The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 17, 2013

Dietitian: DIY food bars make for tasteful holiday party menus

By April Graff
Hy-Vee Registered Dietitian

---- — Q: We will be hosting a couple Christmas and New Year’s parties for family and friends this year. Do you have any tips or suggestions for how to pull off an easy and healthy party menu?

A: We find ourselves in the middle of holiday season and the peak time for holiday parties. A big trend this year for holiday entertaining is to serve a do-it-yourself food bar. These parties are a great option at holiday time because you can make the bar as simple or elaborate as you wish, depending on how busy you are.

Another advantage to serving a DIY food bar at your holiday party is that you can customize the menu to provide healthy options for partygoers. Guests then are able to customize their own plates to their preferences making this an ideal option for anyone with food allergies or dietary concerns.

Most DIY food bars can be kid-friendly if your invite list includes people of all ages. They also can be served at any time of day. Host a holiday brunch to free up the rest of your day for shopping, wrapping and other items on your holiday to-do list. A few brunch bar ideas can include a pancake or waffle bar, breakfast burrito bar, yogurt parfait bar or oatmeal bar, with all your favorite toppings.

Go beyond the usual mealtime build-your-own burger bars and serve an upscale mashed potato bar. Use elegant serving dishes and utensils to make this fun. Try serving the potatoes in martini glasses and let guests top them how they wish with meats, cheeses, vegetables and sauces. Pasta bars are another fun meal to serve. Offer various whole wheat pastas with a few different sauces and let everyone pick their perfect combinations.

Beverage bars can also be included along with any of your parties. For kids and those who are still kids at heart, serve a hot cocoa bar with fun mix-ins. For your adult-only parties, provide a bubbly bar with a variety of fruit juices and sparkling wines. Dessert bars and appetizers are perfect for parties where a full meal is not required. Crostini is a very popular appetizer offering and can be a delicious and healthy option, with the right ingredients. Crostini is a fancy name for toasted bread — usually a baguette — and toppings. A crostini bar makes for an endless variety of appetizers with various topping options and pairings. By incorporating lean meats or fish, cheese and roasted vegetables, party guests can have a complete, custom-built meal! Try this spread for one of your toppings at a Crostini Bar at your holiday party.

April Graff, MS, RD, LD, is a reg­istered dietitian at both Mankato Hy-Vee stores and can be reached at AGraff@hy-vee.com or call 625-1107 or 625-9070. Send her ques­tions about food and nutrition, recipes, meal planning and healthy shopping.

Whipped Blue Cheese Spread Makes approximately 1-½ cups spread All you need 2/3 cup Chobani Non-Fat Plain Greek Yogurt 2/3 cup crumbled Maytag Blue Cheese 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil Pinch of black pepper 3 tablespoons 1% milk 3 tablespoons dried cranberries, chopped 3 dried apricots, thinly sliced All you do 1. Prepare blue cheese spread by blending yogurt, blue cheese, olive oil and black pepper in a food processor until combined. With processor running, drizzle in milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached; it should be thick but fluffy and spreadable. 2. Gently stir in dried cranberries and apricots. Transfer to a serving bowl. Serve with crostini toasts and assorted toppings. Recipe adapted from Chobani.com.