Supper Clubs Offer Convenience, Community (cont.)

After you gather a group and set the date for your first supper club gathering, avoid the stress that comes with hosting a party by remembering: This isn't a party.

A supper club is informal, a time for friends (new and old) to relax and enjoy one another's companionship. Some groups ensure that vibe by holding their first meeting -- or all of them -- at a restaurant. Most meet at private homes, however, and a great way to keep things low-key there is to follow one simple rule: The hosts don't cook.

"Hosts provide the beverages," says supper club member John Lilbell, a transportations manager in Phoenix. "Everyone else cooks!"

Even if you get the jitters the first time out, "over time, supper clubs just naturally become less stressful," says Cheung, herself part of a monthly club. "Basically, you keep it low stress by not being stressed about it ... people aren't coming to rate your food!"

Ah, food. That's the hub around which these gatherings form, so what's on a supper-club menu? Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, WebMD Weight Loss Clinic's director of nutrition and a 20-year-veteran of her own supper club, says that theme menus not only ensure culinary variety, but "allow you to add your own fun and personal touches."

Themes can touch on common passions (a sport, the Oscars), new tastes (Caribbean, Thai), or just a desire to eat healthfully.

"Our 2-year-old club has had just about every ethnic and/or region as a theme," says Indianapolis resident Nancy Smith, a graphic designer. "Favorites have been Italian and Mexican," and have also included "Mardi Gras (Cajun/Creole), breakfast for dinner (brunch-style foods), January beach party, Kentucky Derby, and soup samplers. ... Tomorrow night we're having our first food-on-a-stick dinner: shish kebab and fondue!"

While variety may be the spice of life, what if someone in your club dislikes spice or is eating low-carb? Menus with multiple dishes fit the bill. Vegetarian Suzanne Lilbell always brings a dish that she can eat, although she's not expecting anyone to convert to her diet. Yet "more often than not, one of the dishes that others provide is vegetarian-friendly, which is very nice!"

"I'm pro anything that gets people cooking again."

That flexibility is one of the best features of a supper club: Even if you're not verging on becoming vegetarian or have no curiosity about carb-cutting, clubs are the ideal environment to expand your taste horizons, as well as to share and reinforce goals -- like maintaining your weight.

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