Written by Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN of US News Health & Wellness

The idea of eating healthy during the holidays might sound like an oxymoron, but six weeks of indulgence may make you wish you had. If you’re tasked with organizing the office potluck or hosting a holiday party, you can help spread healthy holiday cheer this year. A holiday party doesn’t have to be synonymous with overindulgence. Instead, the goal is to have food that tastes great. Thankfully, delicious food can also be nutritious and good for you. From using fresh fruits and vegetables to swapping excess sugars and unhealthy fats for better-for-you options, you can throw a fun party with food that won’t weigh your guests down. It takes the same effort to make healthy bites as not-so-healthy ones, and in many cases it’s quite easy. Here are some tips and recipes to help you get started:

Start with what’s in season.healthy holiday food 3

Grapes, pears and apples are all in season during the holidays. Use the natural sweetness of these fruits to add flavor and reduce added sugars in your favorite dishes. Use them to create creative appetizers, salads and soups. Use fruit as the base for an easy appetizer like these Goat Cheese Stuffed Grapes with Pistachios from Grapes from California. Sweet potatoes and other root vegetables, winter squash and dark leafy greens also peak during the cooler months. They are tasty and inexpensive – perfect for a holiday shindig. Try Teaspoon of Spice’s Roasted Carrot & Crab Bisque Shooters for a fun starter. And don’t count out staples like potatoes. Roast and stack them high with vegetables, or keep them simple as in these Mini Potato Bites With Greek Yogurt And Herbs from registered dietitian nutritionist Carlene Thomas of Healthfully Ever After, LLC, who stands up for these humble tubers. “Potatoes often get picked on, but these bite-sized appetizers are a good source of potassium and vitamin C,” she says. “Top with a strained yogurt [Greek or Icelandic] for an extra punch of protein.”

Think outside the supermarket vegetable tray.

While it’s convenient and nutritious, the basic vegetable tray can be a little boring at times. Rachael Hartley of Avocado A Day Nutrition agrees. She likes to dress veggies up in flavorful and exciting ways. “Try a platter of grilled vegetables with herbed yogurt dip or these vegan stuffed mushrooms. Instead of sausage, they’re made with crumbled tempeh sautéed with garlic, onions and spices for plenty of flavor,” she says. Deanna Seagrave-Daly of Teaspoon of Spice offers even more tips. “Dare I say vegetables can be quite festive and just as delicious as anything else on the table? Whether they are roasted as a side with fresh herbs [like rosemary & thyme], or chopped up into a stuffing or pureed into a soup, veggies can be featured in so many yummy ways at holiday gatherings,” she says.

Go small on the indulgent stuff.

There’s no reason to completely avoid the foods you enjoy. Just eat less of it. When hosting a party, make it easy for your guests by serving bite-sized appetizers and desserts. Karman Meyer of the Nutrition Adventure blog suggests her Beef Tenderloin & Fig Crostini as “the perfect party appetizer, because it’s very satisfying with the protein from the lean beef and the Icelandic-style yogurt. It’s simple to prepare but will certainly impress your guests!”

Check for balance.healthy holiday food 2

Check your menu for a balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein to keep your guests feeling satiated. And when it comes to adding in sweets or other treats, try an 80/20 split of healthy to more indulgent items.You don’t have to compromise on flavor. Get creative. Registered dietitian Anne Mauney of FANNEtastic Food serves her Pumpkin Bean Dip and describes it as “an interesting twist on normal hummus that’s easy to make and always a big hit at parties. It’s packed with protein from the beans and nutrients from the pumpkin, too!” Registered dietitian EA Stewart, also known as The Spicy RD, shares herPepper Jack Stuffed Mushrooms for a savory bite of healthy decadence. Registered dietitian nutritionist Sarah Koszyk of Family. Food. Fiesta.recommends you “get really fresh and make Ceviche, the Peruvian dish made with fresh seafood. It’s light and savory and can be an exotic ‘wow’ factor at your next party.”

Be flexible.

There’s no shame in buying pre-cut butternut squash, rotisserie chicken or other foods that can speed up the prep process. If you go to the supermarket at busy times, there’s a good chance they’ll be out of a key ingredient. Be comfortable with substitutions. If you can’t find Cara Cara oranges, use navel oranges. No smoked trout at the store? Try smoked salmon, or cook some yourself. Don’t let the stress of finding the “perfect” ingredients ruin your party.

Give your party a sweet parting gift.

Send guests home with these DIY Chocolate Almond Cookies from the Meal Makeover Moms, which are packed with almonds and rich cocoa powder. Liz Weiss of the Meal Makeover Moms sums up party menu planning with health in mind perfectly. She says “hosting a holiday party often means a table [or two] filled to the brim with sweet treats and gooey goodies. Our goal with our holiday treat makeovers is always to reduce the sugar, saturated fat and portion size while boosting flavor and beneficial ingredients – things like oats, nuts, oil vs. butter and dried fruit.”

Don’t be a scrooge.

Healthy doesn’t have to mean boring and tasteless. Serving fresh fruit as dessert is a welcome idea, but jazz it up. Add a bit of fresh whipped cream or a drizzle of chocolate to make it a little special for the holidays. With all these healthy options on the table, your guests will appreciate the room left for a little healthy imbibing. Serve a sparkling wine or champagne with frozen fruit cubes for a festive drink that will stay cool when the party heats up!

Originally Posted by Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN of US News Health & Wellness on November 19, 2015

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