Everyone needs to socialize. Spending time with friends isn’t just a good way to keep in touch: Studies show that making and maintaining friendships can have significant positive effects on your mental and physical health. Having a strong support network can help reduce stress, improve confidence and even encourage you to make healthier lifestyle choices. One study even found that regularly socializing was as effective for reducing rates of depression in seniors as regular exercise. Hanging out can be as important to active senior living as hitting the gym.

Given how busy schedules become, many adults find it hard to maintain friendships at the level they would like. A great way to stay connected with those closest to you is to take the initiative and invite your friends over for a dinner party. Dinner parties provide a perfect way to facilitate conversation and connection, and regularly scheduling them gives you the opportunity to see your friends on a somewhat regular basis. If you meet once every week or two, you don’t have to worry about losing touch: you know you’ll see them soon.

Who to invite

How you choose the guests at your dinner party comes down to what kind of get-together you want to have. Generally speaking, the fewer people you invite, the more time you’ll get to spend with your guests. That said, as your numbers decrease, the bonds between people need to be stronger: a dinner party of four needs all four people to be compatible for conversation to flow naturally. Six to eight guests is a good number for keeping everyone talking and preventing the natural ebb and flow of conversation to lead to awkward silences. If you invite more people than eight, you might consider reaching out to guests you trust and asking them to bring a course for the meal. Cooking for a large group can be exhausting, and you want to be able to enjoy your own party.

What to serve
A traditional dinner party involves an appetizer, main course and dessert, but really it is up to you! If you do include appetizers, it’s better to have too few than too many. Your main course should be the focus of the dinner, so you don’t want people filling up on carrot sticks. For the main course, prepare a dish that doesn’t require a lot of active cooking so that you can mingle with guests during your party, and pick something you’ve made before. Use desserts to balance the meal: if your main course was light, you can go for a rich dessert like cheesecake. If your guests have just eaten something heavy, a fruit dish or sorbet is the way to go.

Party themes
For your first dinner party, you’ll want to keep it simple. As you have more parties, you can begin setting a theme for each, encouraging guests to dress up or bring dishes that fit the evening. Themes could be linked to holidays, or you could draw inspiration from a book or movie. Don’t be afraid to have something silly, and let your theme guide your plan for the night. This way each dinner party is different, and you avoid having the same conversations each time you meet up.

General tips
• When you’re hosting a dinner party, be sure to talk to guests about dietary concerns or allergies.
• Don’t make a new dish for the first time on party night.
• Be mindful of food safety when leaving out spreads or dressings, and make sure anything that can spoil is kept cold.
• If you have music on, be sure to keep it at a low volume to foster great conversation, particularly if you have a guest with hearing loss.
• You don’t have to stay indoors: If the weather is nice, head to the patio or a nearby park.

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