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Healthy holiday treats to have at your table

December parties don’t have to mean January restrictions. Choose the right foods to serve at parties and get-togethers and skip the weight gain this season

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1. Nuts in shells

Bowls of raw nuts in their shells are not only delicious and healthy, they contribute to pretty, natural holiday decor. Set out big bowls filled with almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts and pecans and include a couple of nutcrackers and picks, a bowl for discarded shells and a stack of cocktail napkins. Bonus: Cracking nuts gives shy guests something to do with their hands. Complement these big bowls or platters with small bowls of shelled raw, unsalted mixed nuts or trail mix. Add a handful of dark chocolate pearls or chips, dried cranberries and shaved, toasted coconut and no one will miss the salt and oil. Or, go all out and make our delicious savoury spiced almonds.

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cheese platter

2. Cheese plate upgrade

Assembling a cheese plate? Look for lower-fat cheeses-think Swiss instead of Brie, chevre over Camembert. Instead of white flour crackers, offer wholegrain crackers, nut crisps or heavy German rye bread and instead of sweet preserves, serve with a nice, big pile of fresh fruit such as grapes, apple and pear wedges, dried figs and apricots.

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3. Nutritious dips

Skip the greasy chips and sour cream dip and offer lower-fat, baked corn or vegetable chips and sliced cucumber, carrot and celery sticks for dipping into low-fat, protein-rich, Greek yogurt-based dips. Greek yogurt is naturally super thick and creamy and can be used pretty much interchangeably with sour cream in your favourite dip recipes.

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red wine

4. Lower-cal drinks

Nibbling, especially on nuts and crackers, is thirsty work. Traditional holiday drinks tend to be either sweet or fatty, but there are ways to cut that back. Serve dry wines to eliminate some sugar from the menu. A gin and ginger ale can be modified to gin and soda with pinch of fresh ginger and you might want to give the lower-fat or even non-dairy eggnog a try. And always offer plenty of ice cold, sparkling and still water with lemon or lime-keep the water flowing for healthier, less tipsy guests.

Finally, use unsweetened apple cider for this easy mulling recipe: Pour one big jug or six cups of cider into a slow cooker set on high. Add one sliced lemon, one sliced orange, a few whole cloves, a couple of pieces of star anise and a couple of cinnamon sticks. Bring to a simmer, then cover and turn down to low.

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mashed potatoes

5. Better mashed potatoes

Those glorious creamy mashed potatoes can be loaded with extra fat and sodium-but they don’t have to be. Start with yellow-flesh potatoes, switch out cream with low-sodium chicken broth, use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, add a generous dollop of soft goat cheese and a drizzle of olive oil and you’ve got creamy, luscious goodness. Leave the potato skins on and you’ll be adding a good dose of fibre and vitamins, too. Add mashed roasted or fresh minced garlic, fresh chives and ground black pepper and guests will think you’re a genius.

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Blueberry stuffing

6. Get creative with stuffing

Stuffing is the other real troublemaker at the table-all that starch and fat. Really, what is it if not bread and butter and turkey drippings? First, don’t make it in the bird-use a separate casserole dish for the stuffing. It gives you more control and it will develop crusty, crispy, golden bits, and aren’t those the best bits? Of course, some bread is required, but try displacing some with whole grains like kasha, wheat berries, quinoa, millet, brown rice or barley. Bulk up the recipe with chopped raw nuts-walnuts and pecans are best here-and throw in some dried cranberries. Switch out butter for olive oil and use low-fat, sodium-reduced chicken broth for moisture.

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cranberry sauce

7. Make your own cranberry sauce

The best thing about store-bought cranberry sauce is the way it slides out of the can with those little tin lines in it. It’s all downhill after that. It’s loaded with sugar and not all that yummy, and making your own is so very simple and so very special. Start with your favourite recipe-use fresh or frozen cranberries-and replace the sugar with maple or agave syrup. (Try cutting the sugar in your recipe, too-there’s often too much.)

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