10 Healthy Appetizers for a Guilt-Free Super Bowl

Recently a package of coupons from my local grocery store arrived in the mail. In capital letters, the cover of the little mailer urged the reader to “GEAR UP FOR THE BIG GAME!”

“Huh,” I thought. “I wonder what big game they’re talking about.”

Can you tell I’m not a football fan?

Never have been. I couldn’t tell you who is playing whom at the Big Game February 4th, or which team won any Super Bowl…ever. Generally, our family treats Super Bowl Sunday as a bonus day to do any activity or visit any destination that would normally be busy. We once went on a 30-minute bike ride and saw a total of three cars on the road. I’m telling you, it’s like the Apocalypse, without the zombies and 20-foot-tall radioactive rabbits.

Every few years, though, we get invited to a Super Bowl party, so we decide we could pretend we’re regular Americans for an afternoon. Getting together with friends is unfailingly fun, and there’s always plenty of food. (As you probably can tell if you’re aware of the name of this blog, that’s *kind of* a big deal to me.)

But, man, for an event that glorifies athleticism, the average Super Bowl party is notorious for offering food that makes the health-conscious cringe. The usual fried finger foods and extra creamy dips make for a grease-fest that can derail positive eating habits that may have just begun in January.

What if we could up the health ante by showing up to the party with an appetizer that’s both delicious and actually good for us? This recipe roundup provides ten lighter appetizers to choose from, ensuring that at least one healthy option is part of the buffet on game day.

Go Team Whatever!

1. Mediterranean 7-Layer Dip

Let’s start right here on the blog with Mediterranean 7-Layer Dip: the healthy, flavorful answer to traditional layered dips. Serve with pita chips or veggies!

2. Baked Cheddar Broccoli Tots

Via Dinner, Then Dessert

When a picture of a broccoli dish actually makes your mouth water, it’s got to be good. Try these baked veggie-packed tots as an alternative to fried tater tots.

3. Skinny Mexican Pizza

Via Snixy Kitchen

Refried beans, veggies, and an avocado cream round out this skinny version of Mexican pizza. YUM!

4. Thai Peanut Salad Wonton Cups

Via The Busy Baker

What’s gorgeously colorful, full of Asian flavor, and even happens to be vegan? Thai Peanut Salad Wonton Cups! Psst…these might just be my top choice for the Super Bowl party we’re attending.

5. Dysfunctional Family Recipe Salsa

Another one from A Love Letter to Food! Isn’t the Super Bowl a special enough occasion to make your own salsa? Once you try this homemade kind, jarred salsa won’t hold a candle.

6. Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Crisps

Via Spend With Pennies

And speaking of salsa, how about a sweet version? Fruit salsas provide a unique way to sneak in some extra nutrition on game day.

7. Tortellini Skewers with Olives, Tomatoes, and Cheese

Via Diethood

Mediterranean flavors for the win once again! These skewers of tortellini, tomatoes, olives, and mozzarella get drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar to finish.

8. Skinny Creamy Taquitos

Via Center Cut Cook

When you live in the Southwest, there is no way your Super Bowl party cannot feature Mexican food. Keep Mexican in the mix (just a little healthier) with these lightened up chicken taquitos.

9. Baked Buffalo Cauliflower “Wings”

Via Gimme Delicious

No, cauliflower does not actually have wings. But you might not be too worried about it when you sink your teeth into these bites of buffalo deliciousness.

10. Creamy Carrot Dip with Crudites

Via Robust Recipes

Hummus, you’re so 2009. This creamy carrot dip is the new spread on the block. Serve with crudités for double the veggie goodness.

So…which one looks best to you? Or what other healthy apps are on your list for game day? Tell me in the comments!

Red Velvet Cookie Cake

I’ve never really thought about it before, but cookie cakes have played kind of a major role in my life.

It started in high school. Junior year when my husband and I were dating, there was a Sadie Hawkins’-style dance called MORP (backwards prom). Everything about it was supposed to be the opposite of the regular protocol for school dances. Instead of dressing up in our fancy best, couples were supposed to dress exactly alike. (This was much trickier in the ’90s, before the age of gender neutralized clothing.) The dance was casual instead of formal; even the photo backdrop was a departure from the usual Grecian columns and silky fabrics:

Ah yes, here we are, dressed alike and casually hanging out on our garland-draped ATV. (Who comes up with this stuff?)

The final detail of MORP was that the girl was supposed to ask the guy to the dance in some clever way. I guess food has always been my love language, because I decided to present my then-boyfriend-now-husband with a cookie cake popping the question in frosting. Unfortunately, “Will you go to MORP with me?” was too long to fit on the cookie I ended up ordering, and instead, I remember it just had the word MORP with a giant question mark.


Good thing he knew what I was talking about, or he probably would have thought I was suffering from some sort of delicious aphasic episode.

Fast forward several years. When we found out I was pregnant with our first child, we figured we’d break out the old cookie cake communication trick to inform my husband’s parents of their new grandparent status. We had been tasked to bring dessert to Sunday dinner. Imagine my in-laws’ surprise when they read the happy news in frosted lettering. Good memories.

With this history, cookie cakes have always held a place in my heart as special occasion desserts. So the other night when a friend and her daughter joined us for dinner, I decided a red velvet cookie cake sounded like just the delectable treat to serve after dinner.

When our visiting friend and I took our first bites, we looked at each other and went, “Oh. WOW.” The subtly flavored chocolate cookie dotted with white chocolate chips and covered with smooth cream cheese frosting made for an amazing finish to dinner. Cookie cakes for the win once again!

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, or for any special occasion, consider this decadent dessert. You don’t even have to spell out any messages on it. It’s special enough all by itself.

Print Recipe
Red Velvet Cookie Cake
Perfect for Valentine's Day, this frosted red velvet cookie cake is a decadent treat!
small slices
small slices
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10-inch tart pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add egg, egg yolk, vanilla, food coloring, and vinegar and mix to combine.
  2. Add flour, cocoa powder, corn starch, baking powder, and salt and mix until just combined. Stir in white chocolate chips. Pour into prepared pan, smoothing the top of the batter until even. Bake 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, make the frosting: In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, then vanilla and milk, until smooth and spreadable.
  4. When cookie cake has completely cooled, spread frosting in a smooth layer on top. Sprinkle with colored sprinkles, if using. Keep refrigerated.
Recipe Notes

Cookie cake adapted from Just So Tasty. Frosting from Betty Crocker.

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Sun Dried Tomato Almond Pesto Pasta with Chicken

Sometimes I think it’s a scandal that sun dried tomatoes don’t cost more. I’ve never made them myself (though, living in the Phoenix area, we’re certainly not short on sun…or dryness…or tomatoes), but I do have a dim sense of how much time and effort go into the end product of these shrivelly red strips. The process goes something like this: 1. Pick tomatoes 2. Wash tomatoes 3. Cut tomatoes 4. Season tomatoes 5. Dry tomatoes in the sun for days on end 6. Package tomatoes. Seems like an awful lot of work–and an awful lot of tomatoes, seeing as how they lose around 90% of their original weight and shrink down to less than half their original size upon drying.

Yet there they are, a whole bag of them for only $3.00 at Trader Joe’s. Isn’t our food system strange?

Despite the seemingly inverse relationship between cost and effort in sun dried tomatoes, I for one am quite thankful for their relative inexpensiveness, because I adoooooore them. Chewy, brightly colored, and tangy-sweet, I happen to think they bring their A-game to any dish they grace.

And wouldn’t you know it, they make a pretty spectacular main ingredient in pesto.

This Sun Dried Tomato Almond Pesto Pasta with Chicken took its place on our family’s weeknight dinner plan last week, and it’s definitely an entree I’ll be making again. Whole grain spaghetti, olive oil, tomatoes, and almonds place it squarely in the Mediterranean Diet category–a category I’ve been known to harp on relentlessly for its many health benefits. (By the way, didja see the new U.S. News and World Report ranking of diets for 2017? The Mediterranean Diet comes in at the top of nearly every category they analyzed.)

Health benefits aside, this chicken pasta boasts excellent taste and can be whipped up in about 30 minutes. Add it to your meal plan this week!

Print Recipe
Sun Dried Tomato Almond Pesto Pasta with Chicken
A Mediterranean chicken dish packed with the healthy goodness of tomatoes, olive oil, and almonds.
Course Main Dish, pasta
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Course Main Dish, pasta
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Make the pesto:
  1. Add tomatoes, almonds, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic to the bowl of a food processor. Process until nearly smooth, then taste and add salt and pepper to your liking. Set pesto aside.
Make the pasta and chicken:
  1. Make the spaghetti according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, season chicken on both sides with basil, oregano, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
  3. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add seasoned chicken and cook about 4 minutes per side or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F.
  4. Serve immediately: assemble entree with any combination of spaghetti, pesto, and chicken you like!
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe.

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Lemony Green Beans with Almonds and Feta

Three ways you know you’ve found the best green bean recipe ever:

  1. You make it more than once.
  2. When you serve it at Thanksgiving, it disappears to the last bean.
  3. You actually sneak it out of the fridge to snack on it at night.

Or, perhaps all of the above…because all of these things have been true in our household with these Lemony Green Beans with Almonds and Feta. Who’da thunk a green bean side dish could be so appealing?

I featured this recipe on A Love Letter to Food’s Facebook page during my annual Healthy Thanksgiving Countdown as an alternative to the usual green bean casserole. To take my own advice, I decided to make it for the Thanksgiving dinner we attended with friends. It turned out better than I could have hoped, the beans pan-steamed to crispy crunachability and the feta and toasted almonds soaking up the lemony, garlicky dressing. When everyone was served at dinner, nary a bean was left.

On the heels of this success, I served this again at Christmas dinner. Even my 6-year-old fought me to eat the leftovers–cold. That’s a good sign.

Is it weird that eating this makes me think of the Gollum quote from The Hobbit:

“Is it nice, my preciousss? Is it juicy? Is it scrumptiously crunchable?”

Because yes, it is. And that beats green bean casserole any day, if you ask me.


Print Recipe
Lemony Green Beans with Almonds and Feta
Crisp-tender green beans tossed with a lemony dressing and sprinkled with toasted almonds and feta make an incredible side dish!
Course Side Dish
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Course Side Dish
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
  1. Toast the almonds one of two ways: either bake them for 3 minutes at 325 degrees or heat a large skillet over medium heat and cook almonds, stirring occasionally, until toasted. Set aside.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, then add green beans, water, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Cover and cook 7-10 minutes, stirring periodically. Uncover and increase heat to medium-high. Continue to cook another 3-5 minutes or until water has evaporated and beans are crisp-tender and bright green. Remove from heat.
  3. Meanwhile, make the dressing: whisk together olive oil, dijon, lemon juice, garlic, red pepper flaked, and black pepper.
  4. When beans are done cooking, toss with toasted almonds, lemon dressing, and half the feta. Spread on a platter or serving dish and sprinkle with remaining feta. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Cookie and Kate.

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12 Small Diet Changes for a Healthier New Year

One of the foundational tenets of my nutrition philosophy is that small changes add up. When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, I’m never one to recommend a wholesale diet overhaul. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t work, for diet or any other aspect of life. You’ve probably experienced this yourself. When we jump in the deep end, all we get is wet. Plenty of research shows that when people achieve extreme weight loss in a short period of time, it doesn’t last. If you make drastic, impossible-to-maintain changes in January, by about March, the scenario looks something like this:

Instead of a quick-fix mentality, as a nutritionist, I’m much more a proponent of small, realistic changes for long-term results. If you’re considering making New Year’s resolutions for your health as 2017 draws to a close, ask yourself what you can actually incorporate into your lifestyle. Maybe you’re ready for a measurable weight loss goal, but maybe just a handful of tiny, doable changes to your diet could add up to net benefit.

Here are 12 tiny food swaps to try in 2018 for better nutrition and better health:

1. Choose whole wheat flour instead of white

Whole wheat flour has more fiber, a better glycemic index, and keeps you fuller longer. Even if all you do is substitute half the all-purpose flour for whole wheat in baking recipes, you’ll be doing yourself a favor. Check out these baked good recipes for inspiration!

2. Go meatless one day a week

Oh, the joys of going meatless! No, seriously. Abstaining from meat one day a week allows you to replace animal products with plant products, always an excellent choice for your health. Check out this in-depth defense of eating less meat.

3. Swap applesauce for butter in baking

This is the sneakiest, easiest healthy baking substitution I know of. Yes, using applesauce in place of butter may change texture in certain baked goods, so I wouldn’t recommend it for, say, brownies or cookies, but I’ve had almost entirely excellent results making this swap in muffins and quick breads.

4. Where possible, use olive oil instead of butter

The hype is real. Olive oil’s monounsaturated fats truly do your heart good. (Not that saturated fat is something to fear as much as we used to think–new studies are casting doubt on some long-held beliefs about the connection between sat-fat and heart disease. Personally, I just think a bit more research is needed before I’d advise throwing caution to the wind.)

5. Drink sparkling water + juice/lemonade instead of soda

As much as we love sugar, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s flat-out bad news for our health.

Here’s a super thorough, rather damning fact sheet on all the damage sweet drinks do on American public health. Not ready to kick the soda habit entirely? Go halvsies by mixing sparkling water with juice, lemonade, or another sweetened beverage for a small, attainable change.

6. Treat yourself with dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate

This interesting infographic from Prevention.com shows the differences between dark and milk chocolate. 

Bottom line: dark chocolate makes the overall better choice for its lower sugar content and higher fiber and iron.

7. Snack on popcorn instead of chips

Crunchy? Salty? Thoroughly snackable? Check, check, check. Popcorn offers much the same snacking experience as chips with less fat, fewer calories, and (if you go with the unsalted variety) lower sodium.

8. Try a milk alternative

Cow’s milk has plenty going for it, with its high levels of calcium and protein. But keeping an open mind on milk alternatives like almond, soy, or rice milk could serve you well if cutting fat and calories are a part of your pursuit of healthy eating. Some food for thought for comparison:

From MyFitnessPal.com

9. Make salads with spinach instead of iceberg

If you ask me, iceberg lettuce earns its name: it’s little better than eating ice. Look down the line items of its nutrition facts and you’ll see zero after zero. For better nutritional value in your salads, choose fresh spinach. Your body will thank you for the dose of vitamins A and K and fiber boost, for only 7 calories per 1 cup.

10. Choose a fruit popsicle or frozen yogurt instead of ice cream

Ok, I know, easier said than done. Given the choice, I’d prefer the velvety deliciousness of ice cream over a popsicle. But two suggestions: one, when you stock the healthier option in your freezer, you’re a whole lot more likely to eat it. And two, making your own creamy popsicles can be a fun motivator to ditch the ice cream.

11. Go with yogurt + honey on waffles or pancakes instead of butter + syrup

The outside-the-box switch of yogurt for butter provides probiotics and lower fat with a similarly creamy texture. Not bad!

12. Experiment with fish or beans in burgers instead of beef

All burgers aren’t created equal. Slash calories and add vitamins and healthy fats by ditching beef in burgers in favor of beans or fish. Here are some recipes to get you started.

Wishing you a happy and healthy new year!