Appetizer Recipes for People on Diets

Oh, hello! Let us say you are going to a wine-and-appetizers get-together with friends, but it is January and so some of you are eating less cheese dip and brownies than usual. And let’s say you would like to bring something that is not too depressing, but also that people CAN eat. Someone else is already bringing fruits and vegetables. My only idea so far is a bag of Smartfood Delight popcorn (35 calories a cup), so the comments section can only go up from here.

73 thoughts on “Appetizer Recipes for People on Diets

  1. Susan

    Hummus! It’s super easy to make (and even easier to buy) and you can bring raw veggies, pita chips or other chips or crackers for dipping. Please consider bringing a gluten-free option (SO many GF crackers in the mainstream now; for example, Nut Thins and Rice Thins) and labeling it as such.

  2. Linda

    Guacamole – healthy fat! Homemade chex mix, nuts. shrimp cocktail, goat cheese with whole wheat bread and dried fruits (I like figs and cherries).

  3. Ginny

    What about something like toothpick skewers of a grape tomato, an olive, and an artichoke heart? Or similar things. They’re not, like, celery stick level diet-friendly, but they’re all plant items and free of gluten, dairy, and sugar.

    1. thefluter

      You can also make mini caprese salads on toothpicks: one tip of basil leaf + cherry tomato + mozzarella ball + other tip of basil leaf. Once you’ve made them all, drizzle on some balsamic vinegar. Regular caprese salads might be easier to throw together, but I always find bite-sized foods to be more fun to eat at get togethers! :)

  4. Shannon

    Might be seasonally inappropriate, but my all-time favorite light hors d’oeuvre is cubed watermelon on a toothpick with mint leaf and a smear of goat cheese, sprinkled with a little coarse sea salt. Refreshing and really interesting on the tongue (serving these at my wedding this spring!).

    If you want something you can pretend is lighter than it actually is, my all-time ALL-TIME favorite hors d’oeuvre of any sort is this extremely delicious mushroom crostini someone showed me (using sliced baby bellas and white mushrooms). Directions go approximately like this (from memory, but this is hard to get wrong):

    – Thinly slice a baguette, brush the slices with EVOO, and bake for a minute or two.
    – Sautee some sliced garlic and shallots, along with the mushrooms (whatever proportions you like–in my world, the more shallots, the better). Flatten the mushrooms in their pan into a single layer.
    – Add a splash of white wine and some heavy cream, enough to submerge the single layer of mushrooms. Let the cream cook down a bit and zest some lemon into it (to taste).
    – Sprinkle in a handful of your favorite sharp cheese (I use gruyere or white cheddar, depending on how much I want to spend) and stir till the mixture becomes gooey.
    – Spread the mushroom mixture over the baguette slices, top with a bit more cheese, and pop the slices into the broiler. You’ll know by the bubbles and the smell when they’re ready.

    NOW. To turn this healthier, you could prep the mushroom mix and then just serve it in little cups with tiny forks, or in lettuce wraps; or you could just set it out as a sort of tapenade and let people dip chips or toasts in it. I’ve done each of the above and it’s always one of the first things gone!

  5. Andrea

    I like pico de gallo. It’s healthy as long as you don’t eat 1 million tortilla chips. My go to recipe is the Pioneer Woman pico de gallo.

  6. Elizabeth

    A toothpick with a piece of a basil leaf, a cherry/grape tomato, and a small piece of mozzarella, drizzled with balsamic reduction. OK, it has cheese, but it’s low-carb, the piece of cheese can be small, and it’s not something you would eat mindlessly like chips and dip. Also, with those colors it makes a great presentation. :)

    1. Carmen

      I’ve done these, too! They taste great and look pretty. But I might be biased, because I put balsamic reduction on just about everything. :)

  7. Suzanne

    Not sure if this counts as an appetizer, but I LOVE the Skinnytaste pickle-brined chicken tenders:

    I could totally see a plate/platter with a small bowl of ketchup or bbq sauce in the center, and the chicken tenders fanned out around it. Easy to eat with your fingers, really not bad for you at all, and taste exactly like Chik-fil-a chicken nuggets (which I guess is a plus? I have never eaten Chik-fil-a but my husband swears they have the BEST chicken).

  8. Naomi

    Do you like smoked salmon? I’m thinking of little crackers or toasts with a dab of cream cheese and small pieces of smoked salmon — but could probably be done with a piece of ham or turkey too. Not exactly healthy, but less unhealthy and pretty and tasty. Likewise, you could do a bruschetta thing — and you could save time by bringing the topping and the toasts and let people make their own. Like this maybe:

    1. beth

      I second the smoked salmon and cream cheese, but suggest serving it on cucumber rounds. This was always a hit at the restaurant where I worked wedding receptions.

  9. ccr in MA

    I have a recipe I could send you for a bell-pepper, no-tomato salsa that is absolutely delicious. The only down side is, it’s a fair bit of chopping, so you need the time/energy for that, but it is the healthiest and most delicious thing ever, I swear. (I can’t believe I haven’t put it on my blog yet; I need to do that soon.)

      1. Alyson

        I make this, but different :-) and I’m from Massachusetts!

        1 red pepper (chopped) (or any old color, green isn’t sweet enough, so red, orange, yellow)
        1 red onion (size depends on how much you love onion) chopped
        1 can corn
        1 can black beans
        healthy dose of cilantro (chopped)
        juice of 3 limes (I do zest too)
        1 clove garlic (minced) – optional but I think it adds umami
        salt and pepper

        Put it all in a bowl. Mix. taste. alter as necessary. Serve with tortilla chips (my mom uses scoops, I don’t like tostitos so I do trader joes blue corn). I also eat it with a spoon. Put leftovers in quesadillas with cheddar or jack cheese and chicken. It’s yummy

        1. Celeste

          I was just coming here to suggest this. IT’S AMAZING.

          I second the lime zest, but I rinse the black beans.

  10. Katie

    Maybe popcorn popped on the stovetop with some fresh rosemary chopped up and put in the oil to flavor it, and then topped with black pepper and grated parm?

    Or some type of crostini that is mostly fruit or vegetable with just a little bit of cheese – roasted red pepper and capers with a little blue cheese or feta crumbled on top and melted a bit or goat cheese spread on a slice of baguette and topped with sliced grapes or fig jam.

    Sweet potato chips are also healthy-ish. You could make your own if you are feeling ambitious or just buy some. Or do pita bread triangles and hummus. I have also seen Ina Garten do a long plate with sliced salami or pepperoni and sliced cucumber… not exactly health food, but it does include a vegetable!

    1. Katie

      You could also take tiny turkey or chicken meatballs in marinara or BBQ sauce. Every time I make meatballs for a party they are the first thing to go, and turkey or chicken would be a little lighter.

  11. Rachel Shapiro

    Little pearls of fresh mozz and grape tomato and basil on a skewer drizzled with balsamic? Yes, it has cheese, but not much and everyone needs a little fat!

  12. Rachel

    Cowboy Caviar is a healthy dip/salsa that shows up a lot at potlucks in my area. We use the Cook’s County version.
    Makes about 6 cups

    1 jalapeño chile, seeded and chopped fine
    2 garlic cloves, minced
    3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
    1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
    1 teaspoon salt
    3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
    6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

    1 ear corn, husk and silk removed (see note above)
    1 (15.5-ounce) can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed (see note above)
    1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped fine
    2 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped fine
    2 scallions, minced
    3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
    Hot sauce
    1 ripe avocado, pitted, peeled, and chopped (see note above)

    1. For the dressing: Whisk the jalapeño, garlic, vinegar, sugar, salt, and cumin together in a small bowl and let sit for 15 minutes. Whisk in the olive oil and set aside.

    2. For the dip: Meanwhile, bring 2 quarts water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add the corn and cook until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Using tongs, remove the corn from the water, allowing any excess water to drip back into the pan. Transfer the corn to a plate and let sit until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes.

    3. Cut the kernels off the cob into a large bowl (see page 99). Add the black-eyed peas, bell pepper, tomatoes, scallions, and cilantro. Drizzle with the dressing and stir to combine. Season with salt and hot sauce to taste. (The dip can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 day.) Gently stir in the avocado and serve.

    All recipes excerpted from Cook’s Country Best Potluck Recipes by the editors of America’s Test Kitchen. Published with permission from America’s Test Kitchen. Copyright 2010 by the editors of America’s Test Kitchen.

  13. Suzanne

    Oooh I thought of another one! This is for a chickpea salad I love that is super, super easy. And pretty healthful. And delicious. I take it most years to our block party and it’s always a big hit.

    Chickpea Salad with Lemon, Parmesan, and Fresh Herbs

    (adapted from Bon Apetit)


    1 15-oz can of chickpeas

    2 Tbsp fresh chopped basil

    2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (and some zest if you feel like it)

    4 tsp EVOO

    I small garlic clove, pressed

    1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped (This is the “adapted” part, as it was not part of the original recipe.)

    1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

    Coarse kosher salt

    Mix everything together and serve.

  14. Christy

    I’m a big fan of the salad on a stick. Fancy toothpick with assorted veg and the arranged prettily with a drizzle of dressing. Grape tomato + cucumber + olive for example. And it’s different than a veg tray so you can have both!

    For something warm, stuffed mini peppers. Stuff them with beans and rice and just the smallest amount of cheese. It’s not no cal but it’s better than a jalapeño popper

  15. Cara

    Mediterranean 7-layer dip….hummus as base and grape tomatoes, cucumbers, feta, olives, artichoke hearts etc on top. Serve with healthiest pita/cracker you caneed stand

    1. Shawna

      I do this too! Hummus, then a thin layer of plain yogurt, then a jumble of grape tomatoes, cukes, feta, and olives chopped small, then chopped fresh parsley. Looks healthy and so tasty! I serve with pita either regular triangles, mini fresh, or chips.

  16. Melanie D.

    Hummus. Almonds. Celery with a “light” version of any good dip. Dark chocolate – Dove goes over well since it also has fun words inside. Or something not so light (like brownies) cut into TINY bites so that it feels like a diet food.

  17. Stephanie

    Ooh this fun! I’m curious to see what others come up with!

    Meatballs in marinara sauce?
    Olive platter?

  18. Erin Cooley

    Homemade popcorn with honey & coconut oil, baba ganoush (it’s mostly eggplant!) & pita, antipasto plate with more pickles/olives than cheese/meat, chicken skewers maybe?

  19. Emily

    Shrimp cocktail. Pears wrapped in a sliver of Prosciutto with a small ball of goat cheese to keep them stuck together. Stuffed mushroom with “mostly” veggie stuffing. Tomato soup “shots” (can add grilled cheese sticks for those who want to dip). Caprese salads (hollow out small tomato, add a tiny slice of a BuffMozz ball, fresh basil, evoo. Crowd pleasing dip : MIx Corn, black beans, scallions, Feta, Whisk together and mix in 1/3 cup each of sugar, evoo, apple cider vinegar – . I love appetizers!

  20. Jenny

    Rice krispy treats are practically nothing but air and you can put sprinkles in them to make them festive.

  21. Becca

    A fresh tomato/bean/corn salsa is healthy and colorful and happy-looking. I just dice some tomatoes and and purple onions, maybe some cilantro, and dump in frozen corn and a can of black beans, and a little vinegar and salt. You can add some jalapenos to spicy it up. It always gets snarfed up at gatherings!

  22. KeraLinnea

    Am I the only one who can’t see comments? The link says “33 replies, ” but when I click on it, it just takes me to the “Leave a Reply” page without displaying the other comments. This makes me sad because I would love some “healthy/light while still being fun” recipes.

  23. Britni

    I was going to suggest cookie dough dip with smashed up ice cream cones as the dipper but it has cream cheese in it so then I thought well it basically breaks all the rules you’ve laid out.
    Here is a link if you’re interested anyway:

    I like the idea of the popcorn, possibly with toppings like someone else suggested (although that does up the calorie count… everything delicious is fattening imo lol)

  24. SIL Anna

    If you are as lazy as I:
    Fresh rolls (not spring rolls or the fried kind) from a Thai take-out restaurant near you (if there is one)? Whole Foods also has some very nice salad rolls all sliced up with a peanut sauce. The vegetarian sushi rolls made with rice are nice, too.

    Otherwise, one of the best diet tips anyone ever told me about was using Fage 0% greek yogurt instead of sour cream in any dip recipe. Mix it with onion soup mix & diced olives=yum. Serve with little pretzels.

    Or or OR you can just introduce all of them to HALO TOP ice cream because no diet food in the world is better than Halo Top, IMHO. I can tell you all the best flavors.

  25. Ruby

    Caprese salad! Slices of tomato on top of sliced fresh mozzarella, with pesto (or whole basil leaves) and a little balsamic. Serve with whole-grain crackers. SO GOOD. I could eat a whole plate of it. (It does contain cheese, but it also has the word “salad” in the name, so.)

    Or you could just get a package of whole-grain crackers and an assortment of spreads/cheeses/deli meats/etc. That way, people who are avoiding a certain food category can pick and choose which toppings they want. Plus, you don’t really have to cook anything!

  26. Charese

    I do a hummus layered dip. Hummus on the bottom, chopped peppers, cucumbers, artichokes, olives (if you like them), red onion (if you like it), tossed in Italian dressing (could be a lite dressing), sprinkle feta and dill on top. Serve with pita chips.

  27. Matti

    You can make a cookie dough dip from chickpeas! It’s super easy if you have a blender or a food processor. It’s also pretty healthy. I just use things like sliced apples, strawberries, pretzels, and some chocolate goldfish crackers as dippers. Any kind of graham cracker, nilla wafer, fruit on kabobs, etc. is delicious. My kids love this as dessert, so you know it doesn’t taste like health food.

    A can of garbanzo beans
    1/4 peanut butter (or nut butter of choice)
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    2-3 Tbsp of milk (use enough to make it blend to a smooth consistency)
    1/4 cup of honey or maple syrup
    Blend this all till smooth like hummus. Then stir in mini chocolate chips by hand. Reserve 1 Tbsp. of mini chips to sprinkle on top of the dip. You will need about half a bag.

    If you want to make this chocolate based, add in 1/4 of cocoa powder and bump up the sweetener by about another scant 1/4 cup.

    Biscoff spread in place of peanut butter, plus some cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top gets you a Snickerdoodle type dip.

      1. Matti

        Sorry, yes, 1/4 cup of peanut butter, or nut butter of your choosing if peanut allergies are an issue.

  28. Stefanie

    Cowboy Caviar (this is the part where we blithely ignore the stupid, stupid name and focus on the deliciousness)

    1 can black beans
    1 can shoepeg corn (this is canned white corn, but regular old yellow corn also works)
    1 tomato, chopped
    1 handful of cilantro leaves, chopped
    1 bunch green onions, sliced
    2 avocados, chopped
    1/4 cup red wine vinegar
    1/4 cup olive oil
    1/8 tsp cumin
    1/2 tsp cayenne
    1 tsp salt

    Drain beans and corn. Mix everything together and chill. Tastes even better the second day. Serve with Tostitos Scoop chips (which are available in a baked variety), or whatever virtuous delivery vehicle you wish.

  29. Alison

    Oh dear, so many good ideas already!

    I have done a light white bean or chickpea salad with just enough (egg-free) mayo to hold it together, lots of lemon juice, fresh dill, and either chopped cucumber in the salad or FANCY ALERT a slice of cucumber over the salad on a crostini or a gluten-free cracker (depending on allergies). Very tasty, high protein, low fat (just watch the mayo)!

  30. Erin

    What about chocolate covered strawberries? They’re super easy, just melt chocolate chips & dip berries, feel indulgent and yet, if you go light on chocolate they’re mostly fruit!

  31. Gigi

    I’m not a cook but what about spanokopita? It’s eggs and spinach and delicious! The only downside? Making it is a hassle but if you can buy it somewhere that might work.

  32. Ruthie

    Mix lemon yogurt with cutup fruit (apples, pears, mandarin oranges, etc) for a quick and tasty fruit salad. I like to add coconut, but wouldn’t for a group since people have such STRONG opinions about it.

  33. Sarah!

    Zucchini pizza bites- slice a zucchini, smear pizza sauce on top of each slice, with a sprinkle of mozzarella and optional one pepperoni slice. Bake (broil? Idk my oven doesn’t broil very well) until the cheese is melted and tasty looking!

  34. Imalinata

    A smear of herb Boursin cheese on endive leaves. It’s easy, no cooking required, and tasty regardless of diet status.

  35. Ali

    Love the cowboy caviar suggestion. Only I am lazy and make mine with bottled Italian dressing rather than making my own.

    Does it need to actually be healthy, or just something with some sort of wholesome component? One of the best appetizers out there is apple slices (so wholesome!) with a yummy dip. If you google cream cheese, brown sugar, Heath bits dip I bet the recipe would pop up. It is easy and amazing with apples! (Not actually healthy though)

  36. Ariana

    Prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, with or without some kind of soft cheese wrapped inside the prosciutto.

  37. Cameron

    This is a great idea for a thread! I second the suggestions of roasted or candied nuts. My favorite is a sugar and spice blend, and I think the sugar is okay since nuts are really good for you
    This is my favorite recipe:

    Also in the same group as the suggested caprese salad skewers is something I’m going to be trying for a superbowl party: Tortellini Salad Skewers. I know it’s not OMG HEALTHY but I think it’s better than the cheese dip/brownies appetizers you’re trying to avoid bringing.
    I’m trying this recipe:

    What about plain old tortilla chips and salsa? It’s healthy and fresh and you just throw it all in the food processor.
    This one is great but beware it makes approx. a gallon of salsa:

    I remember you being the queen of muffins–what about mini banana bread muffins or maybe a recipe you’ve successfully swapped for whole wheat flour?

    Also, popcorn is not a bad start. Especially if you get a few different bags of flavors, I’d definitely go to town on it and think it’s party-suitable.

  38. Molly Simon

    Cucumbers sliced with some sort of yogurt dip spread on top.
    Pickles or pickled asparagus wrapped in ham and skewered. adding a little cream cheese to them is great too.
    Roasted chick peas with seasoning of your choice

  39. liz

    Spinach and artichoke dip or fritatta cut into diamonds.

    Clam dip?

    Dittoing hummus, also dittoing shrimp platter

    Smoked salmon mousse (you can use canned salmon and liquid smoke).

    Chopped liver.

    And of course everyone loves deviled eggs

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