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Appetizers and Hors d'oeuvres

General strategies for surviving holiday parties

When you're entertaining, it's hard to stay on the "straight and narrow" and stick to a heart healthy diet. These strategies can help you (and your guests) enjoy party fare without guilt:

  • Fruit and vegetable trays are always welcome. Experiment with different or new foods for variety. (Star fruit, jicama strips, broccolini, etc.) Vary the color, shape, and texture. Serve with low-fat dips and spreads.
  • Cereal snack mixes can provide whole grain fiber and crunch without much fat.
  • Substitute low fat cheese for regular cheese.
  • Use reduced-fat crackers, bread sticks, hard rolls, or bread as the "dippers".
  • Stick with "safe" foods - those with easily identifiable ingredients: shrimp, party sandwiches with ham, turkey, or roast beef (use mustard, not mayonnaise as dressing on roll), fruits, and vegetables.
  • Look at your plate. At least 2/3rds of it should be filled with healthy items. (The other 1/3rd can have higher-fat "samples" of richer fare.)
  • Consider how much of your calorie intake comes from sugary soft drinks, fruit punch, etc. Try sipping on hot mulled cider or other hot drinks. Although not much lower in calories, the warm temperature of these drinks slows how quickly you drink them.
  • If you drink alcoholic drinks, be aware that alcohol can contribute a large number of calories to your party total. The guidelines from most major health organizations are to limit yourself to 1-2 alcoholic drinks per day. Consider alternating diet sodas or seltzer with alcoholic beverages.
  • At parties, enjoy the conversation as well as the food. Once you have filled your plate, move to the other side of the room from the buffet table, bar, or other ready sources of food and beverages. That way you will not be as tempted to take "just one more bite".
  • Confine seconds to the fruits and vegetables only.

You certainly don't have to include all of these suggestions at your next holiday gathering! Pick one of two to try and enjoy.

Ingredient modifications

You can reduce the fat in many appetizers by making the following substitutions in your favorite recipes:

  • Use the available nonfat or fat-reduced foods as ingredients: cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, cheese (cottage, ricotta, cheddar, etc.) Calorie/Fat Comparison: (1 Tablespoon serving size)
    Regular cream cheese - 51 calories, 5 fat grams
    Fat-free cream cheese - 14 calories, 0 fat grams

    Regular mayonnaise - 99 calories, 11 fat grams
    Fat-free mayonnaise - 10 calories, 0 fat grams
  • Use pureed beans and shredded or chopped vegetables as fillers for dips and spreads. Mix frozen chopped spinach with non-fat sour cream, dry vegetable soup mix, and chopped water chestnuts. Offer a spicy black bean dip or hummus made from garbanzo beans.
  • Use pureed beans and shredded or chopped vegetables as fillers for dips and spreads. Mix frozen chopped spinach with non-fat sour cream, dry vegetable soup mix, and chopped water chestnuts. Offer a spicy black bean dip or hummus made from garbanzo beans


Autumn Squash Bisque with Ginger    

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cups leeks
2 pounds butternut squash
2 pears
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 (14.5 ounce) cans chicken broth
1 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup nonfat yogurt

Heat oil in a large pot (at least 4 quart capacity) over medium heat. Add leeks and cook, stirring constantly until softened, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add squash, pears, garlic, ginger, thyme, cinnamon and nutmeg; cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Add broth and water; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until squash is tender, 35 to 45 minutes.

Puree soup, in batches if necessary, in a food processor or blender. Return soup to pot and heat through.

Stir in lemon juice. Garnish each serving with a dollop of yogurt.


1 (8 ounce) package fat-free cream cheese
1/2 medium cucumber
2 tablespoons fat-free mayonnaise
dash Worcestershire sauce
2 drops green food coloring

Combine all ingredients in storable bowl with lid. Stir until cucumbers are well blended and dip is light green. Chill and serve on bread shapes or crackers.

Yield: 1 1/2 cups

    Friendship Soup

1/2 cup dry split peas
1/3 cup chicken bouillon granules
1/4 cup pearl barley
1/2 cup dried lentils
1/4 cup dried minced onion
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1/2 cup long grain rice
1/2 cup macaroni
2 cups turkey
4 quarts water
1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes

In a large pot, add all ingredients except macaroni. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 1 hour. Add macaroni and simmer an additional 5 minutes. Serve with hard rolls and fruit.

  Mexican Holiday Soup  

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion
1 tablespoon garlic
1 (28 ounce) can tomatoes
2 (10 ounce) packages frozen corn
1 (4 ounce) can chopped mild green chilies
1 chicken breast half
1 (14-16 ounce) can chicken broth
2 cups water
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Heat oil in saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until tender, about 10 minutes.

Add liquid from tomatoes to saucepan. Chop tomatoes well, add to pan with remaining ingredients. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until heated through, stirring occasionally. Season with salt, if desired.

Roasted Red Pepper Dip    

1 (8 ounce) package fat-free cream cheese
1 (7 ounce) jar roasted red peppers
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried basil

Blend all ingredients in food processor until smooth.

Serve as a dip on crackers or breadsticks.

Yield: 1 3/4 cups

  Spicy Snack Mix  

1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
2 1/4 cups crispy rice cereal
2/3 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup unsalted peanuts, dry-roasted

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat until hot.

Sprinkle cinnamon, cumin, and curry powder over oil; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly.

Add cereal, raisins, and peanuts; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Toss well; cool. Store in an airtight container.

Yields 3 cups.

    Spinach Dip

1 (16 ounce) carton fat-free sour cream
1 package frozen chopped spinach
1/4 cup red peppers
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 drops hot sauce
In medium bowl, mix all ingredients until well blended.

Cover and chill until serving time.

Yield: 2 1/2 cups