7 Lighter Ways to Kick Off Your Holiday Meal

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It’s that time of year when our opportunities to O.D. on cheese and crackers are more abundant than we would like. We love a baked Brie just as much as the next person, but if you’re hosting a holiday get-together, the cocktail hour should consist of light, refreshing bites that anticipate the meal ahead without completely spoiling it.

If there’s a creamy, bubbling-hot dip on the table, it should come as no surprise when your meticulously arranged crudite platter goes untouched and, worst of all, your guests are too stuffed to enjoy the main event. Small bites that are not only light but also quick and easy to make are best for everyone in attendance — especially the host — so choose recipes that require no more than 20 minutes of prep work (the less time, the better). Here are five finger foods you can count on to hit the mark at your upcoming soiree.

Vegetarian Spinach-Walnut Pate (pictured at top)

Even though “pate” and “caviar” don’t necessarily go together, but this creamy, flavor-packed appetizer spreads like pate, and the tart bursts of pomegranate seeds are a little like caviar.

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Baked Coconut Shrimp

Plump shrimp with a crisp breading — what could be better when mingling over hors d’oeuvres? These homemade coconut shrimp tossed in panko breadcrumbs are baked — not fried — for a crunchy bite with just 167 calories per serving.

Polenta Squares with Mushroom Ragu

If your guests will need a relatively empty belly in order to tackle the main dish, keep the appetizers bite-sized. Giada De Laurentiis tops tiny polenta squares with a savory mushroom sauce for an easy, elegant appetizer.

Mushroom-Pesto Crostini

Pungent porcini mushrooms plus garlic and Parmesan give great kick to Giada’s pesto that’s balanced with crunchy crostini slices. They’re a great crowd-pleaser for a party or just to eat as a snack.

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Eggplant Ricotta Bites

Think of these lightly breaded eggplant bites as a slimmed-down, miniaturized version of eggplant Parmesan. Sauteing the eggplant gives it a desirable crunch, without the excess oil you get with deep-frying. Channel the classic presentation by topping each round with a dollop of ricotta, diced tomatoes and shredded basil.

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Spinach and Goat Cheese Tarlets

Food Network Magazine knows that store-bought phyllo dough is the secret to any time- and sanity-saving appetizer. Here, a flaky phyllo crust cradles a light spinach and goat cheese filling for an elegant cocktail party canapé.

Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Dip

Racing desperately against the clock? Ellie Krieger’s red pepper and walnut dip is quick and easy to make (it’s done in 15 minutes!); set it out alongside a vegetable platter for an elegant appetizer spread.

For more festive appetizers, check out these recipes from our friends:

Devour: Spread Holiday Cheer with These Cheesy Appetizers

The Lemon Bowl: Baba Ganoush Recipe

The Wimpy Vegetarian: Miso Mashed Potato Stuffed Mushrooms

The Mom 100: Crispy Baked Sweet Potato Fries

A Mind “Full” Mom: Christmas Tree Deviled Eggs

The Fed Up Foodie: Italian Cheesy Bites

Taste with the Eyes: Holiday Entertaining: Oysters with Caviar

Swing Eats: Turkey Bacon Wrapped Dates with Cheese, Marcona Almonds, and Herbs

Creative Culinary: Pecan, Pineapple and Gorgonzola Cheese Ball with Dried Cranberries

FN Dish: Easy, Cheesy Appetizers Your Holiday Guests Will Hover Around