Healthy Holiday Party Food: 10 Tips + 3 Recipes

Healthy eating at your holiday party

Last year I created a seven-course dinner to ring in 2007. But when I tallied the nutritional information, I realized I was serving my guests a meal that weighed in at well over 3,000 calories. Yikes!

Just wanna have fun at parties, but don’t wanna dread getting on the scale in January? It is possible — and you don’t have to be a nutritional saint while everyone else is partying like rock stars. An indulgence here and there won’t derail a healthy diet. In fact, you’d be surprised how a few small changes this holiday season can make a big difference.

Try these brilliant but super-easy holiday diet tips. You’ll hardly notice you’re being good — but you’ll give yourself better odds of still looking (and feeling) great, come January.

Cut the Fat

  • Trust me: Food doesn’t need to be laden with fat to taste good! I make a guacamole dip by substituting peas for half of the avocados, and my guests devour it.
  • As the party snacks are passed around, skip the high-fat cheeses, chips and dips and opt instead for shrimp, vegetables, and fruit or vegetable salsas.
  • Use light varieties of cheese, sour cream or butter.
  • Instead of sautéing in butter or oil, use citrus juice, balsamic vinegar or chicken stock.

Make Some Sneaky Substitutions

Healthier substitutions in your recipes can make a big difference!

  • You can easily replace a third of the potatoes with cauliflower in your favorite mashed potato recipe. Not even your pickiest eater will notice!
  • Applesauce or sugar substitutes can replace sugar in some baked goods.    
  • Use whole grain flour, pasta and breads instead of refined white flour products.
  • Instead of oil in baked goods, I use no-sugar-added applesauce or plain, nonfat yogurt. When using applesauce, reduce the sugar called for by 10 to 20 percent (since even no-sugar-added applesauce adds some natural sugar). Substituting for oil takes some experimenting, but it’s worth it for your favorite recipes. Start small, replacing 1/4 to 1/2 of the oil called for. Combine all wet ingredients and sugar first; then stir in flour gently until just combined, being careful not to overmix (this helps keep the finished product from turning out tough). If you have successful results, try increasing the amount of oil you substitute next time.

Forget Deprivation

We’re all human. I’ve passed on dessert at a party only to go home and eat half a bag of cookies.

  • Instead of depriving yourself, share desserts or rich dishes with a friend or family member. You’ll enjoy a satisfying taste without overloading.
  • Serve the delicious and healthy dishes below at your holiday party this year (or take them to someone else's party), and no one will go home feeling deprived.


Try These Healthy Party Recipes

Tuna Tartare

Yields 20 appetizers or 4 salads


Because tuna is rich tasting, a small portion leaves your diners feeling satisfied. Serve in Asian soup spoons for a pretty appetizer or plated as the first course of an elegant meal.

½ pound sushi-grade tuna, diced in ½-inch pieces
½ avocado, diced
¼ cup minced red onion
¼ cup very thinly sliced green onions, tops only
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
Hot sauce, optional, to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Place tuna, avocado, red onion and green onions in a large bowl. In a small covered container, shake together vinegar, soy sauce, canola oil and sesame seeds, then pour dressing over tuna and gently toss to coat. Add hot sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. To serve, place a small spoonful of tuna tartare in each soup spoon and serve immediately. Alternatively, serve in a bowl with crackers.

Per Appetizer: 39 Calories; 3g Fat (62.2% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 4mg Cholesterol; 108mg Sodium.

To serve as a first course, divide evenly between 4 plates using a ring mold to mound the tuna; garnish with fresh parsley sprigs or chives.  

Per Salad Serving: 197 Calories; 14g Fat (62.2% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 22mg Cholesterol; 541mg Sodium.


Shrimp “Ceviche” in Wonton Cups

Yields 30 appetizers or 8 salads

This mock ceviche uses cooked shrimp and can be served as an appetizer or a salad.

3 limes, juiced, peels reserved
1 pound small shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup white onion, chopped fine
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/3 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon hot sauce (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup cucumber, finely diced
1/4 cup jicama, finely diced
1 avocado, finely diced
Salt and pepper to taste
30 wonton wrappers, round gyoza style

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add lime peels and shrimp, and cook just until shrimp begin to turn pink and curl up. Immediately remove from heat and drain. Spread out shrimp to cool slightly, then cut into small pieces and toss with lime juice. Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, press egg roll wrappers into petite muffin tin cups to form cups and bake at 350° until crisp and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

Add shrimp to a large bowl along with onion, cilantro, ketchup, hot sauce, olive oil, cucumber, jicama and avocado. Mix gently and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate up to one day. For appetizers, spoon a small amount of the ceviche mixture into each wonton cup and top with additional chopped cilantro if desired.

Per Appetizer: 58 Calories; 2g Fat (23.5% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 23mg Cholesterol; 140mg Sodium.

To serve as a salad, place lettuce leaves on 8 plates and divide shrimp mixture evenly between the plates.

Per Salad Serving: 142 Calories; 7g Fat (40.2% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 86mg Cholesterol; 224mg Sodium.


Pears Poached in Red Wine with Chocolate Sauce

Serves 8

Impress your guests with this elegant yet healthy dessert.

8 pears (Anjou or Bartlett are best)
4 cups red wine – (about one bottle; a fruity type is best)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon orange zest (about 1 orange)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Peel pears and core from the bottom, leaving stems intact.

Mix red wine, sugar, peppercorns and orange zest in a saucepan just large enough to fit the pears into it, then place pears upright in the poaching liquid. Bring just barely to a boil, and then reduce to simmer. Partially cover and simmer until soft, about 1 hour. Remove from heat and allow pears to cool in the poaching liquid.

Just before serving, heat cream over medium-high heat in a small saucepan until just barely bubbling around the edges. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate until completely melted. To serve, drizzle chocolate sauce on a dessert plate and set a poached pear in the center. Garnish with mint leaves if desired.

Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 172 Calories; 5g Fat (25.4% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 32g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 14mg Sodium.

Michele Morris is a chef who has studied in cooking schools around the world and leads private and group cooking classes in Boulder, Colo., through her company The Kitchen Coach™


Related Articles: 

Eat Well & Be Merry: 4 Festive and Healthy Holiday Recipes

Vegan Recipes for Fall

Harvest Recipes Across the U.S.

12 Ways to Just Say "No" to Holiday Weight Gain


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