Healthy Holiday Appetizers

Make sure you save vegetable sushi for the end, and enjoy rolling up with your guests.

Get things rolling, by teaching your guests how to make vegetable sushi.

BY CARLYE WAXMAN-HUSSERL RDN, CDN | Popular appetizers around the holidays include pigs in a blanket, fried mozzarella sticks, fried zucchini, meatballs, and all manner of chips and dips. By the time you sit down for dinner, you already feel like a stuffed mushroom!

Your guests may appreciate (and they can sure use) a few healthy yet delicious treats. Yes, it’s easy to buy pre-prepared hors d’oeuvres…but how about pairing that with healthy, homemade treats?



These are fun (and therapeutic!) to make. After serving a glass of wine, teach your guests how to roll them.


2 large green zucchini

2 large carrots, or buy 1–2 bags of petite baby carrots

1 bunch of cilantro

1–2 avocados, ripe



Peel zucchini with a large peeler to get large strips. Do not salt these as they may shrink. Cut carrots into matchsticks (or buy mini carrots). Wash cilantro and peel off a few leaves for each “sushi.” Slice avocado into small chunks and sprinkle with salt.

Spread out the cucumber, and use a butter knife to evenly spread hummus from side to side. At the end of one side, stick on the avocado chunk, then cilantro, then carrot. Roll all the way and stand upright. Serve with some hummus as a dip on the side.


Each bite = 25–30 calories, 1g protein, 1g carbs, 0g fiber.



Serve artichoke dip with some baked tortilla chips or a hunk of hot Italian bread.

Serve artichoke dip with some baked tortilla chips or a hunk of hot Italian bread.

This healthy twist on Olive Garden’s recipe saves you 325 calories, one (1/4 cup) serving at a time.


1 package of frozen spinach, thawed

1 can of quartered artichoke hearts, drained

1/2 cup low-fat sour cream

8 oz low-fat cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (get something fancy, flavor is key here)

1 garlic clove, chopped

2 tbsp oregano and parsley

1 tsp crushed red pepper

Salt and pepper to taste (about 1/4 tsp each)

1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine all but panko and mix well. Add to a casserole dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle the panko crumbs on top and add a bit more Parmesan. Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until brown on top (you can broil for the last minute or two).


130 calories, 7g protein, 9g carbs, 3g fiber.



Make hummus festive by adding chopped red peppers and some green parsley on top at the end.

Make hummus festive by adding chopped red peppers and some green parsley on top at the end.

The secret to making this healthier is cutting out all that oil. Serving: 2 tbsp.


1 can of Goya low sodium chickpeas

1–2 tbsp Roland Tahini (yes, this brand matters)

1/4 tsp salt

2–4 tbsp water

1 tbsp lemon juice (or juice half a small lemon)

1 red pepper

1 tbsp olive oil

1 bunch of chopped parsley


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Cover a red pepper in foil and bake for about 30 minutes in the oven. Take it out and let it cool. Cut in half, remove seeds and the skin on the outer portion of the pepper.

Reserve half of the red pepper to chop up as a garnish. In a food processor, add all liquid and solid ingredients together. Process until very smooth. If the mixture is still too thick, add a bit more water. Add some chopped parsley and red pepper at the end to make it festive!


48 calories, 1.6g protein, 7g carbs, 0g fiber.



Your vegetarian friends will thank you for serving cauliflower buffalo wings.

Your vegetarian friends will thank you for this variation on a meaty favorite..

For the vegetarians at your party who can’t participate in the chicken wing experience. Serves 12.


1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets, washed and dried well

1 cup of flour

1 cup of skim milk

Seasoning (see directions)

1 cup of buffalo sauce of choice (Pick the lowest calorie one. I happen to like Archie Moore’s.)

1 tsp oil


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large tossing bowl, combine milk and flour and stir well. Add whatever seasonings you prefer at this point. I added salt, pepper and garlic powder.

Mix the cauliflower in the large bowl with flour mixture. Spread out in a casserole dish and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes. Take out the dish. Combine the buffalo sauce and oil together in a smaller bowl and pour over the cauliflower.

Place back into oven for about 8 minutes. Serve with celery sticks and low-fat bleu cheese dressing.


74 calories, 3g protein, 12g carbs, 1g fiber.



Just stick a fancy toothpick on top, then serve eggplant and tofu meatballs with hot marinara.

Just stick a fancy toothpick on top, then serve eggplant and tofu meatballs with hot marinara.

At 35 calories per meatball, you can have quite a few!


1 medium-sized eggplant

1/2 tbsp oil

2 cloves of garlic

1 1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs

2 tbsp Parmesan cheese

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

5 dashes of fresh thyme

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1 large egg

1/2 block of tofu


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Slice eggplant in half, then in half again. Cut into very small pieces (skin on). Heat a medium saucepan, add oil and eggplant and cook for about 2 minutes. Add about a 1/4–1/2 cup of water, and continue to cook until it softens (about 10 minutes altogether).

Meanwhile, place tofu on a plate and squeeze out all the water (best to do this with a paper towel on top, then use a heavy pan and let it sit for a half hour). Use a potato masher to mash tofu until it is crumbled well (the more you press, the better that texture gets). Once eggplant is cooked, transfer to a food processor and pulse a few times until it is slightly chunky. Add to bowl with the tofu, crushed chopped garlic, panko, beaten egg, and seasonings.

Line a large baking sheet with tin foil and coat with cooking spray. Using a big spoon or your hands, mix the mixture together until well combined. Form into small (or big!) meatballs, and place on the baking sheet. Spray cooking spray on top and bake in the oven for about 45 minutes. Turn over midway through, so both sides get browned. Serve with some hot marinara.


For larger (12) meatballs: 70 calories, 4g protein, 10g carbs, 2g fiber.

For smaller (24) meatballs: 35 calories, 2g protein, 5g carbs, 1g fiber.


Carlye Waxman-Husserl is a Registered Dietitian and weight loss expert. For more tips and recipes, visit sweetnutritionnycom or  follow her on twitter @Sweet_Nutrition. All photos for this article were taken by Carlye.


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