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Theme nights for family dinner

Karen Leland is the bestselling author of Time Management in an Instant: 60 Ways to Make the Most of Your Day. She is featured columnist for The Huffington Post Living section. Read her blog and contact her at

Inspire your tribe with an island-style meal

The warm trade winds blow, palm trees sway against a silky blue sky, and the scent of gardenias fills the air. If you want to take a tropical trip without the hassle of hopping on a plane, throw an island-style meal instead. Teri Tsang Barrett, food editor at Every Day with Rachel Ray, offers these five fun and easy ways to bring the breezy, easy feel of the islands to your next theme-night family dinner.

Inspire your tribe with an island-style meal

Use coconut as a condiment

For an instant hint of the tropics, just add a dash of coconut. Barrett says simply sprinkling toasted coconut on the top of a chicken dish, seafood, rice, vanilla ice cream or even a cupcake creates an island vibe.

Eat with your hands

"When you think of a tropical meal, rib roast is not what comes to mind," says Barrett. Instead, go for lighter foods that reflect the laid-back nature of the islands. Lettuce wraps, fish tacos, grilled shrimp, teriyaki chicken wings and kabobs are enough of a finger food to give everyone at the table a hands-on eating experience.

Have fun with fruits

Nothing shouts island style like bananas, mangos and pineapples. "Just seeing these tropical fruits on the table sets the ambience," says Barrett. One easy way to add these tropical gems to your meal is to substitute them for other ingredients. Try making fajitas with pineapple instead of peppers, or trading out mango and pineapple pieces for zucchini in chicken kebabs.

Deck out your table

For a table that says "Aloha," forgo the serious china and break out the colorful dishware. Barrett suggests using inexpensive melamine plates (available at Target and other retailers) in bright tropical colors. Use a few colored scarves as table runners, put one tropical flower (such as a bird of paradise or a hibiscus) on the table, and you're good to go.

Dress up your water

Transform plain drinking water into a tropical treat by adding any combination of cucumbers, lemons, limes and tropical fruit slices, such as kiwi, mango and pineapple. To really make an island impression, buy a few edible flowers and freeze them in ice cubes to use in the flavored water.

Tropical Water

Serves 8

The fruity taste of this simple flavored water will have your family up and doing the hula before the night is over.

1/2 gallon spring water
1 lemon, cut into slices
1 lime, cut into slices
1/2 orange, cut into slices
1/2 mango, cut into cubes

Combine all ingredients into one large pitcher. Stir and let sit for several hours in the refrigerator.

More tropical cuisine ideas

Exotic food: Carpaccio recipes
Meyer lemon recipes
Crab recipes: Succulent and low in carbs

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