In the past few weeks, you’ve probably seen beautiful images of butter boards as you scroll through your social media feed. If, somehow, the trend has escaped your notice, butter boards are exactly what they sound like.
To make one, you take a platter or board, spread softened butter over the surface, and sprinkle on toppings of your choice, such as dried fruit, honey, edible flowers, nuts, or herbs. Then, you scoop up the butter and toppings with crackers, bread, or dippable veggies like radishes or carrots.
The problem with butter boards? For starters, that butter base isn’t very healthy. “As a garnish or spread on a warm piece of toast, there’s nothing like a bit of butter. But as the base of a board that is getting scooped up with each bite, butter doesn’t make the best choice,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table. “Butter is high in calories and saturated fat, not the kind of fat your heart likes best.” On its own, butter contains 7 grams (g) of saturated fat in an approximately 1-tablespoon serving, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Plus, with butter boards, it’s tough to avoid germy double-dipping. “As with anything that you’re scooping up from a board or a bowl, double-dipping could leave you with a side of bacteria that you didn’t count on,” Taub-Dix says. One small experiment confirmed this, finding that double-dipping significantly increased the amount of bacteria in dips. “Plus, if the board is not cleaned properly before the butter is spread on it, you could also be swallowing up some old bacteria from the board itself,” she says.
Rather than miss out on this fun trend entirely though, try it with these ingredients instead — they’re just as festive, and way more nutritious. Plus, with these genius serving suggestions, they will be just as visually appealing. Be sure to use serving utensils to minimize spreading germs.
1. Hummus Board
Why It’s a Healthy Choice Unlike butter, hummus can support heart health. “Hummus provides fiber, plant protein, and a wealth of nutrients that help to reduce cholesterol,” Taub-Dix says. Research published in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety in May 2021 outlined the health benefits of chickpeas, which are the main component of hummus. Along with reducing cholesterol, they may help fight cancer and inflammation. Plus, they contain antioxidants and have antifungal and antibacterial properties.
You can mix it up with flavors to make a bright beet hummus or pair it with a little pesto, which has healthier fats as well as fiber from the nuts and protein and calcium from the grated cheese, per USDA data.
How to Serve It Top your hummus with green or black olives, sliced red onion, parsley, and scallions, and serve with cucumber, red pepper spears, and whole-wheat pita chips for dipping.
2. Whipped Ricotta Board
Why It’s a Healthy Choice To make whipped ricotta, you combine room-temperature ricotta with milk, a little bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper. “Whipped feta or whipped ricotta provides a hefty serving of protein and calcium,” Taub-Dix said. And you can even serve it warm. The USDA says that ¼ cup of ricotta cheese contains 5 g of protein and 110 milligrams (mg) of calcium.
According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, protein may help improve bone health, maintain energy balance, and support cardiovascular function.
How to Serve It Add cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes, walnuts, mint, and a drizzle of fresh lemon juice to your spread and have whole-wheat pita chips or whole-grain baguette slices for dipping, with a side of pickled vegetable chutney.
3. Cottage Cheese Board
Why It’s a Healthy Choice This cheese is virtually synonymous with weight loss, given its low calorie and fat content: just 81 calories and 1 g of fat per half-cup of lowfat cottage cheese, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Plus, Taub-Dix says cottage cheese is a decent source of protein and calcium, with 14 g and 69 mg per ½ cup, respectively, per USDA data.
Research published in Nutrients in July 2019 reported that getting enough calcium is linked with lower blood pressure in young people, lower cholesterol, osteoporosis prevention, fewer colorectal tumors, and less risk of blood pressure disorders during pregnancy.
How to Serve It Plenty of people dismiss cottage cheese, but there are many ways to enjoy it. Try topping your spread with grapes, dried cranberries, almonds, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and a drizzle of honey, and serve it with apple or pear slices or whole-wheat toast triangles for scooping. A side of mango chutney can be nice to spread on along with the cottage cheese as well.
4. Babaganoush Board
Why It’s a Healthy Choice The main ingredient in this Mediterranean dip is eggplant. “Creamy eggplant spread could make a great foundation for your board,” says Taub-Dix. “Eggplant contains fiber and an array of nutrients, and it has very few calories.” One cup of cubed eggplant has only around 20 calories, per USDA data.
Fruit fiber (yes, eggplant is technically a fruit) brings a range of health benefits. According to research published in Nutrients in November 2018, fiber is linked with improved weight control, wellness, and healthy aging. Fiber also helps support gastrointestinal health, reduces your risk of heart disease and diabetes, may protect against some types of cancer, and can lower the risk of depression.
How to Serve It Sprinkle figs or dates, pistachios, and pomegranate seeds over top and serve with mini peppers, mini cucumbers, and whole-wheat pita chips for dipping.
5. Avocado Board
Why It’s a Healthy Choice Take your toast to the next level with this green spread. “Avocado is as creamy as butter, but it is rich in heart-healthy fat instead of unhealthy saturated fat,” Taub-Dix said. “Avocado provides almost 20 vitamins and minerals, it’s a good source of fiber, and it helps you absorb fat-soluble vitamins.” USDA data shows that avocado contains 3.35 g of fiber and 4.9 g of monounsaturated acids per serving. And a small study published in The Journal of Nutrition in February 2020 reported that people who eat one avocado per day see an increase in fat-soluble vitamins.
Along with the fruit fiber benefits mentioned above (yup, avocado is also a fruit), the fat it contains, called monounsaturated fatty acids, is good for you. Research published in Frontiers in Nutrition in May 2020 reported that these fats could reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Because of those fats, however, avocado can be calorie-dense, so portion control is important with this board.
How to Serve It Avocado’s mild, buttery flavor pairs well with so many things. Go Tex-Mex style with black beans, cilantro, diced red onions, and a sprinkle of lime juice, and serve with whole-grain tortilla chips.
6. Nut Butter Board
Why It’s a Healthy Choice “Nut butters may have the word ‘butter’ in their name, but they couldn’t be more different,” Taub-Dix says. “Nut butters like almond butter are rich in plant protein, and they contain unsaturated fats that help your heart more than harm it.” Chunky nut butters also add a welcome crunch to your boards.
While you may have to avoid this option if you have an allergy, research published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences in May 2021 points to a range of health benefits from tree nuts. They can help control blood sugar levels, manage body weight, reduce cardiovascular risk, improve cognitive performance, and keep your microbiome healthy. Be sure to choose a natural, no-sugar-added nut butter for your board and watch portions, since the calories can add up quickly.
How to Serve It Sprinkle on mini dark chocolate chips, banana slices, and a sprinkle of cinnamon and serve with celery sticks, apple slices, or whole-grain cinnamon raisin toast.