10 Tips For Throwing A Healthier Holiday Party

It can be challenging to host a festive holiday party without throwing everything you know about health and nutrition out the window. The more decadent the food, the boozier the booze, the more everyone will enjoy themselves -- right? While we're big believers in indulging from time to time, the truth is that a menu filled with rich, fried and sugary treats can lead to indigestion and other discomforts. What if we told you it was possible to plan a delicious menu filled with nutrient-rich, locally produced, organic ingredients that will leave you and your guests feeling like a million bucks? You're in luck. Read on for tips from holistic chef and nutritional consultant Lisa Roberts-Lehan.

Tip Number 1: Boost Your Antioxidants

As much fun as the holiday season can be, the reality is that it leaves most of us feeling stressed out. Minimize harmful free-radicals caused by stress with antioxidant-rich superfoods like cranberries, pomegranates, oranges, bell peppers, kale, and yes, even organic dark chocolate. Because each color contains different antioxidants, be sure to use a rainbow of colors in your cooking and baking.

Tip Number 2: Stay Hydrated with Water-Inspired Beverages

It's easy to over-indulge on both food and alcohol this time of year. To help flush out excess sodium, sugar and the toxins from alcohol, keep pitchers of filtered water available for your guests. Try our recipe for Filtered Water Infused with Organic Citrus Fruit Slices:

  • Fill a water pitcher with filtered water.
  • Add 1 sliced orange, 1 sliced lime, 1 sliced lemon and a handful of fresh mint.
  • Refrigerate for 2 hours to allow flavors to infuse before serving.

Tip Number 3: Sub in All-Natural Sweeteners

Show off your baking skills and impress your guests with cookies, cakes, muffins and quick breads made with all-natural, lower-glycemic sweeteners. Replace processed white sugar with organic 100 percent pure raw honey or maple syrup from local producers, coconut palm sugar or date sugar. These options all have more nutritive value than plain-old sugar and can help stave off sugar-induced energy crashes.

Tip Number 4: Bring On the Whole Grains

Pick your favorite crostini recipe (we like this one), then swap a regular baguette for one made with organic whole wheat or spelt. If you're making a pasta or rice dish, look for products that feature whole grain organic brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, millet or amaranth. Your guests will wonder why they feel so much lighter yet more satisfied from your crafty cooking.

When baking, replace all-purpose flour with whole grain options like organic spelt or whole wheat flour, which not only boost nutrients, but also flavor.

Tip Number 5: Give Your Guests Nutrient-Dense, Plant-Based Dishes

Surprise both your carnivore and vegan guests with delicious plant-based dishes that are easy to prepare, flavor-packed and nutrient-rich. Vegetable dishes help you fill up quicker and give your body the nutrients it needs to off-set the negative affects of richer foods and beverages.

Our favorite crowd-pleasers? Roasted organic winter squash tossed with olive oil, sage and rosemary. Cauliflower mashed potatoes. Arugula and goat cheese salad tossed with cranberries and spicy pumpkin seeds. Baked kale chips. And Clean Plates' recipe makeover of "Top Chef Texas" contestant Molly Brandt's Smokey Sweet Potato Soup with Pork Cheek and Tequila Cilantro Lime Cream.

Tip Number 6: Choose Organic, Locally Produced Booze

Yes, even the alchohol you serve can be healthier, for you and the planet. Avoid the chemicals used in conventional farming and minimize your environmental impact by choosing organic and biodynamic wines, organic liquors and locally-brewed beers. Up for a little mixology? Check out our makeover of Saveur Magazine's Eggnog, as well as these delicious cocktail recipes (featuring anti-oxidant-boosting cranberries and pomegranate, no less -- see tip #1!). For the teatotalers in your group, make the eggnog sans alcohol, or offer sparkling water garnished with fruit.

Tip Number 7: Dress Up Your Crudités

We admit it, vegetable crudités aren't the most exciting addition to your holiday spread. Still, many guests appreciate having an obvious healthy option. And crudités are not only refreshing and packed with essential vitamins, they also make an eye-pleasing display -- and, per tip #5, vegetables can off-set the effects of richer foods (and booze). Pair with a selection of two to three dips made with organic ingredients -- choose fiber-rich bean dips and hummus over cream-heavy options.

Tip Number 8: Feature Antibiotic- and Hormone-Free Meat

For nibbles to please the carnivores on your guest list, make your way to your local farmer's market and find out who offers pasture-raised, grass-fed meat and poultry without antibiotics or hormones. You can also use the Eat Wild and Local Harvest websites to find local markets and producers. Looking for a crowd-pleasing recipe? Check out our makeover of Emeril Lagasse's Spanish Meatballs.

Tip Number 9: A Local Cheese Board

Who doesn't love a selection of fine cheeses to accompany an organic wine? Make your way to your local farmer's market and sample the different cheeses on offer. Choose three to five selections and pair your cheeseboard with organic fresh fruit, unsweetened and sulphur dioxide-free dried fruit, and fiber-rich nuts. Yum.

Tip Number 10: Give Creative Holiday Favors

Send your guests home with better-for-you party favors. Some of our top picks?

  • Organic dark raw chocolate from a local chocolatier. We love Nibmor Chocolates -- try their drinking chocolate in particular.
  • A piece of fruit tied with a bow.
  • Homemade organic preserves or chutney.
  • Local organic raw honey.
  • Homemade baked goods made with natural sweetener.
  • A handmade ornament.

... and, of course, the 2012 edition of Clean Plates Manhattan or Clean Plates Brooklyn!

Got questions as you plan your party? Let us know and we'll do our best to help.

Lisa Roberts-Lehan is a freelance writer, holistic chef, and nutritional consultant based in New York City. A graduate of the French Culinary Institute and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, she loves nothing more than being in the kitchen and developing new recipes. Her work has been featured in Brad Lamm's JUST 10 LBS, Erika Lenkert and Brook Alpert's Healthy Nutritious Pregnancy, as well as AOL/Fox, Plum TV, SOBeFiT magazine and McFadden Performing Arts publications.