How to Make a Festive Dinner Table Setting and Get a Party You and Your Friends Will Enjoy!

There are a few important things to do when arranging a dinner table. First, try to find a theme for the dinner, then put out the proper settings and decorations, and finally you will need to set the mood. There are many themes to use for a successful dinner party; Italian Festival, Mexican Mania, European Foods, Seafood Frenzy, or Seasonal to name a few. Let’s say that you are planning a sea food dinner with crabs, shrimp and fish.

After Martha Stewart has helped you with the recipes, you can start decorating with lobster, sea shell, or other marine motifs on your napkins, glasses and place mats. If you want to use a table cloth, use a solid colored one that matches the color in your place mats or plates. Napkins should always be of fabric and never paper. A new trend is to use your fancy kitchen towels as napkins. There are some very popular ones with different kitchen and food motives or just the classic “check type” squares in red and white or blue and white.

And after dinner, you can use them to dry the dishes as well! Putting out your fine china is at your discretion and would depend on the occasion and the motif you have chosen. Sticking with our seafood theme, to really make your table setting a winner, try to find china with a nautical theme-a lobster plate with a lobster on it makes for a great conversation piece! As with everything, dinner plates are getting bigger and bigger.

Even the manufacturers of dishwashers have noticed and are now building washers with adjustable space between the baskets to accommodate our big appetites. If your china is of the normal size, a nice addition is to find a larger bottom plate that is only used for decoration. You can find them in pewter, gold or silver metal (imitations) and even leather. This small addition can really give your table a more elegant and impressive look. Now that we have our linens and china in place, let’s move on to the cutlery.

The silver ware, of course, does not have to be made of silver. Today’s stainless steel is as elegant and accepted as the silver our parents used (and much easier to take care of-no polishing!). The fork, goes without saying, is placed to the left of the plate while the knife and spoon are placed to the right. If you serve more than one dish (including salad) you should have another fork and knife set placed alongside the others. The dessert utensils are placed on the top of the plate. If you are actually serving seafood, there are special forks and knives which make it easier to dig into the shellfish. They have a long flat spoon on one side and a short two pronged digger on the other; it is the fancy version of a “spork”. This is part one of my mini series of articles about arranging a dinner party for friends.

A Fancy Holiday Dinner Party – For Kids?

The holidays are here and it’s time for food and fun. For a different twist, why not host a fancy holiday dinner party… for your kids and their friends? Our whole family had so much fun with this that it’s become a yearly tradition.

A fancy dinner party for the younger set has many benefits. Your kids learn to plan, organize, shop, clean house, be good hosts, and everything else that goes along with hosting a party. They get to dress up in their finest clothes, practice their “company” table manners, and learn dinner conversation. This is a night where kids are king, and boy do they feel important!

You can certainly make your own rules, but this is how we do it. First, the kids create an invitation list. 8 kids is the maximum our table can comfortably hold and I can comfortably cook for. Next is the hard one – trying to pick a night when there are no extracurricular events we’ve already committed to. The kids then make formal invitations on the computer and mail these out. I admit I tend to lecture a bit about what the RSVP in the invitation means and how important it is to always respond when someone asks you to RSVP.

While we wait for our invitation responses, we decide what will be on the menu. The kids come up with two choices each for the main dish, sides, and dessert. They pour over my cookbooks (mostly just look at the pictures), pick recipes, and make up a shopping list. One of the things they pick out is an easy appetizer that they will make themselves ahead of time. Mom and Dad shouldn’t do all the cooking!

On the day of the party, the kids set the table with our good china and lots of candles. Rather than taper candles, we use tea lights in small glasses as a safety precaution.

On the eve of the party, all the kids dress up in their finest attire. This alone, makes the night feel so special. As a surprise, I create fancy dinner menus and “laminate” them with clear contact paper. Mom and Dad take on the role of chef. Not only do we do the cooking, but we are transformed into French waiters with dubious accents and are dressed the part. We don’t hover around the table, but disappear back into the kitchen when not needed.

It’s a new thing for many children to sit at a table, order their own food off the menu, and be responsible for themselves without any grown ups telling them what to do. And they love it! In order to promote good table conversation, I write up some conversation prompts on paper scraps and put them into a bowl. While they are waiting for their meal or dessert to be served, they read their prompt out loud and answer it. Examples are “If you could get on an airplane right now and go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?” or “What do you think would be the worst job ever to have?” or “What do you have sitting on the dresser in your bedroom right now?” Of course, all the kids chime in with their answers!

We’ve come to think of the fancy holiday dinner party as a Christmas gift we give our kids. We are there to serve them, no strings attached, and they enjoy it immensely. The other benefits for them are learning how to host a gala and all that it requires – planning and organizing the party, making seating arrangements, learning how to set a fancy table, planning the food, etc. While this is maybe not at the top of the list, it’s just something nice for children to learn. Every year the flavor of the dinner party is a little different, because they grow and change. This makes every year so special in my eyes.

If this sounds like fun to you, give it a try and adjust it to fit your family. I guarantee it will be a night to remember for all of you. Don’t forget to take pictures!

Healthy Recipes For Foods That Increase Metabolism

Wouldn’t it be great if there were foods that increase metabolism naturally, so you could eat what you like and still lose weight? It turns out there are plenty of delicious metabolism boosting foods that do just that.

Metabolizing refers to the chemical process of how effectively your body burns calories. If everything is working in balance your body operates at a rate high enough to keep your weight at a healthy level. Many factors can influence your metabolism, though, including genetics, age, diet, exercise, and even your mood or stress level. Increasing your metabolism naturally stimulates weight loss so you can achieve a healthy weight more easily.

Here are several ideas for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner that all promote higher metabolism and natural weight loss.


Enjoy a nutrient rich breakfast that boosts metabolism, including whole grain cereal with milk, oatmeal with blueberries, or soft boiled eggs with grapefruit.


For a power packed lunch start with a bed of spinach or romaine lettuce. Add flaked salmon or tuna, mixed with celery, jalapeno peppers and olive oil. Top with cherry tomatoes, sprouts and a squirt of lemon juice.


High protein snacks such as peanut butter with celery, yogurt with berries, or almonds are all great metabolism boosting foods.


There are so many protein choices of foods that increase metabolism you will always have great options for dinner.

Chicken and Peppers

Chop some garlic and slice some bell peppers. Saute in olive oil briefly, then add boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

Steak and Beans

Broil your favorite type of steak and serve with green beans.

Roast Pork With Vegetables

On the weekend or when you have a bit more time, cook a pork roast in the oven and serve with steamed carrots and cabbage.

Ground Turkey Tacos

Brown ground turkey, add finely chopped cayenne or jalapeno peppers and garlic. Saute briefly. Serve with tomatoes and lettuce. Instead of taco shells or tortillas, serve on a bed of spinach as a taco salad.

Grilled Salmon With Asparagus

Coat a piece of salmon with olive oil and lemon juice. Cook the salmon and asparagus on the grill. Serve with a side salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, celery (and jalapeno peppers, if you like). With fresh, crisp vegetables no dressing is needed. If you like, though, just use a tiny bit of olive oil with lemon juice and crushed garlic.

All of the ingredients listed in these recipes are foods that increase metabolism. Add them to your menus regularly for a natural weight loss booster.

Honor Your Loved One’s Memory With a Favorite Foods Dinner

My father-in-law died on February 25, 2007. He had been in failing health and had memory disease. When family members learned he had been admitted to the hospital we knew the end was near. Dad stayed in the hospital for a week and was finally returned to his apartment in assisted living for end-of-life care.

A few days later — two days after my daughter was killed in a car crash — he succumbed to pneumonia. Two deaths on one weekend sent shock waves through the family. Though family members were overcome with grief, we could only grieve for one person at a time. Of course we cried for dad, but most of our tears were for a young mother who died too soon. Family members decided to have a memorial in honor of dad at a later date.

How could we honor his life?

Nothing brought dad more pleasure than having dinner with his family. He often took us out to dinner at his favorite restaurant. The staff of the family-owned restaurant knew dad and looked after him well. Dad was profoundly hard of hearing so they seated us at a corner table when possible. The servers also accommodated to dad’s unusual orders.

One server asked dad what he would like and he replied, “Tissues.” She returned with a mound of tissues on a tray. Dad used to enjoy thick soups and chowders, but towards the end of his life he wanted broth. Since he had forgotten the word broth dad ordered “soup without the chow,” a phrase we had to translate. Minutes later, the server would return with a steaming bowl of broth and salty crackers.

Family members thought a Favorite Foods Dinner would be a fitting way to honor dad’s life. We had three requirements for the dinner. First, the food preparation and clean-up had to be easy. Second, we had to include some fun. Last, the dinner had to be meaningful. Six months after dad’s death we held the dinner at my sister and brother-in-law’s home.

A large photo of dad greeted family members when they walked in the door. For easy clean-up we used paper plates, napkins, ad cups. As for dinner, there was hardly a healthy calorie in sight. The menu: Kentucky Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, coleslaw, smoked oysters on crackers, cheese puffs, fresh fruit (for a few vitamins), chocolate marshmallow cookies and ice cream.

I typed a list of dad’s sayings and gave one to each person. Though dad was no longer with us his sayings revealed his personality, ethics, and humor. Some of them:

* After age 40 you should back up your car as little as possible.

* Take credit for what you do.

* This is going to be the best trip ever!

* Money spent on education is never wasted.

* I don’t want to be neatenized.

But I forgot one of dad’s most famous sayings, “When are we going to have fat and salt?” My husband and I had dad for dinner many times and I cooked nutritious, low-fat meals — a fact that did not escape his notice. Dad never complained about dinner, but his question was really his complaint. Our Favorite Foods Dinner ended with a slide show and the photos of dad with his family sparked tears and laughter.

Have you lost a loved one? Consider honoring him or her with a Favorite Foods Dinner. Family members will be glad to help you with the arrangements and menu. You may even indulge in fat and salt. Then sit around the table and tell stores of the person you knew and loved so much.

Copyright 2007 by Harriet Hodgson