Oh, how sweets can satisfy a craving. Unfortunately, too many cakes, pies, muffins, cupcakes and cookies can cause weight gain. The good news is that it’s possible to enjoy the occasional baked treat without ruining a week’s worth of healthy eating. It’s all in how you prepare that treat.

Swapping Ingredients

Baking healthier sweets means replacing high-fat butter, shortening, and sour cream with more nutritious ingredients. Food experts suggest the following substitutions to make your baked goods healthier:

• Boost the fiber in pancakes, muffins and quick breads by adding ground flax seed
• Add healthy whole grains to your diet by substituting 1/3 cup of all-purpose flour with 2/3 cup of bran or whole-wheat flour
• Reduce sugar by 1/4 to 1/3 in baked goods and desserts. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup, use 2/3 cup. Add cinnamon, vanilla or almond extract to create sweetness. Tip: Do not eliminate all sugar in yeast breads because sugar works with the yeast to make the bread rise
• Replace half of a recipe’s high-fat ingredients, such as butter, margarine, sour cream, heavy cream, chocolate, oil, and shortening with mashed ripe bananas or puréed prunes
• Instead of using one whole egg, try 1/4 cup fat-free, cholesterol-free egg substitute, or two egg whites
• Swap one cup of oil for one cup of unsweetened applesauce
• Trade one tablespoon of margarine with three tablespoons of ground flax seed
• Substitute one cup of sour cream with one cup of plain yogurt
• Exchange one ounce of chocolate with three tablespoons of cocoa
• Replace one cup of heavy cream with one cup of evaporated skim milk

If you make a few of these simple substitutions, you can have your healthy cake and eat it, too!

Appetizers are a winning way to feed your friends and family on New Year’s Eve. A selection of appetizers is more interesting and often healthier than a bowl of potato chips or pretzels.

Score Points with Variety

Every crowd is different. Some people are strictly vegan, others are meat lovers. Some people eat a lot and enjoy everything; others are picky and only nibble. Think about your friends’ habits, and combine that information with the following guidelines used by many caterers:

• Assume 12 appetizers per person per hour for a party that’s two to three hours long
• Serve three types of appetizers for eight to 10 people; four to five types for 14 to16 people
• Have both hot and cold appetizers so that while one is heating in the oven, cold ones are ready to be eaten

There are so many kinds of appetizers, from delicate baby quiches to kebabs to cheese-and-spinach pinwheels. It’s really up to you to choose!

Homemade vs. Store-Bought

If time is short, buy prepared appetizers to mix in with those you’ve made. Personalize them for a homemade touch.

• Add dried parsley to quiches
• Sprinkle pimiento strips and bits of chive on deviled eggs
• Put a dollop of sour cream on cut-up roasted red potatoes
• Decorate small, individual pizzas with sliced black olives
• A thin slice of cucumber, carrot shavings, or half a walnut all make attractive garnishes

Easy to Eat

It’s especially important that your appetizers are:

• Easy to pick up with the fingers
• Edible in one bite, without a fork
• Prepared without messy ingredients that might drip

Healthy Favorites

Vegetable platters and fruit-and-cheese platters are always good to have on hand. Wash veggies or fruit, then peel and cut into bite-size pieces if needed. Arrange like this:

Veggie Platter

• All green: Use zucchini, celery, broccoli, green beans, snow peas, green bell peppers, and asparagus
• Red, white and green: Use radishes, red peppers, mushrooms, turnips, and cauliflower plus some of the green veggies listed above

Arrange the veggies around a bowl of dip. Or put the dip into hollowed-out red or green bell peppers or a small cabbage. Try some of the more flavorful ones you can buy or make such as:

• Hummus: creamy and tangy, the main ingredient is chick peas
• Guacamole: the Mexican dip of avocado, tomatoes, and onions
• Beans: choose from white, kidney, or black beans

Fruit-and-Cheese Platter

• Select a variety of fruit; strawberries, pineapple, red and green grapes, and an assortment of cheeses; soft like Brie, hard like Swiss and Cheddar
• Take the cheeses out of the fridge and unwrap at least an hour before guests arrive to soften cheese and unlock their flavors; put toothpicks in a small bowl on the platter
• Accompany the cheeses with crackers or slices of French bread.

Keep It Neat

Put the appetizers on a large table. Be sure to include:

• Paper plates
• Lots of napkins
• Knives to cut the cheeses
• Bowls of condiments such as sour cream, mustard, and ketchup
• Spoons for dips and condiments
• Large trash can (lined with a plastic bag) that is decorated with crepe paper streamers in festive colors

With a great selection of appetizers, your guests will be cheering well before the ball drops!