You can throw a great party and serve healthy food. Parties can be a time to let loose and eat or drink a little more than normal, which feels great in the moment, but usually not so much the next day. With some tweaks and upgrades, you can throw a fun party, enjoy the food and not worry about restricting yourself or overindulging.
Like with your regular diet, go for high-quality ingredients and filling foods. If you and your guests can get full on some healthy foods, everyone will be less likely to overindulge out of hunger, and they’ll get the added nutrients, vitamin and minerals that the healthier foods provide.
Think about your go-to party appetizers and see if you can switch out any of those with the upgrades below, or start fresh and try something new.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a party out there that didn’t have some kind of dip. Dips can easily be upgraded to be healthier and cleaner. Some, like salsa and guacamole, are already pretty healthy and don’t need much upgrading, just make sure you’re making it with high quality ingredients.
Bean Dips: Throw a can or two of beans in a food processor, add garlic, salt, pepper, maybe some fresh herbs and drizzle in some olive oil as the processor is running. The options to make this dip your own are endless, you can add any bean, from black beans to navy beans to lentils to chickpeas. Most beans are high in fiber, meaning they will help with fullness as well as digestion.
Veggie Dips: You can also cook or roast vegetables and pulse them up in the food processor with some garlic, seasonings and olive oil. Good vegetables to turn into dip include: cauliflower, peas, edamame, eggplant, beets, carrots, red peppers and more. You can also add these vegetables to your bean dip for more flavor (and vitamins and minerals).
Creamy Dips: A lot of popular dips have cream cheese or sour cream as the main ingredient. You can swap out the sour cream with regular or Greek full-fat yogurt and you’ll get more protein and probiotics with each bite. If you need something thicker to be a substitute for cream cheese, go for a labneh, which is strained yogurt that is thicker and has a similar tang to cream cheese.
Crackers and Small Things to Munch On
Small little snacks and crackers are easy to serve at a party, especially if there’s a dip on the table as well. Look at what you usually buy and check the ingredient list to see what’s in the them and if you still want to eat that with your healthier diet. If you don’t, there are plenty of alternatives you and your party guests can enjoy.
Whole Wheat Crackers: While something you don’t have to make (unless you want to), crackers are very common dip and cheese partners. Go with a minimally processed whole wheat cracker that will give you added fiber and be less refined than regular crackers.
Vegetables: Fresh cut vegetables are perfect as a dip vehicle or just to munch on. Depending on the vegetable, you’ll also get some added fiber, vitamins and minerals from it a cracker just can’t provide. Besides the popular vegetables you see at any crudité platter (carrots, celery, tomatoes, bell peppers…), try adding sliced jicama, cucumbers, radishes, zucchini, cauliflower, and any other vegetable you enjoy snacking on raw.
Fruit: Go beyond the grapes, which are high in sugar at 23 grams in one cup. Add in some different raw fruits for you and your guests to enjoy by themselves or with high quality cheeses, meat, or nuts. Fruits lower in sugar include: strawberries, melons, blackberries, raspberries, and apples. Because of their thin skins, buy organic or no-spray fruits.
Nuts: Add some crunch and high quality protein and fat with raw, roasted,or unsalted nuts. By passing on salted nuts, you have better control and awareness of how much sodium you’re consuming.
Bigger Hors D’oeuvres
A party doesn’t need to live on dip and produce alone. There are lots of healthy upgrades you can make on hors d’oeuvres you and your guests can enjoy.
Meatless Meatballs: Meatballs are an easy hors d’oeuvres to make a lot of quickly and they don’t need to be made of meat to be tasty. “Meat”balls can be made of a combination of veggies, grains or beans and can be baked to bypass frying. You can also use any of the tips about dip above to make a healthier version of a dipping sauce for your meatballs.
Veggie sliders: You can easily take a meatless meatball recipe you find, make a larger patty and turn those into sliders. Add some hummus or pesto as a spread along with some freshly cut tomatoes and lettuce for a vegetable-packed slider. If you want to go grainless, cut out the bun and serve them in lettuce cups, protein-style.
Lettuce wraps: Keeping on the topic of lettuce, you can also make lettuce wraps. This cuts out the possibility of a bread/carb overload and is also helpful if you’ve got any gluten-free guests. Lettuce wraps can be filled with a lot of things, from meatballs (meat or meatless), ground meat or vegetarian-friendly nut meat. You can even set up a make you own wrap station with the filling in one bowl and any other add-ons separately (julienned carrots, nuts, dressing, etc) so your guests can make it exactly how they want and you don’t have to assemble every lettuce wrap yourself.
Whole Wheat or Grain-free Pizzas/Flatbreads: Pizza or some cheesy and tomato goodness on bread is pretty synonymous with a lot of parties, but isn’t always the best for you. Upgrade your regular crust to a whole wheat, minimally processed and enriched crust and add high quality cheese and lots of vegetables on your pizza. If you’ve got a lot of bread/crackers in the rest of your party spread, consider going grain-free with your crust. You can find recipes that use almond or coconut flour as well as ones made of cauliflower or carrot.
Buffalo Cauliflower: Instead of chicken wings covered in hot sauce, try the vegetarian version with cauliflower. The cauliflower is baked rather than fried, and you can swap out the blue cheese dip for a yogurt-based dip. Buffalo cauliflower is a great option for your meat-free guests and for anyone looking to cut down on their meat consumption.
Keeping it Balanced
Whatever your party spread looks like, keep it balanced. Look at what’s on your menu and see if there’s too much of one food or another. If you’ve got a lot of dips, mix in some fresh vegetables in with the crackers. If you’ve got a lot of bread in your hors d'oeuvres, see which dishes you can swap that out with a vegetable or other produce. If you’ve got a lot of meat dishes, add in a very more vegetables or challenge yourself to go meatless.
Even with all of these healthy upgrades, don’t feel like you can’t have some indulgences here and there, like your favorite high-quality cheese or meats. Variety and moderation can help you feel like you’re not depriving yourself or throwing your healthy eating habits out the window.
Enjoy your healthier party fare and sharing healthy food with your guests, knowing that they’ll be having a good time while eating more nutritious food.
Healthy Eating 101 returns with tips and tricks on how you can jazz up your leftovers.
Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
Second Photo Credit: Nataliya Arzamasova/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: MSPhotographic/shutterstock.com; Fourth Photo Credit: Eugenia Lucasenco/shutterstock.com; Fifth Photo Credit: Tanya Hsu/shutterstock.com; Sixth Photo Credit: Nate Allred/shutterstock.com