By Leanne Beattie, for SparkPeople
Everyone loves a party. There's something about getting together with your friends that really helps you shed the stress of always trying to balance work and family. But with so many people trying to live healthier these days, finding tasty, diet-friendly food and beverages can be a challenge.
Deciding what you'll serve your guests can be confusing. And with more variety comes more temptation-scientists have proven that we eat more at a buffet. So it's up to you to find healthy recipes for your guests that won't add to their waistlines.
If you are cooking for the party, here are some tips for healthier food choices:
Reduce the fat in creamy dressings or dips by using low-fat or fat-free yogurt instead of sour cream or mayonnaise. Offer hummus as a low-fat spread for crackers and vegetables.
Use non-stick cookware so you can cook with a minimum amount of oil or use a low-calorie vegetable spray.
Use flavored vinegars or lemon juice to enhance the flavor of a salad without adding fat. Or fill a spray bottle with oil and vinegar so your guests can lightly mist their salads with the just enough flavor.
Use low-fat milk and cheese in recipes instead of full-fat varieties.
Choose baked over fried every time. Whether you're preparing a meat dish or your famous nachos, baked foods are always the better choice.
Instead of bowls full of pretzels or potato chips, offer your guests a selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. Break out of the carrot sticks and celery routine with an Asian-style vegetable platter of baby corn, snow peas and fresh bean sprouts drizzled in a low-fat sesame dressing. For another interesting variation, try a southwestern theme of fresh salsa, black beans and corn served in half a red pepper.
Nuts are a heart-healthy snack choice. Roasted almonds are a great source of magnesium and vitamin E, while pecans and other nuts are rich in monounsaturated fat. Look for raw, unsalted or lightly salted varieties of your favorite nuts. If time allows, roast your own with your favorite seasonings.
Don't bury good foods under fat and sugar. Sweet potatoes are naturally sweet and don't need extra sugar. Bake them, slice and sprinkle with cinnamon instead.
Serve gravies and other sauces on the side so guests can choose how much they would like. When you're making gravy, skim off the fat with a gravy-separating cup or let the drippings cool in the refrigerator first and remove the hardened fat before making the gravy.
Offer alcohol-free drinks. Spritzers made with sparkling water and cranberry (or other fresh juices) and virgin Caesars don't contain empty alcohol calories. Look for 100% juice (not juice mixes), and they'll count towards your guests' daily fruit and vegetable quota.
Need dessert ideas? Forgo the high-fat cheesecake and pastries and serve angel food cake instead. Top it with fresh berries, sorbet or exotic fruits such as mango, papaya and kiwi.
Don't arrive hungry. Hunger can make it difficult to make good food choices-everything looks delicious when you're starving. Have some soup, a handful of almonds or an apple and some water to take the edge off your hunger before coming to the party.
Take a walk around and see what food is available-before you pick up a plate. Take note of the healthy selections.
Fill your 3/4 of your plate with fruits and vegetables. Then choose a few other items to round out your meal.
Limit yourself to one trip to the serving table. If you're still hungry, go for the healthy produce options.
Cut down on portion sizes to allow yourself a bite or two of your favorites. Use a smaller plate and serve your food with a teaspoon instead of a large serving spoon.
Reduce your alcohol consumption. Drinking alcohol lowers your inhibitions, making you more likely to make poor food choices. Enjoy a drink, but alternate with a glass of mineral water or a diet soda.
Watch out for appetizers. A handful of cheese and crackers can set you back hundreds of calories while a single chicken wing contains about 200 calories but hardly puts a dent in your hunger. Select one or two pieces of cheese to savor and save your calories for a full piece of baked chicken instead.
If you want to have an appetizer, select something nutrient-rich, like bruschetta with fresh tomatoes or shrimp in cocktail sauce.
Enjoy desserts in small portions. It's the first three or four bites that taste the best, so take a small portion of your favorite and savor each bite.Parties are opportunities to be social, so have fun! Don't let the food distract you from talking with friends and family. And even if the tables are laden with your favorites, with a little forethought and preparation, you can make healthy food choices that won't derail your good eating habits.
What are some of your favorite healthy-eating strategies for parties?
A Healthy Dinner Party Menu
11 Healthy Party Appetizers
Diet-Friendly Alcohol Choices