Holiday Parties have the reputation for many things, but holiday food = healthy is not one of them. Inappropriate flirtations, misletoe, love at first sight, wildly decorated sweaters maybe. Ruining your diet, maybe. While you cannot demand that all party planners evaluate the nutrient density of their choices, your own party can skillfully walk the line between decadent and good-for-you.
The trick? Think fresh, flavor, and seasonal. It’s Christmas, or New Year’s, or the Superbowl, or whatever your particular reason for a party. Select a few items that represent the season and add a range of complementary flavors and textures. Aim for all flavors (sweet, salty, savory, sour, and bitter) along with several textures. Start substituting fruits and vegetables for 1/3 to 1/2 of your grains, fatty meats, and sweets. Use some legumes instead of dairy.
For example, pears and cranberries are both late autumn/winter fruits that meld into chutneys, crisps, compotes, or tarts. For a simple gathering, serve a compote on toasts with sliced pears, a fresh cheese, nuts, and wine. For a cocktail party, serve the same compote on sliced roasted turkey breast, raw vegetables with a garlic dip, roasted pears, wild rice patties (or bread), and a cranberry tart. For a buffet, serve roasted pork with the compote, rice pilaf, steamed brussel sprouts (or another slightly bitter but nutty vegetable), colcannon, roasted pears, salad with cranberries and nuts, and a cranberry pear crisp. Prior to the buffet, pass around crudites with roasted red pepper dip, olives, and salted kale chips or lettuce boats with a filling of your choice.
Portion sizes are a major downfall (*cough* said by someone who are rather a lot of smoked salmon apps last night), so form the less-healthy foods into smaller pieces. Make ¾” meatballs instead of 1 1/2” meatballs. Pair higher fat and salty items with healthier foods—for example, that smoked salmon was served in small slices on thick cucumber rounds.
Some general guidelines: aim for fewer fried, salty, sweetened, preserved and cured foods. Dessert is fine—but serve one, or two if picky eaters abound. Keep it simple with one complex dessert like pie and one simple cookie or even something like dates dipped in chocolate. Most importantly, balance the diet Fascism with holiday cheer. Make sure that you are still serving a few decadences. Splurge a little, and be a happier, less stressed person for it. It is still an occasion, after all, and you can take a nice long, brisk walk the next morning (before breakfast).
What to Trade:
crackers –> lettuce or cabbage leaves, endive, cucumber slices, carrot rounds, hakurei turnip slices
cookies –> exotic fruit, chocolate dipped fruit or nuts, pomegranate seeds, citrus sections, candied ginger
chips –> sliced raw vegetables, whole grain crackers, roasted vegetables or potato skins
cream cheese or mayo –> farmer’s cheese, neufchatel, mustard, olive oil, pureed white beans
puff pastry –> spring roll wrappers (pre-cooked fillings)
whipped cream –> there is no substitute. just use half.