Great news: the holidays don’t have to be synonymous with health-demolition and weight- gain! As the festivities approach, a little planning can provide us with the tools for having fun celebrating, while staying healthy at the same time. For example, whether finger foods are served exclusively, or are Act One of the show followed by… you guessed: more food, those goodies are often extremely fatty, salt-laden, and include other unhealthy ingredients.

When attending an event, carefully keep track of your “table-to-hand-to-mouth” activity… If you are hosting a party or are contributing appetizers to a gathering, you can easily make or buy wholesome ones.

Move over, potato chips, fake dips, and friends! We don’t have to resort to the same-‘ol-same-‘ol boring and predictable junk food, or prepare elaborate, multi-stage horse d’oeuvres. Make finger food in advance, at your convenience, easily and quickly from fresh veggies, (Bruschetta, eggplant, or beans), served on whole grain crackers, sliced baton bread (baguette), or pita wedges. For scrumptious and healthful crunchy nibbles, spread olive oil on one side of corn tortillas or whole grain pita rounds. Sprinkle ground cumin or finely grated garlic on the oiled side. Cut each into six or eight wedges and roast in a 375F oven 8 – 12 minutes until crisp – yum! Garlic, curry, citrus zest, ginger, and other flavor stars help make “Delicious” happen in numerous easy appetizers. Enjoy the following recipes — happy and healthy holidays!

CREAM CHEESE-FRUIT SPREAD

Yield 1-1/2 cups

4 dried apricots

1 package (8-ounce) reduced fat cream cheese, room temperature

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

½ cup dried cranberries, finely chopped

Whole grain crackers (about 2-inch diameter)

In a cup, place whole apricots covered in hot water for 15 minutes. Drain, let cool, dry with paper towel, then chop fine. In a medium bowl, mix the cheese and zest until well blended. Add apricots and cranberries. Serve on crackers.

TOMATO-AVOCADO SALSA (2 servings)

1 ripe (but still a bit firm) Haas avocado

1 ripe tomato, finely chopped

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion

1 tablespoon wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

Cut avocado in half lengthwise, remove and discard the pit. Cut each half again in half lengthwise. Pull back the skin of each avocado quarter and peel. Chop avocado flesh into small pieces by making parallel cuts lengthwise, crosswise, then chopping avocado a bit more. In a medium bowl gently mix avocado and all other ingredients. Refrigerate 30 minutes in an airtight container before serving. Serve with corn chips.

EASY STUFFED MUSHROOMS

12 large whole white mushrooms

Olive oil divided:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon dried oregano

3 cloves garlic, finely grated

¼ cup bread crumbs

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons finely grated sharp Cheddar cheese

2-1/2 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375F degrees. Rinse mushrooms, dry with paper towels, and place them on a large plate. NOTE: Mushrooms should be promptly dried after they were rinsed. They absorb water like a sponge, and will become soggy if allowed to remain wet. With the tip of a small knife, remove the stems at their base, and reserve them in small bowl. Finely chop ¼-cupful of the stems, set aside and discard the rest of the stems. With a melon baler or a spoon, scoop the gills out of the mushrooms caps. Lightly brush mushroom exteriors with oil. TO MAKE THE FILLING: In a skillet, heat oil and onion over medium heat. Reduce heat, cover, and cook onion until it is translucent, about 12 minutes. Add chopped mushroom stems, and oregano, and cook (covered) 5 more minutes, stirring once. Remove the onion mixture from stove and add garlic, wheat germ, salt, cheese, and walnuts. Mix well. Line a baking tray with parchment paper after applying a few drops of oil on several spots directly on the baking tray. The oil helps keep the paper in place. (The paper may first curl up until a few stuffed mushrooms are “parked “on top of it). Do not grease the top of the paper. Fill the mushrooms, forming a small mound at the top. Place the filled mushrooms on the prepared baking tray (filling-side up), and bake 10 minutes. Do not overbake! Promptly transfer mushrooms to a serving plate.

Judy E. Buss is a nutritional cooking instructor, blogger for the American Holistic Health Association, and speaker.

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