Healthy Holiday Appetizers and Finger Foods

Delicious and healthy hummus dip is a great alternative to cheesy, mayonnaise-rich holiday dips.
Delicious and healthy hummus dip is a great alternative to cheesy, mayonnaise-rich holiday dips.
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When about the healthiest thing on the party circuit is a bowl of salted nuts, you know the standard New Year's resolution isn't far off.

How nice would it be to end December at your mid-November weight? The average 1-pound weight gain over the holidays seems insignificant, but most people never lose that pound [source: Parker-Pope]. Over a lifetime, festivity weight adds up -- and pigs-in-blankets, chips and cheesy spinach dips are at least partly to blame.


It may seem inevitable that these high-fat, high-calorie foods accompany the mingling: They're fairly easy to make, are perfect to walk around with, and almost everybody absolutely loves them.

But hosts who want to go a healthier route need not disappoint their guests. Lower-calorie, lower-fat foods can be just as tasty as a classic -- you just have to know where to look. Some traditional appetizers are actually quite healthy as it is; and in so many other cases, it's simply a matter of tweaking the standby.

Here, just a few of the ways to lighten up the cocktail hour without losing any appeal. For starters, you are allowed to dip a carrot in something other than saturated fat ...


Better (and Still Delicious) Dips

It's tough to throw a party without a dip or three on the table. The carrots might not satisfy on their own. Dips don't have to be loaded with saturated fats, a week's worth of calories and nothing in the way of an actual nutrient, though.

Hummus, for one -- a mixture of chickpeas, sesame tahini, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and seasonings -- is high on flavor and relatively low in fat (none of it saturated). It's also low in calories and sodium and relatively high in protein, iron and fiber [source: Self]. This traditional Middle Eastern dip can be spiced up with additions like roasted peppers, eggplant or lots of extra garlic.


Some other healthy dips include:

  • Light ranch salad dressing
  • Mango and bell-pepper salsa
  • Pico de gallo (salsa fresca)
  • Pureed cannellini beans with lemon juice, olive oil and garlic
  • Refried beans with fresh tomatoes and cilantro (topped with some reduced-fat cheddar)
  • Mashed eggplant baked with lemon juice, olive oil and feta

Serve with toasted whole-wheat pita, reduced-fat whole-grain crackers or veggies instead of chips.

Next, why even make them dip?



Leave it to the Mediterraneans to produce one of the tastiest, most impressive and healthiest appetizers in the book.

Bruschetta is a classic Italian preparation of toasted, thinly sliced bread, typically crusty Italian or baguette, resting beneath a variety of remarkably healthy toppings or spreads. It's often prepared before serving, so your guests needn't lift a finger, and it looks beautiful (and fancy) on the table.


Some traditional topping options include tomatoes, olive oil and herbs; olive tapenade; and mozzarella, tomatoes, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If you're looking to break the mold, switch out the white baguette with whole grain and top it with fruit over Neufchatel cheese; balsamic mushrooms and garlic; or smoked trout over minced red onions.

Smoked trout, in fact, might be one of the most under-served options when it comes to healthy, delicious, gourmet-style appetizers. It's part of an entire category of finger foods you don't have to tweak at all ...



Seafood, including fish and shellfish, is about as healthy as a food class gets. High in omega-3s, low in fat and calories, and swimming in protein, iron and B-vitamins, foods like shrimp, salmon, trout and lobster will wow your guests while filling them with nutrients.

The trick, of course, is to leave out all the cheesy, battered, fried and buttered extras that battle those nutrients for control. Even without all that, seafood is so versatile the options are pretty endless. Here's a start:


  • Shrimp cocktail
  • Smoked salmon, trout or tuna on crostini
  • Sushi, sashimi and rolls
  • Barbecued or broiled, olive-oil-brushed shrimp or salmon skewers (interspersed with zucchini, onions and/or tomatoes)
  • Steamed whole salmon, chilled and served with light dill sauce
  • Lobster or white-fish ceviche
  • Steamed oysters with horseradish, lemon juice and/or cocktail sauce

All healthy, light and perfect party fare. Still, if the high-fat party classics are just too good to give up, don't worry ...


New Takes on Old Favorites

Your typical homemade spinach dip boasts about 12 grams of fat per serving [source: MyFitnessPal]. A serving can fit on two chips. You do the math.

You don't have to leave it out this year -- just address the ingredient list. Since spinach dip is so heavy on flavor, switching out the heavy base can go unnoticed. Use light sour cream, light mayonnaise or reduced-fat cream cheese instead of the full-fat stuff, and that fat content drops to about 7 grams [source: Dr. Oz]. Replace some of that base with Greek yogurt, and you're also adding loads of extra protein and calcium.


You can do this with practically any party dip, but that's just the beginning. Try lightening up other classics with these healthy variations:

  • Pigs in a blanket: Replace pigs with low-fat turkey or chicken sausage
  • Deviled eggs: Replace regular mayo with light
  • Oysters Rockefeller: Oysters mignonette
  • Goose-liver pâté: Chicken-liver pâté
  • Fried potato chips: Baked veggie chips (see sidebar)

And what about the "healthy choice" at last year's holiday parties? Salted nuts, as far as nutrients go, typically have you covered with plenty of protein, healthy fats, fiber and vitamins. The problem on last year's party circuit? Ten percent of your daily sodium allowance per handful. Make your mixed nuts the unsalted ones. Done.

And this holiday season, may you eat well, drink up, give generously and fit into the pants you wore beforehand.

For more information on party food, healthy options and holiday classics, check out the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Dorn, Emily. "The 10 Healthiest Party Foods: A Holiday Party Guide." Fitness Magazine. (Sept. 24, 2012)
  • "Healthy Dips." Cooking Light. (Sept. 28, 2012)
  • Gallary, Christine. "Make Your Own Veggie Chips." Chow. May 10, 2011. (Sept. 28, 2012)
  • Layton, Julia. "5 Low-Sodium Cheeses." TLC Cooking. (Sept. 28, 2012)
  • "Nutrition Facts: Hummus, commercial." SELF Nutrition Data. (Sept. 28, 2012)
  • Parker-Pope, Tara. "The Skinny on Holiday Weight Gain." The New York Time. Nov. 22, 2007. (Sept. 28, 2012)
  • "Ranking Seafood: Which Fish are Most Nutritious?" Ask Dr. Sears. (Sept. 28, 2012)
  • "Todd Wilbur's Reduced-Calorie, Reduced-Fat Hot Artichoke Spinach Dip." Dr. Oz. (Sept. 28, 2012)
  • "Top-Rated Party Appetizers." Cooking Light. (Sept. 24, 2012)
  • Zimmerman, Mike and Joel Weber. "14 Healthy Cheeses You'll Love." Men's Health (via MSN Fitbie). (Sept. 24, 2012)