Common Sense Health: Hosting a Healthy Party


By Maureen McDonnell, RN


Partying is in my bones… and growing up in a working class Irish-Catholic family is where it all started! Despite their financial struggles, my parents loved to throw a party. I have pretty vivid memories of my dad arm in arm with my uncles singing Irish songs and raising their glasses of beer as they toasted the good times the post-war 1950’s offered them.­ I’m not saying the food my mom served back then was the healthiest (potato salad, canned baked beans, cold cuts and white rolls), but the atmosphere of fun and festivity cultivated a love in me for gathering good friends together to celebrate life!


Partying took on a different form when I went off to college. No need to elaborate on this phase though, as I can’t recall much and I’m pretty certain there weren’t many healthy aspects to report.


However, once I had “sown my oats” and settled down with a husband, a house, two kids and a career as a health educator, it was time to blend the positive partying experiences of my youth, with my new-found understanding of health. It was during the 80’s that I began experimenting with organic, vegetarian whole food recipes. Subsequently, I started throwing backyard falafel parties, sending organic peanut butter nut balls for my kids’ school birthday parties and cooking an array of healthy vegetable-based bean and grain dishes for our dinner guests that seemed to both delight and surprise them.


I’m aware that through the years, there were folks who came to our parties and were disappointed that I wasn’t serving the standard fare of potato chips with sour cream dip, pizza, soda and sugary desserts. But I just couldn’t do it! Besides, my dad’s words were always there to remind me of the long term benefits to sticking to my nutrition guns. When he was in his 80s I asked him how it felt when his friend’s ridiculed him for eating bran, avoiding desserts and basically evolving into one of the original health nuts. With a little Irish twinkle in his eye, he responded “Well, the funny thing is, those folks are all dead now!”


How does alcohol fit in to a healthy party you might ask? Well, I agree (to an extent) with those who say alcohol is not healthy. Certainly, over indulgence is not a good thing for anyone and for some, any amount is counterproductive to their health. But remember, I’m Irish! So, to address both my commitment to health and my Irish heritage, I came up with what I consider a relatively healthy Margarita recipe. My friends dubbed it the “Mo-garita.” I only use fresh- squeezed organic limes, a small amount of fresh squeezed orange juice, very high- grade tequila and I serve it in small glasses. See my now famous recipe below.


Fast forward a few decades and my commitment to having healthy gatherings continued. When I remarried, I chose a partner who not only loves to cook for crowds, but one who has as strong a commitment to health as I do. Together we have such a good time creating the whole food menu, inviting our friends (and asking them to bring their favorite healthy side dish) and preparing the house with flowers we pick from the yard. I find all the prep work we do cleaning the house, arranging the flowers and lighting the candles in anticipation of our guest’s arrival is half the fun. If you don’t have a spouse like mine, ask the kids to get involved (which can help cultivate their love and skill for healthy entertaining.) No kids? Have a friend over to help with the preparations… either way, make it fun!


Regardless of whether your home is a small cottage, an apartment or a grand mansion, whether you invite two friends or 20, serve alcohol or not, just get creative with the cuisine, serve delicious healthy food, have fun with the preparation and presentation, and as I learned from my childhood—enjoy the health benefits of celebrating life with your friends and family!


Taste testing is essential before serving… adjust as needed. To keep it a relatively healthy experience, limit to two max, and since tequila does not combine well with other types of alcohol avoid mixing with other drinks.


Want to hear my rationale as to why these are healthier than most mixed drinks? I could be full of Blarney, but here it goes: Tequila is made from the cactus plant. Since many other types of alcohol are made from grains that are often linked to allergies, tequila is less allergenic. Also, this particular recipe has no added sugar which produces less of an inflammatory response than most sugar-laden drinks. Lastly, yes alcohol is toxic to the liver, but the antioxidants (in the fresh organic limes and oranges) help counterbalance the negative effects of the alcohol. Now, if you believe all that, I’ll tell you another!


My favorite easy-to-make healthy party recipes:

Seven Layer Dip Appetizer  
(recipe fills two large dinner plates and feeds 10-12. Use all organic ingredients when possible)

1st layer: homemade refried beans: (sauté in 2 tablespoons cold pressed olive oil: 1 chopped onion, 1 green pepper and 2 cloves chopped garlic.  When onions and pepper are soft, add 2 teaspoons cumin powder.  Add 2 cups of cooked pinto beans and smash with fork.  Season to taste with Herbamare (sea salt and organic herb seasoning) and fresh ground pepper.   Taste to see if it needs more cumin and/or a touch of wheat-free Tamari.  Spread a thin layer (warm or cooled) over 2 dinner plates (leaving the edges clear).
2nd layer: ½ package organic taco seasoning mixed with ½ cup organic plain yogurt and ¼ cup of Veganase (vegan mayonnaise).  Spread gently over beans
3rd layer:   mix 1 mashed avocado with  ½ lemon and spread over the 2nd layer
4th layer:  finely chop scallions and sprinkle over the avocado layer.
5th layer:  finely chop pitted olives and sprinkle over scallions  
6th layer:  chop fresh tomatoes and add to previous layers
7th layer: sprinkle lightly with shredded organic cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese.  Place organic corn chips around the edges


My Mo-Garita recipe
(these are not sweet and are very strong… so, adjust to your taste and tolerance)

Makes enough for 6 martini glasses or 12 small glasses
Squeeze the juice from 6 organic limes and 2 organic oranges
Mix with 10 oz of Don Julio, Tres Generations, Patron or other high grade, pure agave  tequila
Add 4 oz of Grand Marnier, Cointreau or Triple Sec
Add 1 cup of ice and shake well.
Garnish glasses with wedge of fresh lime


Maureen McDonnell has been a registered nurse for 35 years (in the fields of: childbirth education, labor and delivery, clinical nutrition, and pediatrics.) She is the former national coordinator of the Defeat Autism Now Conferences, and the co-founder of Saving Our Kids, Healing Our Planet ( Maureen lectures widely on the role the environment and nutrition play in women and children’s health. She is the health editor of WNC Woman Magazine and owner of Nutritionist’s Choice Inc. Presently, Maureen serves as the Medical Coordinator of the Imus Ranch for Kids with Cancer and is a featured blogger at She and her husband have five grandkids, and feel blessed to be living in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina (where they love to throw healthy parties.)

Written by Maureen “Mo” McDonnell, BS, RN