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Crowd-Pleasing Meals

Planning a Party for Picky Eaters

Why finicky guests can influence — but not control — your menu

picky eaters party

— Tina Rupp

I like to throw dinner parties, and I pride myself on creating memorable meals. But a few weeks before a recent get-together, I was in a quandary: several friends and family members were banning certain foods from their diets.

My husband was on a strict Atkins regimen, two friends were detoxing (in their cases, eating only raw foods), another decided to go vegan, my neighbor swore off wine, my best friend resolved not to eat anything man-made (meaning nothing out of a box), her husband was off sugar (real and fake), another friend was on a strict seafood diet, and her daughter was juicing. And then there were some new friends whose kids thought grilled cheese was too exotic. A weaker soul would have been discouraged, but I took it as a challenge. I could do this. I write cookbooks, damn it. So what if the Jack Sprat nursery rhyme was coming to life in my house. (Remember? "Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean.")

For starters, I prepared a honey and cheese tasting (the Atkins folks ate the cheese and left the honey; the kids ate the honey and left the cheese), sweet tamarind shrimp on a stick (for the seafood and protein lovers), spicy cheese palmiers (for the all-natural folks), curried egg salad on spinach (for my sugar-free pal), and fresh fruit platters (for the detoxers and vegans). For the kids, I made pigs in blankets, grilled chicken with a sweet peanut dip, and Jell-O jigglers. For grab-and-go sides, I made an Indian-style trail mix and my all-time favorite—popcorn tossed with fresh herbs and served in paper cones. And for dessert: mini-cupcakes, piled into a tower. Finally, I served Shirley Temples, Indian-style cold coffee, and lots of choices of flavored and unflavored waters.

I was pleased, very pleased.

The party began. The adults oohed and aahed over the unusual honey and cheese pairings and the cold coffee. The kids loved the popcorn.

Just as I was patting myself on the back, a friend, the only one not on a diet, came up to me and said, "This is very cute, but where's the food?"

Next time, I'm ordering pizza.

Monica Bhide's newest cookbook is Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen (Simon & Schuster, 2009).

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