The dietitian's guide to canapes: the good, the bad and the ones to avoid at all costs

Grazing platters can be healthy, if you go for lower fat options.
Grazing platters can be healthy, if you go for lower fat options. Photo: Supplied

With the party season  fast approaching, so too are the invites to (socially distanced of course) events and celebrations where loads of  festive food will be served, often via platters of delicious bite-sized morsels. The issue with these seemingly tiny canapes is that they can be packed full of fat and calories, which translate into an entire meal worth of calories in minutes.

If your calendar is filling up, and you too are preparing to cater some events, here are the canapes to focus on and the ones to stay well clear of.

Anything covered in pastry is delicious, but really bad for you.
Anything covered in pastry is delicious, but really bad for you.  Photo: William Meppem

Foods to avoid

Anything with pastry
Spinach triangles, sausage rolls, party pies, quiches, basically anything made with pastry, especially mass-produced supermarket varieties are not only packed full of calories thanks to their high fat ingredients, but it is also likely that commercial pastry contains some especially nasty trans fats, a by-product of converting vegetable oils and margarine into solid fat during processing. A single pastry-based canape will contain 7-10g of fat per serve (and mostly saturated fat), and up to 200 calories per piece, meaning that just a couple of these fatty items give you more calories than an entire meal. Make a blanket rule to avoid pastry this party season and you will do your body a massive favour.

Avoid anything deep fried, like finger lickin' good chicken.

Avoid anything deep fried, like finger lickin' good chicken. Photo: 4kodiak

Deep-fried foods
Think chicken wings, risotto balls, salt and pepper squid and even sweet potato fries - any food that comes in contact with hot oil offers little nutritionally other than a hearty dose of processed fats and refined batter. Seemingly a little healthier, a large arancini ball clocks in at 150 calories and 10g of fat per serve, whilst a fried chicken wing contains at least 8g of fat and a single piece of fried calamari 50 calories and 4g of fat.

Make a blanket rule to avoid pastry and you will do your body a massive favour.

Pesto dips
While dips are generally painted with a healthy brush thanks to their bright colours and vegetable base, the reality is that most dips are made with a base of vegetable oil and are 30-40 per cent fat. In addition, dips are exceptionally easy to overeat, are often served with fatty chips and crackers and in the case of pesto dips, are close to 50 per cent fat meaning that a few scoops translates into a complete fat overload, healthy fat or not.

Better options

Marinated vegies and olives
While olives and marinated antipasti veges do contain extra oils, their vegetable base means that you are still getting the nutrients vegies offer including dietary fibre and they are relatively low in calories compared to deep fried and pastry based party snacks.

Snack on marinated olives.

Snack on marinated olives. Photo: Supplied

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Sushi
Whilst sushi rolls do contain processed white rice and added sugars, compared to other popular canapes they are still a relatively healthy choice, especially if you opt for lean meat or seafood fillings and a brown rice base. Plus, the small bite-sized pieces make them a perfect low calorie canape option.

Steamed dumplings are not as calorific as you may expect.

Steamed dumplings are not as calorific as you may expect. Photo: William Meppem

Lean meat skewers make an healthier option.
Lean meat skewers make an healthier option.  Photo: William Meppem

Dumplings
There are many different types of dumplings and while the deep fried varieties are best avoided, steamed varieties contain as little 30-40 calories per piece along with a little protein if you opt for the meat or chicken filled options. Dipping sauces too are relatively low in calories although high in salt so make sure you enjoy with plenty of water to help reduce fluid retention from soy or hoisin sauce.

Flat bread
It may be served as pizza slices or toasted flatbreads, but when served with loads of vegies and a little white cheese such as feta or goats cheese, flat bread is a relatively light, warm option to serve at functions to take the place of heavier pastry based foods. The thinner the base the better, and the more vegies and lean meat the more satisfying this appetiser will be.

The best choices

Fresh seafood
Whether the budget stretches to fresh prawns, oysters and sashimi or more affordable options like smoked salmon and tinned oysters and mussels, not only is seafood extremely dense in key nutrients including iron, zinc, omega 3's and iodine, but it is also exceptionally low in calories with 6 oysters or prawns containing as little as 150 calories and 3 g of fat.

Lean meat skewers
Whether you serve chicken, prawn or lamb skewers, the best thing nutritionally about these more substantial party snacks is that they contain a decent amount of protein which will help to keep you full so you are less inclined to keep snacking. Keep the calories controlled by serving with light dipping sauces or marinades rather than creamy dressings and aioli which pack in at least 5g of fat per tablespoon.

Vegie and cheese platters
Not all platter foods are poor choices, and if you build a platter with loads of chopped vegies, lighter cheeses such as Jarlsberg, feta, goats cheese and mozzarella, some fruit and lower calorie, vegetable-based dips and skewers you cannot go wrong. People eat foods that are readily available to them, which means if you make vegies, fruits and small serves of cheese available, they will eat a whole lot more of it, for far fewer calories than the traditional platters filled with creamy dips, crackers and chips.