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The weather is getting warmer and that means a lot more outdoor get-togethers, barbecues and picnics. Or maybe for you that means staying in the air-conditioning and binge-watching your favorite TV show. Either way, snacks are going to be a part of your activities especially dips and spreads. Everyone loves gathering around big bowls of rich, creamy and decadent spreads with lots of crackers or tortilla chips for dipping. But those dips and spreads could end up adding to your own spread, if you know what I mean. So many dips and spreads are filled with fat, salt and empty calories and are not good for you at all. That doesn’t mean you have to skip the dip. It just means making better ingredient choices. Here’s how to make your favorite dips and spreads healthier.

1. Ditch the Dairy

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There are lots of great reasons why you should ditch the dairy and the fat and calories are just some of them. Traditionally, dips and spreads are filled with sour cream, milk, cream cheese, cheese, and yogurt. If you think you can’t have dips and spreads that are rich and creamy without dairy, think again. There are so many dairy-free options available for each of those ingredients. Use vegan sour cream, non-dairy milk, vegan cream cheese, vegan cheese and vegan yogurt instead.

Try making my Spinach Artichoke Dip which uses vegan versions of sour cream, milk, cheese, and butter. This Vegan Spinach Dip also uses vegan sour cream and mayo for a rich, creamy dip while this Vegan Coconut Tzatziki Dip uses vegan yogurt. Vegan mayo and vegan mozzarella come together to make this amazing Vegan Hot Corn Dip. My Homemade Coconut Sour Cream is made with thick, luscious coconut milk.

2. Use Less or No Oil


Most recipes for dips and spreads call for a lot of oil, usually more than ¼ cup. Whenever I make pesto, I always try to cut the oil by half and you don’t even notice the difference in consistency. My Basil Walnut Pesto recipe is: 4 cups of basil or any leaves you like, ½ cup of walnuts, 4 cloves garlic, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast or vegan grated parmesan, 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  Combine all the ingredients except the oil into a food processor. Process the ingredients while streaming the oil in, until the pesto is smooth. Another trick that will less you use less or no oil is to add in ½ an avocado for a healthy fat alternative as in this Creamy Avocado Basil Dip. You can also add water or veggie broth. This Low-Fat Herbed Tofu Ranch Dip uses silken tofu and has no added oil yet it’s creamy and delicious. This Vegan French Onion Dip uses avocado so you need much less oil and this Fat-Free Vegan Cheese Sauce swaps out the oil for potatoes and zucchini.

3. Go Nuts


Another way to trim the unhealthy fat is to use ingredients that contain healthier fats like nuts, avocado and olive oil instead. It’s easy to make creamy dips and spreads with nuts and you’ll never miss the dairy. My Vegan Queso Cheese Sauce is rich, thick and spicy and I make it with cashews. This Vegan Pimento Cheese Spread is also made with cashews as is this Warm “Vegveeta” Cheese Dip. Dip your veggies into this Chipotle Cashew Cream for a creamy kick. Your guests are sure to be impressed when you set down this Exquisite Leek and Cashew Appetizer. Forget chopped liver – you can have a rich, earthy, and cruelty-free version when you make my Mushroom and Walnut Pate.

4. Cool Beans

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When processed, beans are so creamy and rich, they can be used in place of dairy and lots of the oil to make decadent dips and spreads. My White Bean Dip has an Italian spin to it. I saute 4 minced garlic cloves in 2 Tbs. of olive oil that has a pinch of red pepper flakes added to it. Then I add 1 ½ cups of cooked cannellini beans to the pan and season them with 1 tsp. dried sage. If you have fresh sage leaves, by all means, throw them into the pan instead. They will get crispy in the oil. Add 5 Tbs. water to the pan and cook until everything is warmed through. Transfer everything to a food processor and puree until smooth. Squeeze some lemon juice into the dip and season with kosher salt to taste. A similar recipe is this Great Northern Bean Dip.

More bean-alicious dips and spreads include this Healthy Vegan Artichoke Dip made with chickpeas, Baked Spinach with Vegan Ricotta and Nutmeg Dip made with butter beans, and Spinach Artichoke Dip made with white beans. While we’re talking legumes, let’s not forget this Pureed Lentil Dip with Caramelized Leeks.

5. Tasty Tahini


Tahini, or sesame seed paste, is another way to add healthy fat in place of less healthy fats and oils. Of course, we all use tahini to make hummus like this Roasted Red Pepper Hummus. Experiment with different types of beans and flavors to make new dips like this Low-Fat Vegan Pizza Hummus, Spicy Sweet Potato Hummus, and Quick, Easy and Healthy Black Hummus. You can even make your own Homemade Tahini and then make my Tahini Dip.

6. Amp Up the Veggies


To add flavor, nutrition and color to your spreads and dips, add more veggies. Many veggies can be used in place of dairy, oil or unhealthy fats. Cauliflower that’s been boiled and processed, for example, can be used in place of dairy to make creamy spreads and dips. You can make a delicious dip from peas with the right spices and flavorings. To make my Peas Please Dip: combine 1 cup frozen peas, 1 Tbs. fresh chopped mint and the zest and juice of one lime into a food processor and process until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Avocadoes contain healthy fats but you can make a lighter guacamole by supplementing the avocado with kale or spinach or by using peas instead, as in this Knock-Off-Amole. Peas can also be paired with tahini to make this Sweet Pea Hummus. Got squash? Make this awesome Squash Parsley Dip for a yummy spread.

7. Viva Salsa


Salsa is a healthy dip because it’s just chopped veggies. You can buy it in a jar but nothing tastes better or fresher than making your own. You get to taste each ingredient and it’s perfect for healthy dipping. It’s so fast and easy to make, you may never buy jarred salsa again. To make Fresh Salsa: Mix 5 seeded and diced plum tomatoes, ¼ of a large Spanish onion that has been diced, 1 seeded and finely diced jalapeno pepper, 1 minced garlic clove, 1 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro and kosher salt and black pepper to taste and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. For other festive salsa ideas, try this Mason Jar SalsaBlack Bean and Corn SalsaFresh Green Tomato, Charred Corn and Basil SalsaHomemade Salsa Verde, and Papaya Salsa. If you want more ideas, see How to Use Salsa to Make 5 Different Spreads, Dips and Dressings.

8. Spice It Up

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The best way to make a lighter spread or dip and have no one notice is to amp up the flavors with herbs and spices. Use your favorite fresh herbs like cilantro, basil or mint, spices like cumin, coriander and curry powder, and aromatics like garlic, onion and jalapeno peppers. This Indian Saag Dip is filled with warm, fragrant Indian spices and lots of fresh spinach while this Indian Baigan Bharta is a dip made with char roasted eggplant. Fresh roasted red peppers and lots of spices make up this  Muhammara Spread while roasted eggplant with cumin and cayenne pepper make my Baba Ganoush spicy and delicious. A little red pepper miso adds the zing to this Creamy Zinger Garlic Spread.

9. Classy Cheese Spreads


So you’re having an elegant cocktail party and you think you need to put out some expensive cheese spreads. You can definitely do that and do it healthy and plant-based. Check out this Vegan Goat Cheese Pesto Dip made with cashews, almonds and basil. No need to buy those dairy-filled, wrapped cheeses when you can make your own Roasted Garlic and Fresh Herb Cream Cheez (a.k.a. Vegan Boursin). Top your crackers with this Macadamia Nut Spreadable Pepper-Herb Feta and your bagel or pita crisps with this Cashew Coconut Cream Cheese.

10. Dip These Instead


After going to the trouble to serve healthier dips and spreads, make sure what you’re dipping into them is also good for you. Learn How to Make Healthy Crunchy Snack Foods including Homemade Baked Potato Chips, Lotus Chips, Italian Herb-Onion Cheese Crackers, and Herbed Chickpea and Sesame Crackers. Offer thin bagel slices, pita crisps and flatbreads. Everyone will love these Carrot Flatbreads and Raw Vegan “Parmesan” Pita Chips. Of course, be sure to set out a crudité platter of fresh veggies such as carrots, celery, peppers, broccoli, cucumbers and tomatoes for dipping.

When you make healthier choices, you can indulge in decadent dips and succulent spreads and feel good about it. There’s no reason to sit on the sidelines when you can get your party on with these amazing dips and spreads.

Lead Image Photo: Low-Fat Vegan Pizza Hummus

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