Kids aren’t the only ones with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. The holiday celebrations at the end of the year are a veritable cornucopia of the best and most delicious foods that anyone has to offer… and are also loaded to the brim with salt, sugar, and fat. You don’t have to be in the majority of people that gain up to 5 lbs during the holiday season! Most of all, you don’t have to spend precious money on a gym membership in order to “get healthy for the new year” either. If you keep yourself in check with holiday treats and sweets, you can stay healthy and happy (and still fit in your pants).
If you find yourself staring at an appetizer buffet, be sure to scope out these healthier snacks:
Mixed Nuts – take a handful or two of these at the most. These wonderful little treats are high in protein (which helps keep you full), calcium, and iron. They are also made up of healthy fats, like the kind you find in olive oil and avocados. But be careful, most nuts are high in calories and add up quickly if you snack mindlessly from the bowl.
Veggie Plate – of COURSE you can snack from the veggie plate! Broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes… they’re all delicious and good for you. Plus the fiber in them will fill you up until dinner. Don’t drown them in ranch dip though. A serving the size of your thumb (which is equal to 1 tablespoon) should suffice.
Fruit Plate – the same rules apply for the fruit plate as they do for the veggie plate. Go hog wild! Try to ignore the dips that might be present, most of the time they are full of sugar (yogurt dips, whipped cream).
Pretzels – Pretzels are generally better for you than chips because of the lower fat content. Grab a handful or two of these at the most. These are also full of sugar and carbs and since they are salty, they might make you thirsty for some eggnog!
Antipasti – These meat and cheese trays can contain some healthier options. Prosciutto (18 calories per slice), fresh mozzarella balls (bocconcini, little bite sized balls of fresh mozzarella, are usually 70 calories or so), olives, peppers, or other veggies are healthy choices. Some plates even include fresh sliced turkey or ham cold cuts. Avoid mortadella, salami, or other high-fat lunch meats. Keep cheese munching to a minimum; a good rule of thumb is the size of a die is one serving (1 oz) of cheese.
Things to avoid:
Cream dips (ranch, french onion, BLT, spinach & artichoke… the list goes on), potato chips, crab dip (the crab and cocktail sauce in this recipe is healthy, but people will probably look at you funny and think you’re a jerk for stealing all the crab and just leaving a pile of sauce-covered cream cheese).
Keeping an eye on your portions at dinner will help you feel less guilt on the trip home. That also means you can indulge yourself in a little dessert! More on that later. For now, here are the best options for healthy dining during the holidays:
Poultry – Turkey is a staple at most holiday dinners. There is no reason why you can’t enjoy a slice or two of this delicious bird. Make sure you remove the skin and try to stick with the breast meat. A tablespoon of gravy will help to make a dry bird more palatable, but it will add some calories to your meal, so be careful to use it sparingly.
Yams/Sweet Potatoes – If these are baked whole, you can’t go wrong! Avoid adding a big pat of butter or brown sugar. These cousins of spuds are sweet enough on their own. Be wary of casseroles baked with marshmallows; a spoonful of these will often contain very high amounts of sugar and fat (most sweet potato casseroles include copious amounts of butter and brown sugar).
Baked Potatoes – Stay with a baked potato instead of mashed to save on some calories. Add a dollop of low-fat sour cream and some chives for a healthier side dish. If you must have mashed potatoes, keep your serving to 1 cup (about the size of your fist). Try to omit the gravy if you can.
Veggies – Pile on the steamed veggies to get plenty of fiber and help you feel full. Take care not to eat the ones that are drowning in butter or baked into a casserole (such as that famous French’s Green Bean Casserole). Add some salt and pepper to season your veggies to make them more palatable without adding extra calories.
Cranberry Sauce – Love ’em or hate ’em, cranberries are good for you! They help cleanse the urinary tract (a fact that many women are grateful for) and contain vitamin C and iron. One slice (or scoop) will set you back about 90 calories.
Things to avoid:
Bread/rolls (especially crescent rolls… these delicious little devils are high fat and high calorie), side salads with creamy dressings (such as cole slaw, Waldorf salad), goose/duck/similar fatty fowl, baked ham (high sodium and fat; the sodium will make you thirsty and you’ll gain water weight)
You CAN have dessert! Your sweet tooth doesn’t have to go wanting. There are certain desserts that are somewhat better for you than others. If you were good for the appetizers and dinner, you can have a small treat, but don’t go overboard. Here are some of the better options for sweets:
Sugar Cookies – These little darlings are often better for you as far as calories go (most small sugar cookies are around 90 calories, as opposed to 110 for chocolate chip or similar). Take care to avoid the ones with heavy sugary icing; the cookies with thin royal icing are better, but still try to take a cookie or two that’s plain.
Pumpkin Pie – NO crust on these guys. Pumpkin is high in vitamin A and fiber and is delicious in a pie. You can eat this treat as long as you take care to avoid the crust (which contains fat and sugar). A small squirt of whipped cream (around 30 calories) will make this treat seem extra decadent.
Jell-o – Jell-o salads (the ones with fruit instead of the ones made with cream cheese or Cool Whip) are good choices. A small bowl or slice with a squirt of whipped cream is a nice treat and won’t set you back more than 200 calories.
Things to avoid:
Cream pies (french silk, banana cream, etc), chocolate mousse, creme brulee, carrot cake (loaded with oil in the batter and high fat/calorie cream cheese frosting), chocolate-covered anything, fruitcake (for obvious reasons)
Making merry often means indulging in a little “hair of the dog”. You can still have a little nip or two and not completely wreck your diet. Here are some better choices for imbibing:
White wine spritzer – A little white wine, a little club soda. Simple yet delicious! Try a fruity white wine to get more of a “champagne” feel without all the champagne calories!
Vodka/Gin and Tonic – Tonic water has very little calories, and a shot of vodka or gin will set you back between 65 – 80 calories. Have one of these cocktails for under 100 calories. Be careful though, these aren’t for those of us that love sweet drinks.
Diet Sprite and flavored rum/vodka – One of my favorite drinks to make is Diet Sprite and Coconut Malibu rum. Regular old Captain Morgan doesn’t taste too good against the lemon-lime flavor of the soda. Go with something fruitier; if you must have the Captain at your side, have him with some Diet Coke or Pepsi.
Things to avoid:
Eggnog (of course! This stuff is loaded with fat and calories… I personally find it disgusting but to each their own!), mixed drinks with milk or cream, margaritas, martinis with neon-colored mixers (Appletinis, I’m looking at you!)
Staying on the wagon during the holidays doesn’t have to be hard. Having a little bit of willpower and a lot of nutrition education will help you feel good about yourself even after the holidays are over. Don’t give into peer pressure (I don’t care how much your Aunt Edna complains that you don’t eat her cupcakes…) and you’ll be thanking yourself for being able to fit into your favorite jeans after the new year.