Vegetarian Christmas Starters
Mini Cheese Balls
Save 108 calories, 7g sat fat, and 69mg sodium per serving over a traditional cheese ball. Almond milk cream cheese is delicately nutty, with a buttery-rich texture and zero grams of sat fat. Find it at Whole Foods stores nationwide. You can substitute 1⁄3-less-fat cream cheese, which adds 1.6g sat fat to each serving.
Pear, Brie, and Balsamic Bruschetta
This bruschetta is both sweet, with pear slices and honey, and savory because of the Brie cheese and balsamic drizzle. Perfect for entertaining, these adorable bruschetta bites are a light way to kick off a dinner, plus they come together quickly and easily.
Blood Orange and Radicchio Salad
This salad is a beautiful addition to any table spread with its vibrant orange and deep magenta hues. Hearty radicchio and fennel have real staying power—even after they've been tossed with dressing—which makes this ideal for times when you need a make-ahead salad for a buffet or to take to a potluck. We love the color of blood oranges, but you can use all naval or Cara Cara oranges.
• • Gluten-Free Tip: Although agave doesn't contain gluten, it's a highly-processed sugar alternative that's considerably sweeter than sugar. Sub with raw honey if this bothers you and check for potential gluten-containing additives.
Sesame-Soy Nut and Pretzel Mix
If any one dish is devoured quickly and constantly (usually by the fistful) throughout the holiday, it’s snack mix. Consisting of salty nuts, pretzels, and cereal doused with a Worcestershire and butter, this innocent munchie racks up sodium and calories quickly. Our healthier version gives you all the salt, crunch, and bold spices of the original with the addition of whole-grain popcorn, toasty whole-wheat cereal, and spicy wasabi peas. The peas inspired an Asian track with toasty sesame oil and reduced-sodium soy sauce, cashews, and pungent ground ginger.
Foolproof Cheese Fondue
Fondue is forever tied to the kitschy themed parties of the 1960s and 70s, but the dish is worth reviving: It's a casual, fun way to entertain. Nutritionally, fondue is a great way to stretch the calorie and saturated fat content of rich cheeses over several servings without losing any melty goodness. We add evaporated milk to make the base even creamier with fewer calories and less saturated fat. Guests will keep coming back for more. Any Gruyère works wonderfully here, but the aged kind has a bigger, nuttier flavor. While a double boiler is used in many recipes, you'll need a heavy saucepan and direct heat here to activate the cornstarch and thicken the fondue. Serve with tart, crisp apples and crusty whole-grain bread.
Kale and Pomegranate Salad
Balancing hearty bites of kale and sweet notes of pomegranate, this salad is a flavorful, seasonal way to kick off a holiday meal. Packed with vitamins, and nutrients, kale and pomegranates are both superfoods that make for a wholesome, healthy salad. This starter is colorful and crowd-approved, making it the obvious option for your next hosting gig.
Baked Brie with Golden Raisin Compote
Gold trophies might be the coveted prize at the award show, but this brie topped with golden raisin compote will be the prize at your viewing party. This hearty appetizer is best made ahead of time, before your guests arrive.
This homemade hummus is a great appetizer for holiday parties and casual dinner get-togethers alike. Healthy dippers include baby carrots, bell peppers, pita chips, radishes, jicama, and sugar snap peas.
Creamy Butternut-Leek Bisque
Whole-grain quinoa simmers in the soup and then gets blended into the mix—resulting in a thick, creamy, luscious texture. Don’t be afraid to let the blender go for a couple of minutes; that’s the path to super-smooth results. We call for precut-prepped butternut squash because it’s a real time-saver, slashing up to 20 minutes of prep time; you’ll find bags of the peeled, cubed squash in the produce section with the bags of broccoli florets and other prepared-prepped veggies. For the prettiest appearance, go with beige-colored quinoa and skip red or tricolored varieties. Greek yogurt goes into the soup to brighten the taste, and another dollop goes on top as a finishing touch along with crunchy almonds.
Unlike classic pesto, there's no oil in this filling. Once everything is minced in the food processor, though, it develops a paste-like consistency. Thaw the pastry in the fridge overnight, or leave out at room temperature for an hour or two.
Butternut Squash Queso Fundido
Butternut squash adds distinct flavor (and color) to this satisfyingly cheesy dip. To make it vegetarian, sub vegetable stock for the chicken stock. If you prefer, you can roast a halved, seeded butternut squash at 350° for 45 minutes or until soft. Scoop 10 ounces of flesh, and use in place of the puree.
It’s hard to believe there’s anything you can do to make a creamy French cheese any better than it already is, but we found a new way to take it to a new level. As the summer beats on, you can still keep this party starter on the roster—just exchange the cherries for the most seasonal fruit: nectarines, plums, peaches, and blueberries all make a delicious pairings.
Veggie-centric meals highlight the best of the season's flavors. This vegetarian menu is no exception, with everything from sweet potato casserole to stuffed butternut squashes. Even the most dedicated of meat eaters will enjoy these plant-based dishes.
These Spinach-Artichoke Bites save 167 calories, 3.6g sat fat, and 393mg sodium per serving over traditional spinach-artichoke dip. Frozen artichoke hearts contain no added salt, unlike the canned variety, which may contain more than 300mg per half cup.
Tricolored Beet Tart
Start your holiday meal with a simple yet gorgeous beet tart, topped off with tangy goat cheese, crunchy hazelnuts, and flaky sea salt. Par-bake the crust to get a lovely raised edge (what forms the shell of your tart) and ensure that the bottom will be cooked through. If you or your guests are not beet fans, substitute sweet potatoes: Wrap 4 (4-ounce) sweet potatoes in parchment paper, and microwave at HIGH 3 minutes. Then cool, peel, and slice. You can also sub feta for goat cheese and pecans or walnuts for hazelnuts.
We use the tart-shell method from the master recipe for a fuss-free version of the classic Greek spinach-and-cheese-pastry. A little pimiento, brightened with vinegar, adds pop; you could also sub chopped olives. Make sure to drain the spinach mixture well; extra liquid could make the crust soggy. Let the spinach drain while the crust bakes. Build and finish baking the tart shortly before guests arrive.
Marinated Feta Skewers
If you can find a container of multicolored tomatoes, use those for the prettiest presentation.