bar in my purse as well just in case!
Overall, when I am on vacation, I try to be really flexible and enjoy new things…That is what vacation is about after all! However, I try to pick healthier options, and get active in some way every day! If you are traveling this summer, I hope this provided some ideas for your next trip!
If you are looking to find any of these items, many of them can be found on my Favorite Products List!
If you haven’t already heard me rave about meal planning, I certainly encourage you to check out this post on how-to meal plan for the week. Making lunches ahead of time, (aka meal prepping) is one of the best things you can do in my opinion. It saves you time, and if you are used to eating out for lunch, it will certainly save you money (and calories) in the long run! One of my favorite things to prep ahead of time for lunches is salads. They are quick, easy, and delicious! The only problem with preparing them ahead of time is that they can get soggy if you don’t pack them up correctly….So I decided to share some of my favorite tips on how to prep fresh, crisp, and tasty salads ahead of time for the week!
I start preparing my salads by planning what type of salads I will be making that week. I am someone who could eat the same thing for a few days without getting tired of it, so I generally plan to have the same ingredients on my salads for that week. (I generally make about 4 salads per week, and the rest of the week I plan to eat leftovers from some of my dinners). After I plan out what type of salads I will be having, (as well as what other meals I will be making for the week), I make a list and go grocery shopping for my ingredients.
When I get home, I start preparing the meat/proteins for my salad. This is usually chicken- either grilled, baked, or cooked in the crockpot, and some times hard boiled eggs. Other sources of protein/fats that I like to add to salads are chickpeas, nuts, feta cheese, shaved parmesan, and avocado, just to name a few!
While my meat is cooking, I wash my fruits and vegetables, and lay them out on a big kitchen towel, which makes it easy to wash them all at once.
I then dry them individually, and slice them up. (You can put them in separate containers at this point, or if you don’t want to dirty dishes, you can just keep them on separate piles on the clean kitchen towel.)
Then, once my meat is cooked (and cooled), and my veggies are washed, dried, and chopped, I am ready to assemble my salads! The key here is to put the ingredients in layers (I like medium size mason jars, which I bought in a 12 pack at Walmart for a really good deal, or Tupperware/sealed containers of some sort. Layering will ensure that none of your ingredients get mushed which would make them bruised, soggy, and wet.
I recommend starting with your meat, and beans if you are using them. Next, start layering your vegetables, starting with the most firm vegetables, such as bell peppers, onions, carrots, celery, etc. Then layer the cheese on if you are using any, and end your softest vegetables and fruit at the top. Also, if you are using nuts, hard boiled eggs, or avocado, I find that these are best on the very top because they tend to get soggy.
Now that you have your salad ‘toppings’ prepped, it’s time to prep the heart of the salad- the lettuce! I like to divide anywhere from 3-4 cups of romaine lettuce, spinach, (or shredded cabbage if I’m doing Asian inspired salads) among a few different Tupperware containers (depending on how many salads I am making that week). I like to package the lettuce in individual medium-big size containers (4-6 cup size) that will allow for some extra room at the top to pour and mix in my toppings when I am ready to eat my salad. I also pack up a few small containers (1/4-1/2 cup size) with dressing. (Please note that you don’t have to prep your lettuce ahead of time, as you may not even have room in your fridge to do so! The good thing is, throwing the lettuce in a container in the morning only takes a matter of seconds, and when your toppings are already pre-packed, the hard part is already done!)
Now to put it all together. When you are ready to enjoy your salad, simply open your jar/container with your salad ingredients, and your large Tupperware filled with lettuce, and pour the toppings and dressing on! If you want, you can put the lid back on the large Tupperware, and give your salad a shake to mix everything together, and enjoy!
Large Baking Pan- Where to Find: Home Goods, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Williams & Sonoma, etc.
Glass Nesting Mixing Bowls- Where to Find: Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Williams & Sonoma, etc.
Mini Spatula- Where to Find: Home Goods, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Williams & Sonoma, etc.
Ice Cream Scooper- Where to Find: Home Goods, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Williams & Sonoma, etc.
Sharp Kitchen Knife- Where to Find: Williams & Sonoma, etc. Brands to Consider: Lower-priced: Chicago Cutlery, Forschner / Higher-priced: Wüsthof, Henckels
Hand Held Mandolin Slicer- Where to Find: Home Goods, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, etc.
Parchment Paper Muffin Liners- Where to Find: Kroger, etc.
Vegetable Spiralizer- Williams & Sonoma
Vitamix Blender- Williams & Sonoma
If you don’t want to invest in a Vitamix, I also recommend:
Ninja Blender, Kitchen Aid Blender, or a Magic Bullet
This program was designed with brides in mind, but it is awesome for anyone who wants to get in shape for a big day!
There is something about a snack that gives us the energy boost we often need to make it through the day! Quick & Easy Snacks are great because they usually don’t require a lot of thought or preparation, and yet they can be delicious and satisfying! I personally like to eat one or two snacks a day, which typically range from 100 to 200 calories each. I always try to incorporate some of protein and fiber in my snacks to keep me satisfied until my next meal. Here are some of my favorite snack ideas broken up into sweet & salty categories!
Protein Bars (I like to make my own, but if I buy them, I look for ones that have less than 200 calories, more than 10 grams of protein, and less than 10 grams of sugar. Some good brands are Quest Bars, and Think Thin Bars)
Apples with Peanut Butter (or Peanut Flour mixed with water to make a low calorie peanut butter)
Dashing Dish Protein Baked Goods (I like to make some of my protein muffins/bread and keep them in my freezer for when I need a quick snack, or to bring with me when I’m on-the-go)
Dashing Dish Overnight Oatmeal
Dashing Dish Granola
Greek Yogurt (I like buying the plain or vanilla flavors and adding stevia/honey with creative toppings, such as frozen fruit)
Sweet Potatoes (microwaved, and topped with cinnamon/stevia mixture)
Air Popped Popcorn (with stevia/cinnamon sprinkled on it)
Frozen Fruit (I personally like frozen berries, sweetened with a bit of stevia)
Single Serve Pizza on a High Fiber Wrap/Pita
Roasted Veggies with Parmesan Cheese
100-Calorie Pack of Roasted Almonds
Air Popped Popcorn with salt and/or parmesan cheese
Low Fat Cottage Cheese
These are not all of the ‘clean eating’ snack ideas out there, but these are just a few of my favorites! Please feel free to share some of your favorites in the comments!
Christmas is a wonderful time of celebration! A time to celebrate Jesus, family, and friends! Make each celebration a little sweeter with these breakfast, appetizer & dessert recipes!
When it comes to sweeteners, I personally like to use baking stevia and stevia packets. However, all of these recipes call for a sweetener that measures like sugar, which includes any sweetener that can be measured the same as sugar, or you could use sugar if you prefer.
If you prefer to use stevia or another sweetener, you will have to alter the amount based on the conversion table below, or according to your desired taste. This can take some experimenting, but once you get a feel for baking with different sweeteners, it is very simple to know how much to use. To get you started, I have provided a simple conversion table that works with stevia.
Please also note, that the amounts listed below may vary based on the brand of stevia you are using. The following chart pertains to NuNaturals stevia, which is the brand I personally recommend. If you are using baking stevia, simply use 1/2 of the sugar the recipe calls for.
1. Don’t be Fooled: Just because a label says ‘fun size‘ on it, doesn’t mean that it comes with a miniature amount of calories and sugar! For example, just one ‘fun size‘ Butterfingers bar has 100 calories and 10 grams of sugar! Almost all of the most popular ‘fun size’ candy bars have between 80-110 calories and 8-15 grams of sugar each!
2. Get Rid of Temptation: If temptation comes at you in the form of a little orange, brown, or yellow packet, (yeah…you know what I’m talking about), there is one simple way to put an end to the ‘drawing in’ of a sweet little treat. How do we get rid of temptation once and for all? Get it out of the house, off of your desk at work, or wherever candy may haunting you. If your kids just went trick or treating, you can allow them to choose a few of their favorites, then get rid of the rest. You could either donate it, give it away, or simply toss it! It’s simple: If you don’t have it around then you (and your kids…who also don’t need the sugar) won’t be tempted by it!
3. Swap Out Your Favorites: If you simply must have a Peanut Butter Cup, then simply swap it out for a healthier alternative! That is truly what Dashing Dish is all about…Not giving up your favorite foods and treats, but rather swapping them out for alternatives that are just as tasty (and don’t send you into a sugar slump!) Speaking of… I have a healthy PB cup recipe coming next week!
4. Don’t Buy Candy to Give Away: Going back to point #2, if you have candy in the house to ‘give away’ you most likely will be tempted by it. In addition, do you really want to add to the bag of ‘junk’ that those cute little kids are carting around!?! Instead, get creative, give non-edible ‘treats’ such as pencils or erasers (hey, it may sound lame to you, but my sister who is a 3rd grade teachers says those things go like hot cakes in her goody bin!) Or you could give away a healthier treat, such as 100% fruit leathers.
5. Bring Treats to Pass at Parties: It’s that time of year…From now until January 1st there will be holiday party galore!!! Parties are comprised of three main things: fun, socializing, and FOOD! There is no way around it, holiday parties often bombard you with all sorts of treats that look oh so tasty! The best way to deal with the ever present temptation from Trick or Treat to Happy New Year!?! Bring your own dish to pass! It really is that simple. I bring a dish, a dessert, or sometimes both to every party I go to, so that way I know there is going to be a healthy option for myself and friends to enjoy! This is one of the most simple ways to combat the all too common holiday weight gain. (With that, I must say, I personally always enjoy a few of my very favorite (full fat-full sugar) treats during the holidays, but I keep it to a reasonable portion, and when I do, I make sure I truly enjoy every bite!)