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How to Throw a Healthy Holiday Party

How many times have you attended a party and been relegated to munching on raw carrots for the evening?

Parties, as much as we love them, can be some of our biggest eating challenges. With the chip and cracker staples and the overflowing dessert table, it’s little wonder the best advice is often to eat before you go.

When the party is yours to host or when you have the chance to share a dish (or two), however, suddenly the spread can become a lot more health-friendly.

What would a better buffet look like to you? How could you remake a party menu in the Healthy Way of Eating spirit?

Whether you’re planning a full holiday event or just adding to a friendly potluck, consider these tips for putting filling and healthy fare on the party table. (And in case you’re wondering...why not use the ideas to create a fun family “snack” dinner or an indulgent stay-in evening for yourself?) Choose your favorites!

Put Some Meat on the Menu.

One of the reasons people constantly go back to the party spread: there’s usually little to no real “filling” food. Empty carbs might taste good in the moment, but you’ll be grazing on them all evening if there’s nothing more substantial to be had.

The same principle holds true for party planning as does for our daily diet: think protein. There’s a little more preparation (and expense) involved, but it’s how a party buffet really can replace dinner. Consider these ideas for adding substance to your spread.

  • Cocktail Meatballs (Serve with a healthy sauce of your choice.)
  • Shrimp Cocktail
  • Beef, Pepper and Pearl Onion Skewers (Use 4 inch wooden skewers sold at party and specialty kitchen stores.)
  • Endive Lettuce with Seafood Salad
  • Nitrate-Free Smokies (Serve with a homemade/low sugar commercial BBQ sauce or flavorful mustard.) 
  • Ham and Pineapple Skewers
  • Cold Cut Triangles (Cut, stack and serve assorted no-nitrate cold cuts on cocktail toothpicks garnished with small olives, cheese cubes or artichoke pieces.)
  • Pork and Apple Skewers 
  • Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms
  • Bacon/Prosciutto-Wrap (with one of the following inside): Sweet Potato Cubes, Cherry Tomato Halves, Chicken Cubes or Pecans
  • Chicken, Roasted Red Onion and Avocado Skewers
  • Individual Baby Back or Short Ribs
  • Lox on Cucumber Slices or Nut Flour Crackers

Dress up the Vegetables.

Sure, there’s the proverbial veggie tray. By all means go with it, but expand on the idea for something more enticing and filling!

Make vegetables a healthy base for countless appetizer combinations, and enhance their appeal with healthy dips. Alternatively, pair them with yummy proteins. Think of your veggies as vehicles for other flavors.

  • Antipasto Platter (Try a variety of olives, artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes, pepperoncinis, pickles/pickled veggies, garlicky green beans, pickled/deviled eggs, etc.)
  • Caprese Skewers (Again, use four inch wooden skewers, and alternate basil leaves, cherry tomatoes and small mozzarella balls. Put out your vinaigrette of choice for dipping.)
  • Guacamole Filled Cherry Tomatoes or Pepperoncinis
  • Artichoke Dip Stuffed Mushrooms 
  • Endive Lettuce with Egg Salad or Homemade Coleslaw
  • Salad Cups (Look for small, decorative paper cups or use your own small bowls and create individual servings of your favorite salads.)

Don’t Write off Assorted Crunchies.

Let’s face it. At most parties, it’s the bulk of the spread.

Unfortunately, these are exactly the kinds of snacks that we should be avoiding - high carb, highly processed, low nutrient food products. Simply choose better, homemade options that offer all the satisfaction without all the additives, preservatives and unhealthy oils.

  • Spiced or Sea Salt Nuts 
  • Nut Crackers (e.g. almond thins)
  • Cheese Crisps (How about cheese as the cracker? Bake small, thin cheese squares or - better yet - circles of seasoned shredded cheese at 350 degrees for 5-6 minutes on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Voila! You’ve got cheese "crackers.")
  • Root Vegetable Chips (e.g. celeriac, sweet potato or beet) 
  • Plantain Chips 
  • Homemade Dips (Think vegetable and bean based dips like hummus, pesto, guacamole or natural sour cream dips with fresh chives and green onion.)

Do Dessert Differently.

Dessert doesn’t have to be the sugar haul we’re used to.

If it’s your party, you can serve whatever you feel comfortable eating. If you’re just contributing to the party spread, know that others might appreciate enjoying an after-meal treat that doesn’t send them into sugar shock

  • Small Berry Kabobs
  • Fruit and Cheese Pairings (Find pairing suggestions online or ask the cheesemonger at a better grocer for suggestions.)
  • Refrigerator Fudge with Cranberries and Pistachios 
  • Individual Dessert Salads (Think baby spinach, pear slices, pomegranate seeds, raspberries, lemon juice, hazelnut oil, toasted pecans, sea salt and a splash of apple cider.)
  • Lightly Glazed and Roasted Nuts and Seeds
  • Dark Chocolate Nut Bark with Sea Salt
  • Good Coffee or Espresso (Serve with coconut milk or organic half and half that you’ve flavored with a few drops of natural vanilla or hazelnut extract.)

Would you like more tips for staying on plan during your holiday parties? Talk with one of our registered dietitians today. Thanks for reading.

Written by Jennifer Wannen, Content Manager

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.


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