Healthy holiday appetizers will help you stick to your eating plan and stay healthy throughout the holiday season.
My eyes scanned the appetizers at my friend’s Christmas party, searching for something – anything – I could eat without feeling a pang of regret later.
I felt a growl in my stomach and that tingling of my mouth just starting to water at the smell of baked brie, cheesy quiche, and gloriously buttery pastries. Dejected, I hung my head and walked away, dhoulders slumped, silently chiding myself for not having eaten before I came.
It wasn’t my friend’s fault. It’s not her job to cater to my diet and lifestyle. That’s MY job! And I had failed.
I stood there, biting my lip, fists clenched and turning white. I’d known her party wouldn’t be laid with a dazzling display of healthy holiday appetizers. I was mad… At myself. Why didn’t I eat before? Better yet, why didn’t I bring something healthy to share? What was I thinking?
For many of us, “healthy” and “holidays” don’t belong in the same sentence. In fact, it’s kind of expected in American culture that we’ll gain some weight over the holidays.
Decadent meals, delightful sweets, and an endless stream of food gifts are dangled in front of us for the better part of 3 months. When January hits, we’re making a new year’s resolution to lose weight… again.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Here, a list of 16 healthy holiday appetizers that celebrate the season without tipping the scales.
What Do You Mean by “Healthy?”
These days, “healthy” food means something different to each of us. The 16 recipes below are pulled from my favorite healthy food blogs and websites. Some are vegan. Some are gluten-free or dairy-free. However, they are all lighter in sugar and fats (And therefore, calories) than traditional holiday dishes.
The Ties That Bind
Before we get to the recipes, let’s take a look at what they have in common.
- Cooking for flavor. Many recipes on the list below rely on a cooking technique to deepen the flavors of healthy veggies. Baking, roasting, sautéing and grilling are a few of the techniques you’ll find below.
- A little decadence goes a long way. Several of the recipes include bacon, cheese, nuts… and one even features chocolate. They each include just a touch of these rich, flavorful ingredients. As a result, you get to enjoy the flavor without going overboard on calories.
- Using herbs and spices to amplify taste. Good seasoning is key to keeping these light dishes out of bland territory. Basil, paprika, thyme, and loads of other herbs and spices are expertly added to deliver maximum flavor.
- Lighter alternatives to traditional ingredients. A few of the recipes call for reduced-fat versions of yogurt, mayonnaise, or cream cheese. Others substitute veggies or beans in place of traditional, higher-calorie ingredients.
Healthy Holiday Appetizers
Baked Buffalo Cauliflower from Life Tastes Good
These delicious little cauliflower nuggets will have your guests begging for more. Simple seasoning is key to this recipe’s ease. It also includes a recipe for dairy-free ranch dressing!
Sweet Potato Avocado Bites from Well Plated by Erin
A perfect balance of flavors makes these bites truly mouthwatering. And at only about 31 calories apiece, you can afford seconds and thirds! Sweet potatoes have a coziness that feels just right during the holidays. The bacon adds a hint of decadence that makes this dish feel indulgent.
Tortelloni Kebobs from Food Network
Satisfy that pasta craving with these little beauties. The best part? Automatic portion control. Plus, it would be fun to experiment with different flavors for the holidays. Skewers packed with sweet potato ravioli and sautéed mushrooms sounds fantastic for a holiday gathering.
Tomato Basil White Bean Dip from Peas & Crayons
Tomato basil anything is fantastic during holidays. In addition to being freaking tasty, this recipe is vegan, gluten-free, full of heart-healthy olive oil, and a great source of protein. Just don’t get caught under the mistletoe – it also boasts 4 cloves of garlic.
Mediterranean 7-Layer Dip from Cookin’ Canuck
This one looks like Christmas in a casserole dish. A hummus-based dip, it also incorporates nonfat Greek yogurt. Artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, and olives round out the flavor profile of this colorful dip. It’ll have you dreaming of sandy Greek beaches in the dead of winter.
Oven-Roasted Chickpeas from The Kitchn
Chickpeas roasting on an open fire? Well, not quite. These little babies DO give chestnuts a run for their money, though. The Kitchn suggests several possible spices. You could experiment and bake up a few different batches to offer your guests some variety. Best of all, they’re packed with protein.
Baked Pears with Honey and Gorgonzola from Happy Kitchen.Rocks
You’d think that this rich-sounding dessert would have a calorie count higher than the North Pole. But small quantities of these decadent ingredients pare this dish to under 100 calories… For an entire half-pear appetizer. This is one healthy holiday appetizer you won’t want to miss.
Warm Spinach and Artichoke Dip from Food Network
I’m still a sucker for creamy, rich spinach artichoke dip. This one uses reduced-fat versions of the classic ingredients to lighten things up. You won’t even miss the extra fat (I sure didn’t!).
Chocolate Bruschetta from Cooking Light
Yes, you read that right. Bread topped with chocolate. Orange zest and sea salt steer this little gem away from dessert zone and right into the appetizer lineup. At 150 calories a pop, I’d say it’s worth the splurge.
One Bite Wedge Salad from Health.com
This recipe uses real. bacon. The secret to delivering the satisfying flavors of wedge salad without sabotaging your eating plan? A super-simple (And seriously lightened up) homemade blue cheese salad dressing.
Roasted Red Pepper Dip from Well Plated by Erin
This one is incredibly quick and easy to throw together. Roasted red peppers pack intense flavor, while cannellini beans work behind the scenes to create a hearty, protein-rich base.
Crispy Green Bean Fries from Womanista (Formerly Skinny Mom)
We all love the crispy, crunchy, fried goodness of just about anything. Why not serve these baked green bean fries as a healthy appetizer at your holiday party? Such an easy (and tasty) way to sneak in some vegetables.
Polenta Squares with Mushroom Ragu from Food Network
Leave it to Giada De Laurentiis to come up with a completely new spin on comfort food. These classy little bites are made with marsala wine and flavorful cremini mushrooms. They clock in at just 25 calories each.
Asparagus and Caramelized Onion Tartlets from Skinnytaste
These cute little tartlets are a breeze to prepare. They use pre-made phyllo shells and take just 30 minutes to make. With sautéed esparagus, caramelized onion, and parmesan cheese, they won’t leave you hangin’ in the flavor department.
Bourbon-Glazed Cocktail Sausages from Eating Well
Ah, the cocktail sausage. The cliché of holiday parties. Not in this case, though. Reduced sugar apricot preserves and a little pour of bourbon push these back over the line from passé to cool.
Balsamic-Drizzled Roasted Red Pepper & Eggplant with Feta from Nutrition Twins
Grilled veggies up the flavor factor of this decadent-looking bite. Feta brings the salty, balsamic vinegar brings the sweet. They all meet up for a party in your mouth!
Holiday gatherings don’t have to mean high-calorie foods. It’s just as easy (And just as yummy) to create healthy holiday appetizers. The 15 recipes above only scratch the surface of light, fantastic-tasting appetizers waiting to grace your holiday buffet. Eat smart this holiday season, and cross “lose weight” off of your list of new year’s resolutions.
Next time I’m invited to a party, you can bet I’ll bring one of these healthy holiday appetizers to share. When I feel that pang of hunger and the tingle of my mouth watering at the smell of holiday goodness, I won’t be left standing there with an empty stomach.
P.S. – Planning Thanksgiving dinner? Check out my list of 15 healthy Thanksgiving recipes!