On the Table

On the Table: Preparing appealing but healthy appetizers

Contributing CorrespondentJanuary 21, 2014 

It’s the little things that add up. That’s why a friend asked me to write about what to serve as appetizers when guests come for dinner.

And the answer has to be more interesting than carrot sticks with ranch dip.

Appetizers are the nibbles that accompany the period before a meal when your guests are socializing and you’re putting the last touches on the table or waiting for the entree to be ready.

What to serve that won’t blow a calorie budget or ruin appetites?

If you’re looking on the light side, feature foods with high water content – fruits and veggies – and crunchy carbs like crackers and other crispy breads that can be dipped or dotted with a flavorful spread.

Use richer ingredients such as cheese as a minor ingredient or garnish, or set them out in a small dish with toothpicks or a small spoon. You’ll signal that olives and nuts, for example, are meant to be eaten a few at a time, not by the handful.

Examples of good choices include some of these:

• Yogurt-based dips. Plain, Greek yogurt flavored with honey or vegetable and herb mixtures have an appealing texture and good flavor.

Pair these dips with bread sticks, toasted pita points and French bread rounds, and, yes, vegetable sticks. But serve veggies that are more unusual, such as sliced radishes, jicama or snow pea pods.

Hummus – red pepper, jalapeno, onion, garlic – makes a good, low-cal dip, too.

• Bruschetta with light toppings. Top lightly toasted rounds of Italian or French bread with a couple teaspoons of chopped tomatoes mixed with olive oil and fresh basil.

Dot with goat cheese, a black olive or spinach yogurt dip.

• Stuffed, broiled mushrooms, mini spring rolls or those little Spinach and Kale Bites sold frozen at Trader Joe’s. The operative word here is “bite.”

Which brings me to another important strategy. The way you present appetizers can help. Spread them out like little works of art on a tray – quality instead of quantity – to discourage binging.

Limit the amount. It’s OK if you run out.

Dinner’s on the way.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a registered dietitian and clinical associate professor of health policy and management at UNC-Chapel Hill. Reach her at suzanne@onthetable.net; follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.

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