By the time you’re ringing in the new year, chances are you’ll be a few pounds heavier than you were before the holidays—and some research shows that at least part of that extra weight sticks around long after the celebrations are over. Perpetual holiday parties are one factor at fault for people packing on the pounds, especially because they feature trays of tempting hors d’oeuvres.

Party foods generally don't make anyone’s list of good-for-you fare. Farm Rich frozen mozzarella sticks, for example, have 90 calories each, and TGI Fridays cheddar and bacon potato skins contain about 210 calories per 3-piece serving. And let’s not even get into the sky-high sodium levels appetizers like these tend to have.

You can’t control what party foods are on offer when you’re invited to someone else’s bash, but when you’re hosting, you now have more choices. That’s because many brands have begun offering party food options that seem to be healthy—or at least healthier.

As the onslaught of holiday gatherings begins, we checked out whether these party foods are, in fact, more healthful and, second, whether they’re tasty enough to serve to guests without any apologies or disclaimers.

Our expert tasters ate their way through 72 heat-and-eat hors d’oeuvres that our nutrition experts thought would most likely be on the healthier side, and evaluated them all for nutrition, taste, and price. From that selection, we identified the top 20 appetizers that were both tasty and met or were slightly above our nutritional criteria for a healthy snack (≤200 calories, ≤5 grams fat, and ≤480 milligrams sodium per serving, which in most cases was more than one piece), and calculated a nutrition rating for each. To determine the best bites of the bunch, the panelists did a final blind tasting of those picks to assign flavor ratings, too.


Visit Consumer Reports' 2016 Holiday Gift Guide for updates on deals, expert product reviews, insider tips on shopping, and much more. And be sure to check our Daily Gift Guide.
 

The result? Twenty party foods to consider serving at your next shindig. More than half of them­—13, in fact­—clocked in at 50 or fewer calories per piece. (They ranged in size from 0.8 ounce to 4.9 ounces.) Of course, those calories can add up if you don't think about portion control. reasonable party nosh of four to six pieces of these healthier finger foods will mean ingesting no more than 300 calories. Choose carefully and you can have a dozen or so for fewer than 500 calories, which should suffice for dinner.

Eight party foods especially stood out for scoring a “very good” on both flavor and nutrition. Serving Whole Foods Market Vegetable Potstickers, Trader Joe’s Chicken Gyoza Potstickers, and Bibigo Organic Vegetable Potstickers with a lower-sodium soy sauce sprinkled with chopped scallions for a dip will add flavor and some sodium but hardly any calories. Also highly rated were Saffron Road Crispy Samosas (with Vegetables or Saag Paneer); Whole Foods Market Artichoke, Kale & Swiss Chard Bites; Trader Joe’s Thai Joe’s Lemongrass Chicken Stix; and SeaPak Butterfly Shrimp.


Photo: Jamie Chung

Strategies for Eating Healthier at Any Holiday Bash

And of course, your eating habits are as important as the party foods you choose. To keep your choices in check, follow these tips.

Never go on an empty stomach. Having a small snack that contains fiber and protein—like a handful of nuts­—or even a piece of fruit before you go out to a party stabilizes your blood sugar and takes the edge off hunger.

Start munching on lighter fare first. Hungry people who went to a buffet tended to eat the most of the foods they took first, according to research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Begin at the veggies tray.

Plan ahead. Don’t eat foods you don’t really want just because they’re right in front of you. Scan all of the offerings before you pick up a plate, then choose the few specialties that you don’t get to enjoy every day.

Use a salad plate. Make less look like more. Researchers at Cornell University have found that you can trick your brain into believing you’re eating plentiful amounts simply by putting your healthy picks on a smaller plate.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the January 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.