How to throw a secretly healthier holiday party: Plus a recipe for Pecan Tarts!

December 23, 2016

By Kay MacInnis, Registered Dietitian 
Note: This blog article was awarded a Silver Aster Award for outstanding excellence in healthcare marketing and advertising.

MERRY CHRISTMAS! And a healthy one, too. If you’re hosting a holiday party, here are some tips on how to help your guests stay a little healthier:

1. Offer no- and lower-calorie drinks galore. A few to try:

  • Holiday tea
  • Diet soda
  • Mineral water
  • Coffee
  • Light beer and wine spritzers made with club soda
  • Holiday punch made with diet soda (like ginger ale or lemon-lime soda) and/or light cranberry juice

2. Serve fruit and vegetable trays. For appetizers and dinner, I use the 50% rule: I try to cover 50% of the food table with fruit and vegetable dishes. Here are some winter options:

  • Apple slices (spray with lemon juice to prevent browning), orange slices or wedges, melon cubes, grapes, canned pineapple, and cherry or grape tomatoes.
  • Jicama, baby carrots, celery sticks, sugar snap peas, broccoli and cauliflower florets, grape tomatoes, and cucumbers.

3. Keep dips and spreads light as possible by substituting nonfat sour cream, light cream cheese, light or low-fat mayonnaise and low-fat yogurt for the more caloric versions. Better yet, try hummus.

4. Add beans to your dishes to beef up the fiber and plant protein, which will help your guests feel fuller faster. It's easy to use beans in salads, casseroles, and appetizers. One of my favorites is a light 7-layer dip that features canned, nonfat refried beans.

5. Serve whole grains or blends. You can use half whole-wheat flour in nut breads, muffins, and even cookie recipes. You can use whole-wheat blend pastas, whole grain crackers, and whole wheat (or whole wheat blend) dinner rolls. Check the ingredient list and the fiber grams on the nutrition information label for the rolls and crackers to make sure you are getting a product with at least half whole wheat and more fiber.

6. Serve lean meats and fish. There are lots of festive meat options that are lower in fat (and saturated fat) and high in protein. Try cooked shrimp served with cocktail sauce, roasted sliced turkey breast, lean ham, and sliced lean roast beef. Grilled or broiled salmon filet makes a great appetizer.

7. Dish up lighter desserts. Offer bite-sized samples. Think about portions that are two to four bites – just enough to taste and enjoy. Your guests can always have more! Also, keep dessert embellishments light when possible (light vanilla ice cream, fat-free or lite Cool Whip, etc).

8. Encourage physical activity at the party. Possibilities include:

  • Dancing.
  • Holiday caroling or a moonlight, candlelight, or flashlight walk around your neighborhood, weather permitting.
  • Ping-pong, billiards, foosball, or other games that involve some action.

9. Offer light condiments on the buffet. Try spicy mustard, light or low-fat mayo, barbecue sauce, cranberry sauce, fruit chutney, relishes, and so on.

10. Have an appetizer and dessert party or a dinner/buffet party instead of serving appetizers AND dinner AND dessert. When faced with too many food options, most people will eat too much. And while we're at it, go ahead and banish candy dishes from the party.

11. Have small plates out at your buffet or dessert/appetizer table to encourage people to serve themselves smaller portions.

Here’s a healthy little something to add to the buffet table…

Pecan Tarts

Serves about 24


  • 3 oz. light cream cheese (1/3 less fat or Neufchatel), softened
  • ½ cup & 1 tbsp. Smart Balance butter spread
  • ½ cup white flour
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • dash of salt
  • 2/3 cup chopped pecans


  • Preheat oven to 325 F.
  • Combine cheese, ½ cup Smart Balance spread & flour.
  • Mix thoroughly and chill, covered, for 1 hour.
  • Divide into 24 small balls and press into sides and bottoms of 2 ungreased miniature muffin pans.
  • Combine egg, brown sugar, vanilla, salt, & remaining 1 tablespoon Smart Balance spread.
  • Beat until smooth.
  • Sprinkle 1/3 cup pecans equally into 24 tart shells.
  • Divide egg mixture equally among 24 tarts, pouring on top of pecans.
  • Sprinkle remaining 1/3 cup pecans on tops of tarts.
  • Bake 20-25 minutes, until pastry is golden brown.

Nutritional Information Per Serving: Calories, 102; carbohydrate, 10.2 grams; fat, 6.3 grams; protein, 1.4 grams; cholesterol, 8.75 mg.; sodium, 70.6 mg.; fiber, 0.7 gram.

I hope you and your family have a very Merry and Healthy Christmas!


This is another in a weekly series of healthy recipes from Kay MacInnis, registered dietitian at Providence Health in Columbia, SC.

Kay promotes health and wellness, helping cardiac and diabetes patients eat their way to healthier lives. She works in consultation with the trained chefs at Providence, combining her nutrition knowledge with their food prep know-how to create delicious, healthy dishes for patients and the public. She also conducts a number of health and wellness events for the public, including the monthly Providence Cooks! classes.

"She doesn't just give you the fish, she teaches you how to cook it."

 – a Kay MacInnis fan and Providence Cooks! regular.