How to Build a Healthy Charcuterie Board for the Holidays
— By Kayla Parsons, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Ph.D. Student, University of Maine Cooperative Extension
Heading to a holiday party, but not sure what to bring? Everyone loves a well-assembled charcuterie board (pronounced: shaar-koot-tr-ee). While charcuterie traditionally refers to the preparation of cured meats, the term is frequently used to describe snack trays and plates with a variety of themes and compositions. Our take is to create a healthful snack plate using the MyPlate food groups and guidelines. Charcuterie boards are the perfect option for any holiday party because:
- there’s minimal cooking involved,
- it contains a variety of options for everyone, and
- A charcuterie board can be a light and healthy snack for those who don’t want to fill up before a main meal.
Building a charcuterie board based on MyPlate guidelines can ensure that guests have a satisfying and healthier selection while celebrating this holiday season. MyPlate was developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and is a visual representation of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans depicted in five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. Incorporating these food groups into your diet regularly promotes a healthy lifestyle and reduces risk for diet-related chronic disease. Keep reading for MyPlate-inspired tips on how to create a mouthwatering charcuterie board.
Fruits and Vegetables
MyPlate encourages you to make at least half of your plate fruits and vegetables – and this can directly apply to your charcuterie board! Not only do fruits and vegetables contain fiber and other essential nutrients that benefit your health, but they can also add eye-popping colors to your spread. The fruit group consists of all fresh, frozen, canned and dehydrated fruits in any form (i.e. 100% fruit juice, whole, cut up, pureed, cooked). At least half of the fruits you eat should be whole fruit, rather than 100% fruit juice. Your board will shine with vibrant-colored fruits like blueberries, raspberries, red apples (leave the skin on for even more fiber!), grapes of any color, cherries, pomegranate seeds and orange slices.
Vegetables can also contribute to the aesthetic appeal of your charcuterie board. Any raw, cooked, fresh, frozen, canned, dried vegetable (or 100% vegetable juice) are in MyPlate’s vegetable group. MyPlate encourages you to vary your veggie routine, providing all the more reason to add multiple types of vegetables to your board. Consider adding green pepper slices, cauliflower, carrot sticks, EFNEP’s Roasted Garlic Brussel Sprouts, sugar snap peas and EFNEP’s Harvard Style Beets. For extra unique flavor, add pickled items such as pickled onions or EFNEP’s Quick Pickles.
MyPlate encourages us to make half the grains we eat whole grains. On a charcuterie board, you can incorporate whole grains from the grain group by adding small slices of whole grain bread or whole wheat rolls, graham crackers, whole wheat crackers, slices of whole grain pita bread, and even popcorn! Whole grains contain all parts of the grain, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. These parts of the grain are beneficial for our health because they contain essential B vitamins, iron, magnesium, selenium and dietary fiber. Refined grains on the other hand, such as white bread or pasta, are processed to remove the bran and the germ. Incorporating whole grains instead of refined increases the amount of health-boosting benefits we consume, reducing our risk of chronic disease.
Dietary protein is essential for immune health, maintaining and growing muscle, repairing tissues and maintaining fluid balance in the body. MyPlate’s protein guideline is to eat a variety of lean or low-fat protein sources, including seafood, lean ground beef, pork, eggs and skinless poultry. There are also multiple vegetarian options in the protein group, including beans, peas, nuts, seeds, soy products and lentils. For a holiday charcuterie board, try vegetarian protein sources for a fun twist on the classic charcuterie board. Consider including a variety of nuts, like almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans, or walnuts to your board. Seeds, like EFNEP’s Roasted Pumpkin Seeds or sunflower seeds, are savory, easy-to-add protein options. Roasted chickpeas and edamame are also fan favorites given their crunchy texture.
MyPlate’s dairy group includes milk, yogurt, cheese, lactose-free milk, fortified soy milk, and yogurt. Try to consume mainly low-fat and fat-free dairy options (or lactose-free/fortified plant versions). Charcuterie boards are the perfect opportunity to taste test a variety of hard cheeses (cheddar, gouda, mozzarella) and soft cheeses (brie, feta, Camembert). One of my favorite ways to add dairy to a charcuterie board is through a yogurt dip. Try EFNEP’s Cinnamon Yogurt Dip to meet your dairy needs, while also having a side that perfectly complements your desired fruit choices.
Assembly, Garnishes and General Tips
Now that we have our nutrition bases (and food groups) covered, time for the best part! Building a charcuterie board provides an opportunity for you to be creative and play with your food. To make your board more alluring, place smaller items like nuts and seeds in bowls that fit on top of the charcuterie board; then, place items that take up more space like whole grain bread and sliced fruits around the bowls. Embrace your inner food artist by seeing which colors look most attention-grabbing when placed next to each other. There’s really no wrong way to do this! Decorate your board with simple garnishes like fresh sage, rosemary or small jars of honey and jams.
In terms of food safety, remember to wash your hands, all surfaces, produce, your platter, and any utensils being used for serving. Encourage your guest to wash their hands prior to enjoying your creation and opt for single-use toothpicks or tongs to pick up items from the board. Keep all perishable items in the refrigerator prior to your event and refrigerate your charcuterie board after two hours.
Feeling inspired? Tag @umainefnep on Instagram to show us your MyPlate-inspired charcuterie board.