Alesa Fisher Michalek, a registered dietitian, teaches nutrition and weight management classes at Hinsdale Hospital's Center for Health Promotion. This article is provided by the Department of Health and Temperance of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Food has long been a common ground for bringing family and friends together. The holidays of Christmas, Thanks giving, and even the Fourth of July are social celebrations involving friends, family, and food. The home, office, or outdoors are the gathering grounds to renew old relationships and to initiate new ones.

The church potluck brings the church family together and enables them to show hospitality to new members and visitors. It can also be a means of evangelizing non-Adventists, who may accompany a friend or family member to the Sabbath feast.

These meals provide not only a social get-together, but an opportune means of nutrition education as well. Members enjoy the chance to taste one another's cooking and to share recipes. Many receive their first exposure to vegetarian cooking at these meals.

Unfortunately, at these feasts the tables are often laden with the richest casseroles, salads, and desserts. Many church cooks want to bring their tastiest dishes to the dinner--usually those highest in fat and calories.

Dieters may give up in despair when they see the multitude of temptations. Others may find in the dinner an excuse to overindulge. Members and visitors are urged to help themselves to seconds and thirds so that no food will be left. After these willing participants have over eaten, the dessert table is unveiled, with an array of delectables that can at times be as extensive as the rest of the meal. It is not uncommon to see plates heaped with second helpings of desserts finding their way back to the table.

After this overconsumption, members and visitors often sit and talk. Becoming sleepy in a very short time, many go home to engage in "lay activities."

To overcome these problems, churches need a planning committee that will turn these potlucks into the exemplary meals they can be. Their potential for nutrition education is enormous. Participants can learn good nutrition and tasty cooking that they can make part of their practice at home. Members who have only bits of nutritional knowledge will learn how to apply this knowledge to prepare well-balanced meals for their families. Their palate may soon convince them that eating nutritious vegetarian meals at home can be a delicious proposition.

Planning the potluck

A committee consisting of new and longtime church members and a tactful chairperson should tailor for the potluck a plan that meets the needs of the church. The menu should comprise three or four main items, including an entree, vegetable, and salad, complemented by bread, a beverage, and a simple dessert. The meal should have a variety of colors and textures to make it visually appealing.

The recipes chosen should be tasty, easily prepared, inexpensive, attractive, and nutritious. They should use readily available ingredients, and should have a low proportion of the following:

Fats—nuts, cream cheese, cheese, whole milk, eggs, sour cream, margarine, butter, oil, coconut, shortening, olives, avocados, mayonnaise, and salad dressing. Many recipes can cut sources of fat in half and still be tasty. Or lower-fat ingredients can be substituted for those the recipe calls for; use instead "lite" cream cheese, sour cream, and margarine; part-skim-milk cheese; two egg whites for every egg called for; 2 percent or skim milk; low-fat yogurt in place of sour cream; and "lite" salad dressings and mayonnaise.

Salty ingredients—salt, baking powder, baking soda, MSG, soy sauce, vegetable broth or chicken-style seasoning, pickles, olives, sauerkraut, processed cheese, garlic and onion salt, seasoned salt, canned soup and vegetables, and other processed foods. You may be able to substitute saltless commercial herb mixes; low-sodium soy sauce, soups, and vegetables; garlic and onion powder; lemon juice; and herbs. The salt in a recipe can often be reduced or eliminated.

Sugars—white sugar, brown sugar, turbinado sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, corn syrup, fructose, and dates and other dried fruits. The sugar content in many recipes can be halved, or, depending on the dish, replaced with fresh fruit or unsweetened frozen fruit. In a banana bread recipe, for example, the sugar can be cut in half and the bananas doubled. This makes for a superior, moister bread.

Keep in mind that dried fruits have very concentrated sugar and contain the same simple sugars as white sugar or honey. Use them in moderation. And do not replace sugar with sugar substitutes.

A dessert can be tantalizing and yet low in sugar. Some suggestions are oatmeal cookies, nut breads, fruit muffins, fruit cobblers or crisps, frozen fruit salad with a few nuts for crunch, and the many variations of these desserts. Using vanilla or a small amount of cinnamon, honey, or brown sugar along with fruit makes a recipe taste sweeter than it actually is.

The potluck planning committee can supervise the assigning of cooking duties in the church, making assignments by Sabbath school class, age group, or letter of the alphabet. A very effective way to organize this is to print the planned menu and recipes on the back of the church bulletin or in a bulletin insert. These recipes not only form the basis for the potluck; they introduce members to nutritious vegetarian meals they can serve in their own homes. The planning committee may decide to compile these and other recipes, as well as nutrition guide lines into a church cookbook.

To avoid stereotyped meals, the committee could occasionally plan a potluck around a theme: Christmas, Esther's feast, or a variety of ethnic themes. Or they might try a soup-and-salad bar meal for variety.

If your church does not want their potlucks to be quite so structured, the coordinator could suggest the type of entree to be featured at the potluck--for example, vegetarian patties with gravy--allowing the members to use their own recipes. Sabbath morning the member; would deliver the food they had prepared to the kitchen, where the hostess would sort the food into categories. Before the potluck begins, the food would be set on two tables and placed according to category--entree, vegetable, salad, etc.--on each table, with not more than four dishes from a category set out at a time The hostess would then replace the dishes as needed. (It might be necessary to rotate the dishes on the table with those in the kitchen so that all dishes an placed on the buffet tables at one time or another, and no dish is left untouched.)

With a little more planning we can reduce the liabilities our potlucks pose, while retaining the fellowship they afford. We can enhance our union with our friends--and not the size of our bodies!

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Alesa Fisher Michalek, a registered dietitian, teaches nutrition and weight management classes at Hinsdale Hospital's Center for Health Promotion. This article is provided by the Department of Health and Temperance of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

June 1988

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