Healthy Holiday Party Options


Holiday parties can present challenges for those looking to eat and drink healthfully. Hidden empty calories and foods that deplete your energy can lurk in common holiday foods and cocktails. And if you over-imbibe, you especially may find yourself eating foods that are harmful to your health.
Just because you watch what you eat and drink at a cocktail party doesn’t mean you have to skip the fun. Here are five ways to enjoy your next celebration without overdoing anything:

Never arrive hungry. The day of a cocktail party, many people feel the need to skip a meal so that they can enjoy extra food at the party. However, this strategy actually can work against you. If you arrive hungry, you have less willpower and are likelier to indulge in food and alcohol that are detrimental to your health. Instead, if you eat healthfully throughout the day and arrive somewhat full, you can bypass trigger foods, and will be less affected by alcohol. One suggestion is to eat crudités and hummus right before you leave your home to attend a party.
•If you consume alcohol, pay special attention to super-sized drinks and what’s mixed in with your drinks. While a 10-ounce Cosmopolitan or an oversized balloon glass of red wine looks chic to hold, both are full of empty calories. And because of the size, they are full of more empty calories than you’d expect. In the case of very large drinks, ask your bartender to pour you a half (or a third) of a drink. Mixers are also hidden sources of unwanted ingredients—cola, lemon-lime soda, fruit juice cocktails and tonic water have refined sugars, flavorings and preservatives. Try switching to water or sparkling water as a mixer. Or, if you must indulge in something with a fuller flavor, use 100% juice as a mixer so that you get some nutrients along with your beverage.
•Switch it up. If you drink alcohol, have a non-alcoholic drink every other round. This way, you can stay clear-headed and avoid consuming foods you know are hazardous to your health. You get the added benefit of enjoying the conversations and festive environment around you.
•Water it down. In one case, super-sized drinks are actually a benefit to you—when you’ve added extra ice and/or water to your drink to plump them up. Some drinks naturally rely on stretching out high-calorie ingredients. For example, wine spritzers and sangria. This extra water is beneficial to cellular processes in your body and will keep you feeling energized.
•Refill on your own schedule. In social situations, it’s easy to quickly swallow the last few sips of a drink or finish what’s on your plate in order to enjoy the next round with a group. However, that may lead to consuming more drinks or food than you’d intended. Instead, enjoy your food and drink slowly and on your own schedule. Your body will thank you for it!
•Bring a healthy, delicious food to share. This way, you know at least some of the food will be safe for you to consume. Plus, you can educate your family, friends and colleagues that “delicious” and “healthy” are not mutually-exclusive. Below are two nutrient-rich recipes:

Mushroom Pâté
Makes 8 servings.
1 ounce (1 cup) dried porcini mushrooms (optional)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small shallot (or ½ large shallot), minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 pound shiitake mushrooms, caps only, thinly sliced
3/4 pound button mushrooms, stems and caps, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 to 1 ½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Brown rice crackers and your favorite chopped raw veggies
1. Soak porcinis (if using) in hot water for 30 minutes. Remove mushrooms from liquid and set liquid aside to use later in recipe. Chop porcinis coarsely.
2. Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. When warm, add shallots. Cook, stirring, until shallots are translucent and slightly limp, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 30 seconds.
3. Add shiitake mushrooms, button mushrooms and porcini mushrooms. Sprinkle with a little salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-high heat until mushrooms are cooked through and all their liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Add mushroom liquid and cook on high until liquid is absorbed, about 3 minutes.
4. Place mushroom mixture into the bowl of a food processor. Run food processor until mushrooms form a smooth paste. Add fresh thyme, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt, and black pepper and run food processor 15-20 seconds to mix. Taste and adjust flavor with more lemon juice and more salt, if necessary.
5. Cool completely. Serve on crackers and with vegetables, garnished with chopped parsley.
Vegetable Napoleons with Goat Cheese
This lovely appetizer is a great way to take in a rainbow of foods. If you are allergic or have negative reactions from any of the listed vegetables, simply replace the veggie with another vegetable you can easily digest.
Makes 8 servings.
4 Portobello mushrooms, stems removed, cut into halves
1 small eggplant, cut crosswise into ¼-inch slices
1 medium zucchini, cut diagonally into ¼-inch slices
1 medium yellow squash, cut diagonally into ¼-inch slices
2 large red bell peppers, each cut into four planks
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
8 ounces fresh goat cheese, softened at room temperature 30 minutes (may substitute vegan cream cheese)
8 whole fresh basil leaves
Special Equipment
Indoor or outdoor grill, or grill pan
1. Pre-heat grill to medium-high heat, or place grill pan over medium-high heat.
2. Place all vegetables, oil, salt and pepper together in a large bowl. Toss well to coat all sides. Grill vegetables on both sides until cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Place cooked vegetables in a single layer on one or two cookie sheets to cool.
3. Pre-heat oven to 375ºF.
4. Build the Napoleons: Place a half of a mushroom on a cookie sheet. Top with one piece of eggplant, then a piece of zucchini, then a yellow squash. Crumble 1 ounce of goat cheese (or vegan cream cheese) onto the yellow squash and top with a piece of red pepper. Repeat with remaining vegetables until you have built 8 Napoleons.
5. Bake, uncovered, until Napoleons are warmed through and cheese is melted, about 10-12 minutes.
6. Remove from oven, and place on a serving tray. Top each with a whole basil leaf.

Article written by Jill Houk, © 2008
Chef Jill Houk is co-owner of Centered Chef Food Studios in Chicago. Centered Chef provides personal chef and catering services to clients eating to increase their health, and cook for clients with fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthitis, as well as many other disease states. Chef Jill and her team are dedicated to creating delicious food that is packed with nutrients and free from harmful ingredients. Visit them on the web at