While the end of summer can be bittersweet -- heralding the coming chill of winter and kids' return to school -- a celebration provides one last hurray for the season. Incorporate quintessential summer dishes, ingredients and flavors into your end-of-summer party menu. Tweak the menu to include regional favorites and local produce, thus encapsulating the one-of-a-kind essence of your summer.
Fill your guests' stomachs with classic summer main dishes that (shhh!) require little effort to prepare. Barbecuing is a great option for a summer bash because you make the food outside. All you have to do is purchase the basics, fire up the grill and recruit a fire-loving guest to man the meat. Try pre-made spiced turkey burgers, lean hamburgers and veggie burgers for a healthy party. Alternately, make slow-cooker chili or baked meat and vegetables ahead of time. Chilled, marinated shrimp or tuna salad (served in buns) are tasty cold high-protein options.
Augment your main dishes with a spread of summery side dishes. Avoid high-calorie sides like potato chips in favor of lighter, picnic-inspired fare. Set out a tray or two of sliced cucumbers, baby carrots, celery sticks, radishes, broccoli and cauliflower with salad-dressing dip (buy already-sliced produce to make this side even easier). Make light potato salad, heavy on eggs, celery, pickles, potatoes and dill, light on the mayo. Put out corn chips and pico de gallo salsa or guacamole from the deli. Whip up cornbread muffins from a boxed mix. Slice a loaf of whole-wheat bread and provide different toppings, like garlic olive oil and hummus.
Round out the party menu with desserts that taste like summer. Eschew generic party desserts like cookies and cake in favor of healthier desserts based on sweet, tart, juicy fruit. For example, put out a big bowl of fruit salad with vanilla yogurt or low-calorie whipped topping. Make key lime pudding topped with store-bought granola or crumbled graham crackers. Pour 100 percent fruit juice into molds to make icy pops -- refreshing on an extra-hot day.
Quench your guests' thirsts with a buffet bar of chilled summer drinks. Mix beverages the day before the end-of-summer party and store in the refrigerator so you have one less thing to worry about on party day. Crisp, classic summer drinks include lemonade, sparkling orange juice (half orange juice, half carbonated water), fruit punch, and adult drinks like Blue Hawaiians and "hard" (alcoholic) fruit juices. Be sure to clearly separate and monitor the adult beverages if there will be children at the party.
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