With the holiday season in full swing and parties abounding, it’s time to think about what dishes you will be serving – or bringing – to the next event.

Too often we fall back on old standbys, such as cheesy dips, deep-fried appetizers, bacon-wrapped anything and sugary treats like cakes, cookies and pies. But with an overall focus on healthier lifestyles, I challenge you to do better than that.

It’s time to rethink party food in terms of good taste combined with good nutrition. After all, you are feeding friends and family members, right? Would you give them something that will make them gain weight, feel bad or otherwise negatively affect their health?

Of course not! Take a look at these suggestions to make your next holiday get-together a deliciously healthy affair.

Stay Away from Sweets

The holidays are always dessert-centric, whether it’s Halloween candy, Thanksgiving pies or Christmas pastries. The shorter days and cooler temperatures are perfectly designed for spending long hours in the kitchen, baking sweet treats.

This is the time to recreate family recipes handed down through the generations, and indulge your sweet tooth with snacks you don’t get the rest of the year.

I wouldn’t suggest that you forgo beloved holiday traditions. But perhaps you can rethink the amount of sugary treats you plan on baking and be sure to provide healthy alternatives.

Try to stay away from added sugar as much as possible. A beautiful and easy dessert is baked apples. Stuff them with plenty of nuts, dried fruits and perhaps a drizzle of maple syrup or honey. They’re still sweet and have plenty of sugar, but the fruits and nuts make them a healthier choice overall.

Pairing fruit and cheese is another suggestion for a somewhat nutritious plate. Baked brie topped with berries is a classic combination, as are apple slices with chunks of sharp cheddar and figs stuffed with blue cheese.

You may also want to try something modern, such as toothpicks of skewered feta, grapes and chicken sausage.

Cut Down on the Carbs

A low-carb diet has consistently been favored over a low-fat diet for weight loss, general health and longevity. More and more of us are going the low-carb route and seeing fantastic results.

Unfortunately, we often throw aside all those months of healthy eating when the holidays roll around, and we are faced with crescent roll-wrapped cheese and sausage, crostini appetizers, mashed potatoes, pasta salads and snack mixes.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to cut down on the carbs with healthy substitutions. For instance, instead of using a cracker or piece of bread as the basis for hors d’oeuvres, try roasted rounds of sweet potatoes, thin slices of zucchini, avocado halves or hollowed-out cylinders of cucumber.

Swap out at least half potatoes for cauliflower when preparing mashed potatoes or casseroles. Instead of rice, try quinoa, which is similar in texture.

If you are feeling particularly creative in the kitchen, make a gluten-free wrap using broccoli, zucchini or cauliflower. Spread it with a mixture of cream cheese, sliced olives, green onions and pimientos, then roll for party pinwheels.

Add a Variety of Veggies

When most people think of holiday party dishes, they tend to focus on meats, cheeses and carbs. But what about replacing those ingredients with healthier vegetables? The ways to add vegetables to every dish are nearly endless.

White Veggetable Lasagna CasseroleFor example, a White Veggie Lasagna Casserole, like this dairy-free and gluten-free recipe featured on my site, makes a lovely presentation with all its colorful vegetable layers, and the flavor gets a stamp of approval from kids and adults alike.

A big pot of vegetarian chili is a great way to not only incorporate lots of peppers, tomatoes, onions and the like, it feeds a crowd exceptionally well.

Of course, you can’t go wrong with a hearty soup or stew to tempt appetites during colder months. However, instead of using cream as a thickener, you could just puree well-cooked vegetables. Bonus points for presentation if you serve the soup in a hollowed-out squash.

Spice up the traditional crudité platter by incorporating lots of different dips. Some of my favorites are white bean hummus – available in lots of flavor varieties – tofu-based creamy dips or those that use thick cashew sauce with added herbs and spices.

Introduce your guests to matchstick-cut vegetables they may not have tried, too, such as kohlrabi and jicama.

Add in the unexpected with an array of different olives, endive leaves, fennel strips and blanched asparagus spears. This is an especially beautiful presentation when sprinkled with bits of fresh herbs and a drizzle of good quality olive oil.

Enjoy Everything, in Moderation

The holiday season is one that is meant to be enjoyed. Ideally, the holidays are all about enjoying the company of others and breaking bread together. So, if you simply can’t resist a slice of Aunt Edna’s special chocolate cake, go ahead and take a thin piece.

Try to abstain from taking the leftover cake home, where it will be a constant temptation. And if you bake cookies or other sweet treats, be sure to share them with others. Eat healthy whenever possible, so you won’t feel as guilty if you eat the calorie-, sugar- and carb-laden treats at holiday parties.

But most of all, relax. Take good care of yourself. Start each day with a green smoothie filled with good nutrition.

Get enough rest and indulge your cravings for sappy movies, holiday-themed romance novels and any activity that you especially enjoy in the winter months. The more refreshed and centered you feel, the better you will be able to resist unhealthy food.

What healthy food are you planning to take to holiday parties this year? How do you take care of yourself in the winter months? Please take a moment to join the conversation.

Candy MorehouseCandy Morehouse is the founder of Candy’s Sweet Life, a blog devoted to recipes for better health and a more natural lifestyle. Candy is an author, writer and podcaster who’s passionate about helping others eat more nutritiously and enjoy the best health of their lives at any age.

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