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How NOT to Entertain Dinner Guests

September 21, 2011

Okay, readers, here’s my tip of the day. When you are entertaining and having dinner guests, do not – I repeat – DO NOT serve as your main dish a recipe from the Jenny Craig cookbook.

Many years ago, Bryan and I were a young (boring) married couple living in a condo with no child or pets. We were thrilled to accept a dinner invitation to a friend’s new home. Even though we may have been boring, we were young and jumped at the chance to leave the house (as opposed to today where we never leave the house).

We both met the host couple before, but this was the first dinner invitation we received from them. When we entered the house, there were no aromas of a home-cooked dinner wafting in the air.  We are having dinner, aren’t we? I wondered.

We breathed a sigh of relief as our hostess led us to the dinner table for our feast. She prepared — chicken parmesan with pasta. Being the Italian-food lovers Bryan and I are, we couldn’t wait to dig into this savory delicacy.

Yet when she gave us our plates, something seemed amiss. The pasta was bare. The chicken looked very dry. And most importantly, where is the cheese?! I took one bite of the chicken (in which the breading actually stuck to the roof of my mouth) and realized it was the most flavorless dinner I’d ever eaten.

Is this a joke? I’m wondering. What kind of dinner is this?! I felt like Peppermint Patty when she was served a Thanksgiving “feast” of toast, popcorn, pretzels and jelly beans from Charlie Brown and Snoopy.

And then our hostess said the words I will never forget …

“Since I work at Jenny Craig, I always cook from the Jenny Craig cookbook. Tonight’s dinner is one of our favorites from the book.”

So THAT was it! This low-sodium, low-fat, low-calorie food was also low – very low – on taste. Being the polite guest I was, I didn’t dare reach for salt to put on the chicken. And even when she brought out the container of salt, it was actually a substitute. Even the salt was fake!

I kept telling myself to be polite and eat the dinner. Bryan and I could always high-tale it to a drive-thru on the way home. Thank goodness she had the good sense to serve an Entenmann’s pastry for dessert. Not the best desserts in my opinion, but better than the Jenny Craig special.

Several hours later Bryan and I thanked our dinner hosts and wished them good night. We got in the car, looked at each other and burst out laughing. Truth be told, I felt sorry for the husband. If he thought that dinner was good, imagine what would happen if he ate one of my dishes. Or even a Costco take-and-bake dinner.

I’m telling you this story not to rant against Jenny Craig or any diet program for that matter. It’s simply a story about how a starving couple was served a tasteless low-fat, low-calorie dinner that was called gourmet entertainment.

The point is when you’re entertaining, think of your guests and not just about you. Splurge and make something with – I don’t know – butter or real salt. Move beyond the comfort zone.

Bryan and I have not seen that couple in nearly ten years. This was not a decision based on that dinner. Just time and life happening. But I do often wonder about them — how they are doing; what jobs they have; their kids’ names; and most importantly, if they’re still eating from the Jenny Craig cookbook.

38 Comments leave one →
  1. September 21, 2011 4:04 am

    Funny! We still remember being invited to friends and when we arrived (Friday night)- she hadn’t even begun roasting a huge chicken- I couldn’t believe it. We had to wait two hours to eat and I ate too many snacks, drank too much wine, and was bored. By the time that chicken was done I couldn’t have cared if it was Jenny Craig or Martha Stewart. I was tired! If we have people over, it’s about 1/2 of snacks and then dinner! No more!

    • September 22, 2011 9:30 pm

      Completely agree with you. I remember going to someone’s house and it was like that too. Waited two hours until dinner. Rude!

  2. September 21, 2011 5:39 am

    love it! I married an Italian from NJ that grew up on homemade pasta and gravy, a grandfather that lived with them (he also cooked) and an uncle (a butcher) that lived next door. I’m a disaster in the kitchen. When we first married, I thought it would be nice to make him breakfast in bed and made garlic eggs ~ Italians love garlic, right? ~ apparently not in eggs. Epic fail.

    xoxo michele

    • September 22, 2011 9:31 pm

      That’s news to me about the garlic and eggs. Then again, I’m not Italian. At least you live with some great cooks.

  3. September 21, 2011 5:44 am

    How you made it through the meal without either one of you laughing is a success. I have no doubts one of us would have started smiling. And if my sister and I were there together? We’d have been kicked out for sure.

    • September 22, 2011 9:31 pm

      Inside, we were cracking up! We still laugh about it to this day.

  4. September 21, 2011 6:35 am

    I hate to think what some of our dinner guests have thought of some of my culinary disasters. I do, however, err on the side of too much butter and too much cheese.

    • September 22, 2011 9:32 pm

      Exactly, Shary! Always air on the side of too much butter and salt and you won’t go wrong.

  5. September 21, 2011 6:53 am

    OH. MY. WORD. That is hilarious. I vow to never make Jenny Craig for guests- or ever, for that matter!

    • September 22, 2011 9:32 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed this. And I’m glad for your future guests that you won’t make Jenny Craig. Although given your recipes, I doubt you would ever have done that.

  6. September 21, 2011 6:57 am

    Yeah, I’m all for making “healthy” dinners (or at least picking them up from Whole Foods) when it’s just me, but if you are entertaining, it’s time to indulge! I like how you have switched to your Fall header as well 🙂

    • September 22, 2011 9:33 pm

      Let me say for the record that I would have been thrilled with Whole Foods take-out for dinner. Anything but tasteless food. And glad you like the new header.

  7. September 21, 2011 8:14 am

    When I read first few words, I though you wrote about how you served Jenny Craig dinner and thought Oh NOOOOOOO not Leah! and I was right, it was not you, phewwwww now I can carry on with my day! 🙂

    • September 22, 2011 9:33 pm

      I’m so glad your opinion of me has not changed! You know me well.

  8. September 21, 2011 11:18 am

    Classic tale! I may be guilty of many hostess “no-nos” – but at least I try to serve food that is tasty (if not homemade, sorry!).

    • September 22, 2011 9:34 pm

      I’m sure your dinners are nothing less than tasty. I’ve seen what you bring to potlucks — you’re okay in my book!

  9. September 21, 2011 11:23 am

    That is a great story and one that begged to be told; Thank you for sharing it with all of us!

    It brings to mind an experience Hubbs and I had; newly married & new in town, we accepted an invitation to a holiday dinner. “How nice,” we thought. We didn’t know that the hostess didn’t cook .. and everything was from the local Kroger supermarket. We did our best to be gracious … but we still giggle about that holiday meal.

    Cheers! MJ

    • September 22, 2011 9:35 pm

      What a great story, MJ! I can see where Krogers gives a new meaning to “holiday meal.” Too funny!

  10. September 21, 2011 6:18 pm

    Loved the Peppermint Patty analogy! You’re so great with words, Boo!

    • September 22, 2011 9:35 pm

      After I wrote that, I realized that some people – including Kayli and Sophie – would probably say that the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving dinner is a great feast.

  11. September 21, 2011 8:22 pm

    When I was first married we invited a couple over. I made Pastitsio, and it took me so long and used every dish I owned, so that I was exhausted by the time it was done. It made a huge dish, so I thought there would be lots for the four of us. When I brought it to the table my husband looked at me as if to say: “and, and, and where’s the rest? Take it out quick!” Needless to say there was no more ‘and’, and this English girl hadn’t got used to salads, buns, fancy drinks, pickles etc. with a meal. The worst thing was our company took tiny servings as if we were poverty stricken. We were both SO embarrassed!

    • September 22, 2011 9:36 pm

      That’s a great story, Elizabeth! I love pastitsio, by the way.

  12. September 21, 2011 8:26 pm

    I don’t understand people like that. Why would a person deliberately serve tasteless culinary dishes? mmm, I bet she got to deduct the dinner on her taxes for serving the dishes and mentioning Jenny Craig and she may have even got brownie points for a bonus… lol or not.
    Interesting post as usual. Thanks for sharing your curious dinner nite out,

    Did you get a chance to read the comments I made on some of the posts you listed for your 7 challenge?

    • September 22, 2011 9:37 pm

      Oh, that’s a good point about deducting the cost of dinner! Hadn’t though of that before!

  13. September 21, 2011 8:34 pm

    Oh, My! Even I know better! When we have guests I always take that as the opportunity to go crazy! (Fortunately, my guests know they’ll be guinea pigs on at least one dish)

    I promise, if you’re ever at my house….dinner will be MUCH better and we’ll have a bottle of wine on the table and toast to Jenny Craig and her chicken, and your friends!

    • September 22, 2011 9:37 pm

      Your dishes are amazing! I have no doubt you would serve anything but great food.

  14. September 21, 2011 10:11 pm

    Funny story! If someone offered me fake salt, they might not live to regret it!

    • September 22, 2011 9:38 pm

      The experience made me think I should always travel with a vial of Kosher salt. I could always say it was for religious purposes.

  15. September 22, 2011 12:00 pm

    That’s really funny and your advice to think of your guests and not you is spot on. That’s the whole point of cooking FOR someone. We recently had a couple over and I made an amazing vegetarian enchilada casserole that I probably wouldn’t have tried on my own.

    • September 22, 2011 9:39 pm

      Exactly, what better way to try new recipes! That sounds delicious by the way. Feel free to share the recipe.

  16. September 22, 2011 6:00 pm

    I ate a Thanksgiving dinner like this last year. Blah! This year we are heading to Santa Fe for a flavorful meal!

    • September 22, 2011 9:39 pm

      Yuck! I’m sure Santa Fe will be much better.

  17. September 22, 2011 6:24 pm

    Oh, that’s priceless. That’s the complete opposite of my dining philosophy. I like inviting couples over as an excuse to splurge on a something buttery/salty/tasty/etc. Well, that and to have an excuse to clean the house better.

    • September 22, 2011 9:39 pm

      Completely agree with you, Allison. It’s a great excuse to indulge. Afterall, you can’t be stingy with flavor with guests.

  18. helen permalink
    September 23, 2011 1:27 pm

    I always see entertaining as an opportunity to spoil people I love and don’t get to see often enough. Unless someone has a dietary restriction, it’s generous amounts of butter, sugar, salt and gluten. Often chocolate.

  19. September 23, 2011 4:44 pm

    “Is this a joke? I’m wondering. What kind of dinner is this?! I felt like Peppermint Patty…”

    Too funny. We can be skinny when we’re dead.

  20. Lena permalink
    September 29, 2011 10:36 am

    HILARIOUS Leah!!!! And I can tell by the number of comments on here that many agree also. I do go back and forth on my diets but try to not to take it out on guests — just because I’m suffering, does not mean they need to!

  21. October 2, 2011 10:40 am

    I know I am way late to reading this, Leah… but how FUNNY. I thought you were going to say that it was Jenny Craig pre-made meals frozen from a box and that she pulled it out of the freezer, popped it in the microwave and zapped it right in front of you. Now THAT would have been nuts. Thanks for sharing.

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