The Healthy Charcuterie Challenge

Updated: Apr 15

Charcuterie boards are a great alternative to typical party foods (e.g. fried foods, chips and sweets). Check out my tips for creating a more nutritious offering that can feed a crowd.

Photo: Anto Meneghini on Unsplash

We get together with another family every year for the Super Bowl. Like us, this family is very conscientious about diet, especially because they’re all gluten free. It’s been a fun challenge over the years to come up with party foods that are gluten free, sugar free, not fried in unhealthy oils and that our kids will eat. Every year, our food selection grows, but our favorite addition to our annual get together menu is the charcuterie (pronounced “char-ku-ter-ee”) board. If you’re not familiar with a charcuterie board, it’s basically a selection of different types of meats along with other finger foods that complement meats – typically, cheeses, nuts, fruits, vegetables, crackers and dips.


There’s no right or wrong way to create a charcuterie board, so you can use whatever ingredients you want and then arrange them on a large tray or board (I happen to use a large cutting board.) Not only is it easy to put together, but it can also be a fun creative project choosing and displaying bite-sized foods with a healthy mix of different textures, tastes and colors. It's something that kids enjoy creating, as well. With a large variety of whole food options, a charcuterie board can provide a well-balanced, nutritious appetizer or even meal for for your entire family and all of your guests.


With the Super Bowl coming up on Sunday, I thought I would share some healthy ingredient options for making your own charcuterie board. Please make sure to buy organic whenever possible, as this significantly limits your exposure to toxic pesticides, GMOs, growth hormones and antibiotics in your food.


Meat / Protein

Meat is typically the centerpiece of a charcuterie board, as all the other offerings complement the meats. However, most processed (deli) meats are factory-farmed and contain unhealthy added ingredients such as nitrates (preservative), added sodium and sugar. To make sure your charcuterie board is as healthy as possible, choose meats that are organic, free-range, uncured, nitrate-free and have no added sugar. Typical charcuterie boards include a couple of different meat/protein selections from the following options:

  • Prosciutto

  • Salami

  • Capocollo

  • Cooked & sliced sausage / chorizo

  • Pate (this is a great way to add some healthy liver to your diet)

  • Thinly sliced meat that you cook yourself

  • Hard-boiled eggs, sliced in half

  • Baked falafel, which is a great non-animal protein


Cheese

Most cheese is made from milk from factory-farmed cows or goats, which are typically fed genetically modified (now being called “bioengineered”) grains rather than their natural diet of grass. These bioengineered grains and the pesticides sprayed on them make their way into the milk of the cows who eat them. Bioengineered ingredients, pesticides and the poor health associated with factory farm conditions have been linked to poor health in the people who ingest the meat and milk from that livestock, so it’s best to buy organic dairy products whenever possible.

In addition, the pasteurization process kills any nutrients that are typically available in the raw form of milk. Unlike pasteurized milk, raw milk is full of healthy enzymes and beneficial bacteria. The protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals in raw milk are much more easily absorbed by the body than those in pasteurized milk.


When possible, try to buy a variety of cheeses from raw, organic milk from grass-fed/pasture-raised cows, goats or sheep. Depending on where you live, it can be hard to find cheeses that meet all these criteria, so just do the best you can.

  • Soft cheeses: Brie, Mascarpone, Camembert, Goat

  • Firm/semi-firm cheeses: Bleu cheese, Feta, Gorgonzola, Swiss, Monterey jack, Cheddar

  • Hard cheeses: Gouda, Manchego

  • Non-dairy nut cheese, especially if someone is dairy-free or vegan


Seasonal Fruits

Fruits have so many unique nutritional benefits and the sweetness of many fruits tastes so good with meat and cheese. My favorite fruits are the ones in season and locally-grown (when possible) as those offer the greatest nutritional value and tend to have the best flavor. The following fruits, organized by season, make great additions to charcuterie boards:

  • Winter: citrus slices (e.g. oranges, kiwi), dates, pomegranate seeds

  • Spring: cherries, strawberries

  • Summer: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blueberries, blackberries, melons

  • Fall: apples, grapes, figs, dates, strawberries, raspberries, pomegranate seeds

  • All seasons: mashed avocados/guacamole

These are just the fruits I like to use, but there’s no limit to what can be included in your charcuterie board. Let your creativity shine.


Vegetables

Similar to fruits, vegetables have an array of health benefits. I like to include different colored vegetables for both variety in nutrients and to make the charcuterie board more visually appealing. Here are some raw vegetables to consider adding to your charcuterie board:

  • Bell peppers (support immunity, skin, eye & hair health, reduce inflammation)

  • Broccoli (aids digestion, detoxification & heart health, reduces inflammation)

  • Carrots (improve eye health, boost immunity, aid digestion, reduce inflammation)

  • Cauliflower (boosts immunity, aids digestion, reduces risk of cancer & inflammation)

  • Celery (supports hydration and bone health, boosts immunity, aids digestion)

  • Cucumbers (hydrate the body, boost skin health, aid weight loss, support eye health)


Fermented Foods

I like to include at least one fermented food on my charcuterie boards, as fermented foods help balance our gut bacteria. This better enables our bodies to absorb nutrients from our diets as well as supports a healthy immune system, especially during the winter months. My two favorite fermented food additions to charcuterie boards are:

  • Gherkin pickles

  • Olives


Nuts

Nuts have so many health benefits, including high nutrient value of protein, healthy fats, fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, manganese and selenium and antioxidants, which help fight oxidative stress. Consuming nuts has also been shown to help with weight loss, lowering cholesterol, inflammation, risk of heart attack and stroke, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Different types of nuts can be mixed together or kept separate from each other. They can either be spread out throughout the charcuterie board or placed in small bowls.

  • Almonds

  • Brazil nuts

  • Cashews

  • Hazelnuts

  • Macademia nuts

  • Pecans

  • Pine nuts

  • Walnuts

  • Pistachios are always fun, because they come in a shell and add variety to the look of your charcuterie board


Dips / Spreads

These healthy foods provide an option for dipping vegetables, crackers, meat and/or cheese.

  • Raw honey, which tastes great with cheese. (Reduces inflammation and is a great source of antioxidants.)

  • Hummus (Made from chickpeas, which supports satiety, weight loss, and blood sugar regulation, aid digestion, and lower cholesterol.)

  • Guacamole (Made from avocados, which promote heart health, lower unhealthy cholesterol, aid digestion and skin health, and are a great source of healthy fats.)


Crackers

While my family is not 100% gluten free, we do try to minimize gluten and avoid white flour in our diets. Luckily, there are so many organic, gluten-free cracker options available today and made from a simple list of whole food (not synthetic) ingredients. Two of our favorites include:


Charcutterie Challenge?

A charcuterie board made up of a couple of foods from each category above will be enough to easily feed ten people. And since everyone is filling up on protein, cheese, fruits, vegetables and nuts, they won't be craving traditional unhealthy Super Bowl snacks, like corn/potato chips or sugary sweets.


Are you ready for a charcuterie challenge? Share the ingredients you use for your next charcuterie board as a way to inspire others.

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