These appetizers are as fuss-free as it gets.

By Krissy Brady
January 03, 2018
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Photo by Juan José Valencia Antía via Unsplash

When you’ve got friends and family popping by, nothing beats laying out a scrumptious buffet-style spread to make sure everyone’s well-fed. But when one relative’s diabetic, another has celiac, and your best friend’s a vegetarian, picking the right dishes can be a tricky business.

As much as you’d love to make individual eats for everyone you care about that cover their specific dietary needs, attempting to do so would be equal parts time-consuming and costly. 

Fear not, dear grasshopper, because these expert-recommended appetizer ideas will keep your guests nourished, no matter their dietary restrictions:

1. Roasted Brussels Sprouts

“Every diet has vegetables in common, so it’s always good to start there,” says Christy Brissette, RD, Chicago-based registered dietitian and president of 80 Twenty Nutrition. Roasted Brussels sprouts are a delicious, super-snackable option that can be served on skewers—and take no time to prep.

To make: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and line two baking sheets with aluminum foil. Disperse 2 pounds of brussels sprouts (ends chopped off) across the foil—arranging them so the sprouts don’t overlap—and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Next, sprinkle them with a pinch of kosher salt, 2 grinds of pepper, and 2 tablespoons of freshly minced sage.

Bake the sprouts for about 40 minutes, stirring them every 10 minutes or so, until they’re golden brown and easily speared by a fork. Top with 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast and enjoy!

2. Rosemary-Maple Toasted Almonds

This is an easy plant-based snack to make, and will provide your guests with protein, fiber, and heart-healthy unsaturated fats, along with calcium and iron, says New York-based registered dietitian Maya Feller, RD. Bonus: They’re naturally gluten-free. (Maple syrup is still sugar, though, so diabetics will need to be mindful of their intake.)

To make: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place 1/4 cup of warmed maple syrup into a bowl with 1 bunch of chopped, fresh rosemary. Add 1 lb of almonds and coat them with the mixture. Once coated, place a single layer on a sheet pan and roast for 5-7 minutes on each side, taking care not to burn the almonds. Once cooled, serve them alongside your appetizers or on a fruit and cheese platter.

3. Tomato Boats

Besides looking pretty on a platter, each tomato boat appetizer provides your guests with 1/2 a vegetable serving, says Sara Colman, RD, renal dietitian and nutrition manager for DaVita Kidney Care. They’re also low calorie, low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-sodium, low-carb, gluten-free, nut-free, and dairy-free. (Phew!)

To make: Cut four firm Roma tomatoes in half and discard the inner flesh to make “boats.” Lightly drizzle the inside of the boats with 1/2 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt-free herb seasoning blend.

Rinse and drain a 15-ounce can of chickpeas. In a bowl, add the chickpeas, 1/2 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil, and the same spice blend that was added to the boats (1/2 teaspoon each of pepper, garlic powder, and seasoning blend). Also add the juice from 1/2 lemon and 1 teaspoon of red wine vinegar.

Mix together, then spoon the chickpea mixture into the tomato cups, and garnish each with a mint leaf. Refrigerate and serve chilled.

4. Shishito Peppers

“These bite-sized green peppers make a fun, tasty, and healthy appetizer,” says NYC-based registered dietitian Natalie Rizzo, RD. “Most of them are sweet, but 1 in 10 peppers is spicy, so it’s like playing pepper roulette.” (Just make sure to give any relatives with acid reflux fair warning.) Best of all, there’s barely any prep involved. Try making our Blistered Peppers and Tomatoes, or omit the 'maters and make the version below.

To make: Wash 1 pint of peppers and add them to a hot frying pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cook until the peppers begin to char (about 6-7 minutes) and sprinkle them with salt and a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve hot. 

5. Crunchy Chickpeas

Like the shishito peppers, this low-key snack is vegan and free of the top eight allergens, so it’s perfect for pretty much any guest, says Rizzo.

To make: Preheat your oven to 325 degrees fahrenheit. Drain and rinse a 15-ounce can of chickpeas and combine with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a dash of salt. Lay on a baking sheet and roast until crunchy (about 35 minutes). To amp up the flavor, sprinkle some everything spice on them (to taste). If you have an air fryer, you can also make Air-Fried Chickpeas.

6. Avocado Chocolate Pudding

If you have keto or paleo guests popping by, this pudding recipe is where it’s at. “It’s also dairy-free, gluten-free, and vegan,” says New York-based registered dietitian Beth Warren, RDN, author of Secrets of a Kosher Girl.

To make: In a food processor, blend together 1 avocado, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk, and 3 tablespoons cacao powder. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving. As an optional finishing touch, garnish with mini bittersweet chocolate chunks (over 80 percent).

7. Almond Date Balls

Not only are these treats gluten-free and vegan, but they’re also a perfect fit for guests who may be watching their intake of grains and starches, says Warren. (In which case, it’s always handy to have something naturally sweetened by fruit for them to munch on.)

To make: Process 1 cup of pitted dates in a food processor with 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Add in 1 cup raw almonds, 1/2 cup almond butter, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and a pinch or two of kosher salt. Pulse until it reaches the consistency of cookie dough. Form the dough into 1-inch balls and roll in unsweetened coconut, if desired. Store in the fridge (or freezer) in an airtight container until you’re ready to serve.

8. Golden Cauliflower Spread

This veggie-packed alternative to hummus is vegan, gluten-free, paleo, and low-carb friendly, says Chicago-based registered dietitian Olivia Wagner, RDN, though it wouldn’t be appropriate for anyone following a low-FODMAP diet. It’s a tasty dip that you can serve with crudités or sprouted seed crackers.

To make: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit. Toss 1 head of cauliflower and 1 head of garlic with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and roast until florets are starting to golden and cloves are fragrant.

Peel garlic cloves and blend with cauliflower, the juice of 1 lemon, 1/4 cup tahini, 1 teaspoon of turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Serve with assorted veggies and crunchy crackers.

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