Many of us wince at anything containing the D-word, especially around the holidays when we want to let loose and enjoy ourselves. But the Mediterranean diet is a year-round favorite because it’s delicious and never feels like deprivation. Grilled fish, colorful veggies, salty olives, and tangy tzatziki sauce are all on the Mediterranean menu!

So, this holiday season, start a new tradition: At parties and get-togethers, be the person who serves up tasty and healthy food. The small-plates nature of many Mediterranean dishes makes them perfect for holiday entertaining.

Whether you’re hosting your own bash or are on appetizer duty for a potluck, bring the good-for-you party with this list of 21 Mediterranean diet-friendly starters. 

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Spinach balls, photo courtesy of Rachel Cooks

1. Spinach balls

Nutritious and perfectly bite-size, spinach balls may be the sleeper hit of your Christmas shindig. At just 75 calories per ball, you can feel free to pop several.

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Vegan Mediterranean nachos, photo courtesy of Vegan Richa

2. Vegan Mediterranean nachos

If it’s hard for most people to find healthy apps at holiday parties, it’s even tougher for vegans. Make it easier on the vegans at your party (if there are any) and reap health benefits yourself with plant-based Mediterranean nachos. The secret to the creamy tzatziki on top? Blended tofu.

Advantages of a Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet isn’t just another fad eating plan. It’s associated with a lower risk of heart disease, better weight management, and improved mood. In 2018, U.S. News & World Report named it the best diet to follow overall.

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3. Beet hummus

When you think about it, it’s kinda trippy that a dip with ancient Middle Eastern origins has become a go-to side at American potlucks. As much as we love hummus, though, the store-bought kind on repeat can be a bit boring.

Switch up the flavor (but keep the creamy texture) with this beet version. Its bright reddish-pink color is the perfect visual for a festive holiday buffet. 

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Eggplant and feta phyllo tarts, photo courtesy of Olive Tomato

4. Eggplant and feta phyllo tarts

Think phyllo dough equals fat in flaky form? Nope. Phyllo has only around one-tenth as much fat as its richer relative, puff pastry. And since it’s typically made with olive oil, the fat it contains is mostly the healthy monounsaturated kind. These tarts are pretty and healthy!

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Goat cheese stuffed dates, photo courtesy of Elizabeth Rider

5. Goat cheese stuffed dates

Low carb, gluten-free, and keto-friendly, this recipe works for people on all sorts of special diets, not just Mediterranean. And did we mention it’s super easy? Just stuff dates with goat cheese and an almond, and then bake with a balsamic drizzle.

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Butternut squash and caramelized onion flatbread, photo courtesy of Oh My Veggies

6. Butternut squash and caramelized onion flatbread

There’s nobody who doesn’t like pizza. Please picky eaters and get your veggies in with this flatbread. Divide it any way you like for serving — into small bites or larger slices.

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Crispy oven-baked green bean fries, photo courtesy of I Heart Vegetables

7. Crispy oven-baked green bean fries

Green beans, string beans, haricot verts… whatever you call the beans with the crunchy outer pod and tender inner peas, one thing’s for sure: They’re a nutritious veggie full of fiber and (surprise!) a punch of vitamin C. Break them free from their casserole confines in this healthier take on oven fries.

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Seared tuna with Spanish manzanilla tapenade, photo courtesy of The Endless Meal

8. Seared tuna with Spanish manzanilla tapenade

Rack up good fats with this app that features two of the healthiest oily fish around: tuna and anchovies. This three-layer stack starts with a cucumber wedge, adds a slice of fish, and gets topped with a Spanish olive tapenade. 

9. Tuscan white bean dip

Tuscan white bean dip is practically the definition of a Mediterranean app. Cannellini beans, fresh herbs, olive oil, and sun-dried tomatoes make a nutritious, flavor-filled combo. 

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Healthy loaded sweet potato rounds, photo courtesy of A Couple Cooks

10. Healthy loaded sweet potato rounds

Ready to mix Mexican with your Mediterranean? There’s no reason south-of-the-border flavors can’t play nice with this eating plan.

These little bites feature baked sweet potato rounds (subbed for the typical crostini toasts) topped with spices, scallions, cheese, and sour cream. For extra protein and fewer calories, use Greek yogurt instead.

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Caprese skewers, photo courtesy of Amee’s Savory Dish

11. Easy breezy caprese skewers

The best apps are ones that look fancy without a ton of effort — like literally anything on a skewer. Customize these caprese skewers with your favorite Mediterranean nibbles, like cherry tomatoes, olives, cucumber slices, and individual tortellini. 

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Shrimp with roasted garlic-cilantro sauce, photo courtesy of A Mediterranean Kitchen

12. Grilled shrimp with roasted garlic-cilantro sauce

That shrimp ring on ice is gonna look pretty passé next to this gorgeous grilled seafood. Stick individual shrimp on toothpicks for easy dipping in the accompanying garlic-cilantro-olive oil mixture. You’ll never look at cocktail sauce again.

13. Savory and spicy rosemary roasted mixed nuts

When you think plant-based protein, don’t forget about nuts. This blend has pecans, walnuts, cashews, almonds, and macadamias (but modify it any way you like). They’re a little sweet, a little savory, and a little salty.

14. Red lentil patties with garlic-herb tahini sauce

Fresh garlic boosts immunity, so this recipe might just be doing your party guests the favor of helping keep colds and flu at bay. To make this app extra appealing, don’t smother the patties with the garlic-tahini sauce. Instead, drizzle it in a controlled stream using a piping bag or a plastic bag with one corner snipped off.

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Crab-artichoke toasts, photo courtesy of Well Plated by Erin

15. Crab-artichoke toasts

As seafoods go, we say crab doesn’t get enough love. It tends to take a back seat to salmon and shrimp — but it’s low in calories, high in protein, and super simple to include in appetizers. Give it the attention it deserves in this herbed artichoke-crab mixture on baguette slices.

16. Vegetable-stuffed portobello mushrooms

There are six different veggies (count ’em!) in these stuffed mushrooms. Probably can’t say the same for Aunt Marge’s sausage-cheese dip or your boss’s yuletide Buffalo wings. 

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Greek chicken kebabs, photo courtesy of Cooking Classy

17. Greek chicken kebabs with tzatziki sauce

These Greek chicken kebabs sneak in extra nutrition with the addition of bell peppers, zucchini, and red onion. With the combo of chicken and veggies plus a yogurt-based sauce, you can practically make them into a whole meal.

18. Moroccan meatballs

Sure, red meat may be limited on a Mediterranean diet, but that doesn’t mean it can never make an appearance on your holiday menu. Moroccan-spiced meatballs nestle among tomatoes, onions, and olives in the slow cooker for a fix-and-forget app.

19. Cucumber hummus bites

The five ingredients in this throw-it-together app are all good for you. Cucumbers (hydrating and packed with antioxidants), feta cheese (lower in fat and calories than other cheeses and loaded with B vitamins), store-bought red pepper hummus, tomatoes, and parsley.

20. Crunchy roasted chickpeas

These three-ingredient munchies star chickpeas (is there a more versatile food?) roasted in olive oil and salt. Best of all, you can play around with adding different spices and seasonings to create your own flavor. Guests will eat them by the handful.

21. Quinoa-stuffed endives

Endive boats are the perfect handheld vehicle for an endless array of fillings, like a protein-rich quinoa salad with roasted grapes and toasted pine nuts. Make this light hors d’oeuvre even more colorful by using both green and red endives.