By Elizabeth Holm
In this new era of social distancing, many of us feel uncomfortable inviting people over for lunch or throwing a dinner party. We are legitimately afraid of putting others at risk for catching a virus that could make them seriously ill. Instead, we have opted to stay close at home with our immediate family, schedule multiple Zoom happy hours or sit 6 feet apart in lawn chairs with neighbors on driveways, desperate to maintain our social ties.
Research shows that this new norm has created a significant increase in generalized anxiety, triggered relapses in eating disorders and adversely affected our overall mental health. Many of us are lonely and, simply, not happy. Given things are not expected to change anytime soon, we are all looking for creative ways to get together and enjoy life while still staying safe.
The good news is that it is still possible to entertain our friends at home without the fear of taking unnecessary risks. Sharing a meal with friends is one of the ways many of us relax, feel good and get energized for a grueling workweek. Breaking bread together builds relationships and helps us feel connected to each other. That connection is even stronger when we are all eating the same food. But what is the best way for us to do that?
Outdoor dining in our backyards with individual tables makes having a dinner party possible. CDC guidelines for restaurants can easily be applied to our own homes. Set up small 2- to 3-foot tables 6 feet apart on your deck or patio. Use coordinating tablecloths, and while wearing a mask, set the tables with glasses and utensils for one person or two people who are social distancing together. Add flowers and candles on each table for a delightful ambiance.
Set up a separate table for the bar with wine bottles, alcohol, glasses and hand sanitizer. Designate one person to serve drinks wearing a mask and using hand sanitizer frequently. For the cocktail hour, arrange chairs 6 feet apart with small separate tray-tables. Individual plates can be pre-plated with cheese, crackers and hor d’oerves and placed on the tables before guests arrive. You can even provide small individual bowls of nuts for each person or couple.
The meal itself should be both prepared and plated while wearing a mask and washing your hands before, during and after. One idea for a simple picnic is delicious tomato, basil and mozzarella sandwiches on sourdough bread. Place them on individual plates, covered with plastic wrap, for people to pick up and take to their tables. Each table can have its own bowl of chips or salad for guests to add to their plates. For more elaborate meals, put a basket of bread and butter on each table, and, wearing a mask, plate and serve each guest’s meal. And for a special dessert, bake individual pies for each table to share.
There are still plenty of warm summer nights to throw a dinner party and show-off your creative skills. Remember, wash your hands frequently before setting the tables, preparing the meal and serving the plates. Reassure your friends they can get out of their house and share a meal knowing they will be safe. Break bread together, 6 feet apart, and have fun.
Elizabeth Holm, DrPH, RD is a registered dietitian in private practice in Alexandria. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.