It’s that time of year when everybody is firing up their barbecues, heating up their pools and opening up their backyard for parties and cookouts every weekend. Part of the reason people feel happier in the summer is because summer is a social time! But socializing usually means eating—overeating, to be precise. You’re mingling, you’re drinking, and before you know it, you’ve had half a family-size bag of chips with bean dip all to yourself and the burgers aren’t even ready yet. If you live for the appetizers at parties, then you’ll just have to learn how to make them healthy, so you don’t end the summer season looking like the pigs in the blankets you gorged on. Here are classic appetizers, healthified (yes, we coined a new term). So you won’t feel like you’re missing out.
Veggie chip nachos
The toppings on nachos aren’t generally that bad (unless you’re a sour cream fiend), but the chips on the bottom bring in the empty calories. Try using little baked bell pepper triangles in place of the chips. You can also use zucchini slices, sweet potato slices…any veggie you like.
Avocado is great for you—in moderation. Help moderate yourself by using half the avocados you normally would, and instead, blending in finely chopped up cucumbers to add volume. You can also blend in smashed up white beans to add creaminess and fiber.
Skewers can be healthy or very unhealthy, depending on what you put on them. Skip the ones loaded with steak and instead try chicken, bell peppers, and zucchini, or feta cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers for a Greek salad-style skewer.
String bean “fries”
If you haven’t had panko-covered baked string bean “fries” with sriracha, you haven’t lived. You won’t miss regular potato French fries after having these.
Instead of pizza bagel bites or mini personal pizzas, try this: bake large pepperonis until they curl up into little cup shapes. Fill these with low-fat mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce. Then you can skip the carbs of the crust.
If you take your favorite buffalo sauce that you’d typically put on chicken wings and toss it over baked cauliflower, you’ll be in heaven. And you’ll get plenty of vegetable points, without consuming too many calories.
Vegan queso dip
Queso dip is hard to stop eating once you start. And that’s a problem for your waistline. Instead of using traditional queso cheese, purchase cashew-based nacho cheese from your local health food store, and mix in the other usual ingredients like scallions and jalapeno peppers. It’s lower in calories and adds protein points.
Typically made with sour cream, this sweet and savory dip can bring in a lot of calories. Try making it with Greek yogurt, instead, to add protein points and substantially cut back on the calories.
This recipe usually calls for mayonnaise, parmesan cheese, and artichokes. It’s another one that could benefit from swapping in Greek yogurt for your creamy base. Blend in some steamed kale for more fiber, too.
Traditional bean dip uses a whole lot of cream cheese and refried beans. You can make an equally tasty dip using butter beans, lemon juice, garlic, paprika, and cumin.
Sliders on sweet potato buns
Sliders seem so harmless with their teeny, tiny buns. But that’s why you end up eating six of them, and having more bread than you would have on one normal-size burger. Instead of mini buns, use thick slices of baked sweet potatoes, gently fried in olive oil to give them texture.
Sweet potato skins
Sweet potatoes come to the rescue again! Loaded with vitamins and fiber, this orange potato provides a healthy base for your potato skins. Then fill those up with black beans, broccoli, and a little cheddar cheese.
Bran onion rings
The only real problem with onion rings is that batter. So make your own, healthy variety with bran! Once you’ve baked them and dipped them in ketchup and barbecue sauce, you won’t notice that your batter is healthy.
Corn dog bites
The traditional corn dog has few redeeming qualities. It’s made with mystery meat and too much bread. Try corn dog bites, made with gluten free flour (and minimize the bread in these) and turkey dogs.
Lighter jalapeno poppers
The jalapenos are good for you; what’s in them isn’t. Make a healthy variety with Greek yogurt, low-fat cream cheese, and mayo. You won’t miss the cream cheese.
Mushrooms go from healthy to unhealthy when you stuff them with cream cheese. So stuff yours with pesto, spinach, and a little goat cheese. They’re far tastier than the original kind.
Seven-layer dip cups
It’s easy to lose track of how much seven-layer dip you have. So make yours in small tortilla cups. Leave out or at least go easy on the sour cream and cheddar cheese. And instead of refried beans, use whole black beans that you hand-mash.
Sweet potato tots
Sweet potato tots are truly tastier than white potato tots, and they boast more nutrition. Rather than frying these, just bake them, sprinkle with some olive oil and sea salt.
Baked mozzarella sticks
Mozzarella sticks taste just as good baked—if not better. Make yours with panko breadcrumbs or bran (like you did with those onion rings) for a healthier batter.
Taquitos are another appetizer that don’t need to go in the fryer. Stuff yours to the brim with chicken so people fill up on the protein, and don’t need to go back for too many.