So I remain fanatically committed to moderation and balance. But I want my healthy food to taste as good as my indulgences. I want to be able to choose where those indulgence calories come from.
And I want my guests to have a choice, too.
So I like some of my party fare to be healthy and hearty, offering everyone the freedom to choose.
Here are a few of my favorite offerings, prized for their color, texture and flavor, as well as their nutritional content.
Mix and match these with your own "big indulgence" party favorites, for a balanced and delicious celebration.
* Sweet red, green and yellow peppers.
I love colorful food, and these are the best. Sweet, crunchy, and seasonally bright they make a tempting display, cut in strips for dipping, or in circles for eating plain. What a great way to get some of your five-a-day fruits and vegetables, and a full day's supply of vitamin C.
Good-tasting reduced fat and fat-free dips abound, of course. But if you love real sour-cream-based dips and just can't give them up, enjoy the real thing.
If you're saving up fat calories to splurge on dessert, eat mostly veggies, with just a dab of dip.
Real sour cream has about 50 calories and five grams of fat in two tablespoons.
That's about the size of a golf ball.
* Chips and dip.
No-oil-added tortilla chips are a munchy way to fit in some whole-grain food and still have a little fun. Varieties are expanding.
Try Guiltless Gourmet if you like a sturdy chip (now in nacho cheese flavor, too), Bearito if you like blue corn, or Smart Temptations if you prefer feathery light chips. An ounce (about 22 chips) gives you 4 grams of fiber and 10 percent of your calcium for the day for just 110 calories and 1 1/2 grams of fat.
Make a festive display of the three kinds of chips with three kinds of dips. Offer Old El Paso fat-free bean dip for cautious guests who like bland food, Guiltless Gourmet spicy black bean dip for the adventurous, and Old El Paso hot salsa for the fire eaters in your crowd.
Bean dips are a good protein source, especially for vegetarian friends. A golf-ball sized portion gives you 2 percent of your calcium, 6 percent of your vitamin C, and 4 percent of your iron for the day, for just 30 calories and no fat.
* Hummus and pita.
Cut small whole wheat pita into eight triangles, then toast lightly for five to 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven. These nifty little dippers are a good source of fiber and offer a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. Their slightly sweet taste is a great flavor match for a zesty chick pea dip.
Similar to hummus, this dip uses a touch of olive oil instead of the traditional tahini paste, and provides another good protein source.
Be forewarned, this dip is not for the faint-hearted.
The flavors are intense because of the quantity and quality of fresh ingredients. It's so delicious, it will never occur to anyone that this is health food!
Chick pea Dip
1-pound can chick peas, drained
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons garlic, freshly chopped
2 ounces lemon juice, freshly squeezed
2 teaspoons black pepper, coarsely ground
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
2 tablespoons parsley, freshly chopped
Place chick peas, garlic, pepper, salt, oil and lemon juice in a blender or food processor; puree until smooth.
Add parsley and blend for 2 seconds only. Makes 2 cups. One tablespoon provides 52 calories and 2 grams fat.
(Adapted from The Art of Nutritional Cooking by Michael Baskette and Eleanor Mainella, Van Nostrand Reinhold, N.Y. 1992).