5 Tips for Hosting a Virtual Dinner Party

Fire off those Evites.

During these unsettling times amid the coronavirus pandemic, there's still one thing we can count on to always cheer us up: Sharing a meal with loved ones. And even though how we do that may have changed dramatically in recent weeks, technologies like FaceTime and Zoom allow us to "gather" with friends and family from afar.

One of our favorite ways to get the party started? Order a meal kit or pre-made meal delivery service with your loved ones, so everyone can cook the same meal—thanks to pre-portioned ingredients and easy-to-follow recipes. We can enjoy the same supper, and feel like we're attending a meal together, even if physically separated. Below, chefs of meal kits and meal delivery service founders weigh in on their best tips for making the most of a virtual dinner party. We don't know about you, but we're sure ready to fire off some Evites. P.S. Looking for more ways to boost your spirits right now? Check out 11 Creative Ways to Beat Loneliness.

Smiling woman having dinner looking at laptop
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1. Cooking the same meal? Video chat while you're getting busy in the kitchen.

This is a fun way to feel connected as you prep dinner with friends and family, even if you're physically separated. "Meal kits are a perfect tool for virtual cook-a-long dinner parties because you and your friends can order the same meals and cook along to the same recipes step-by-step," says Freida Hirsch, Chef at EveryPlate, a wallet-friendly meal kit service. "Since you'll all be on the same part of the recipe at the same time, you can ask questions as you go and chat during the downtime."

2. Or, cook from the same cookbook.

If you don't order a meal kit in unison with others, Whitney Tingle, Co-Founder + Co-CEO of Sakara Life, a plant-based, organic meal subscription service, suggests attendees pick a recipe from the same cookbook before your dinner party. Even if everyone is making something different, it helps to foster a sense of unity. "We love making Wild Mushroom and Corn Tacos with Spicy Slaw and Cashew Cream from our cookbook Eat Clean Play Dirty. During the dinner you can have everyone show their creation and talk about what they made," she says.

Danielle Duboise, Co-Founder + Co-CEO of Sakara Life, echoes her business partner's sentiment, adding, "Dinner parties don't always have to be grown up and sophisticated...With a young one at home, I love making something quick and easy, while also letting her get her hands dirty. The Superfood Cookie Dough Bites from [our cookbook] are made from staple pantry ingredients and ready within 30 minutes." Speaking of which, make sure recipes that you use rely on pantry and freezer staples and that each has some ingredient swap options. Which leads us to our next point...

3. Embrace ingredient swaps.

It's time to be kind to your inner perfectionist and realize it's totally okay to tweak a recipe, and actually encouraged right now. View substitutions as an opportunity to get creative and test your culinary prowess. "Ingredient swaps are a huge challenge right now, but you can turn it into a little game that you can play while you're at the virtual party. Have everyone write up a list of three-to-four ingredients that they want swap suggestions for and why," Claudia Sidoti, Principal Chef at HelloFresh, a meal kit service with an emphasis on easy-to-follow recipes. Looking for some of Sidoti's suggestions? Check out four of her go-to swaps below:

  • Fresh Basil: "Another tender herb such as parsley or chive. Avoid strong flavored tender herbs like dill and tarragon that might overpower the dish. A pinch of dried basil or if you happen to have some jared or frozen pesto, even better," she says.
  • Scallions: "[I like using] fresh chives or finely chopped shallots or red onion; third choice, finely chopped white or yellow onion," she advises.
  • Fresh Mozzarella: "[Try] regular mozzarella or even mozzarella cheese sticks, Italian cheese blends, Monterey Jack or Muenster," she offers.
  • Lemons: "Believe it or not, lime is not always the best sub for a lemon. It has a different flavor profile and can be confusing when swapped for lemon in Mediterranean and Italian Style dishes. Depending on the recipe, try white wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar or cider vinegar. In the case of Caribbean and Asian cuisine, a lime would be fine."

4. Make meal prep a group effort.

If you live with others, mobilize your household to get involved with the cooking. "I think one of the most fun dinners to cook this month was my favorite Gumbo recipe, I got my [13-year-old] daughter involved, and had her stir the roux on the stovetop while I prepped vegetables for at least an hour in our kitchen," offers Chef Justine Kelly, Executive Chef and Co-Founder of Sun Basket, a meal kit delivery service that focuses on healthy meals with organic and sustainable ingredients. "I hope to cherish this time with my family, and am able to look back and think fondly on this time we spent together and not think about all the craziness. Hopefully this sheds some fun and interesting highlights on how I am spending this time with the ones I love most."

If you live alone, the idea in tip #1 to select recipes from the same cookbook also helps create a sense of togetherness. Or, share one of your own cherished recipes for others in your crew to make in advance of mealtime. "Recently over Passover weekend, I shared my Matzo Ball Soup recipe with several close girlfriends, we all tackled the challenge with what was in our cupboards, and in the end, all shared a meal of soup virtually over FaceTime," Kelly recalls.

5. Come supper, break out the old photos.

Hungryroot delivers healthy, tasty food to your door. The meals are billed as cozy and easy, so they think a virtual dinner party should channel that spirit. Molly Rundberg-Villa, Research & Development Chef at Hungryroot suggests "pulling out some old photos or memorabilia to take a walk down memory lane," during the festivities and we love that idea of connecting through shared experiences.

If you're having a virtual gathering with, say, high school or college friends, you can also take the nostalgia factor a step farther and urge everyone to wear the kind of clothing they would wear your graduating years.

Readers, share with us: Have you hosted a virtual dinner party? We'd love to hear your favorite tips for making them festive and fun.

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