How to Make Your Holiday Food Favorites Healthier

Making small changes to your holiday eating habits and recipes can keep your holidays healthy and bright.

By Colleen Kristbaum, MS, RD, CD, Director of Clinical Nutrition/Diabetes Management at Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare.

The six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day are often filled with holiday parties and over indulgence. Many people feel that weight gain is an inevitable part of the winter months. Making small changes to your holiday eating habits and recipes can help keep your holidays healthy and bright.

If you are the one doing the cooking this holiday season, check out these easy tips for making your favorite holiday recipes healthier:

  • Before serving, put gravy through a skimmer and it will cut calories by 80 percent. Gravy that is not put through a skimmer has 60 to 70 calories per tablespoon.
  • Serve stuffing baked outside the turkey; it has half the calories of stuffing cooked inside the bird.
  • Make baked potatoes instead of candied sweet potatoes. A plain baked potato has 220 calories and just a trace of fat; one cup of candied sweet potatoes has 300 calories and 6 grams of fat.
  • Ditch the cranberry sauce in the can and make your own. Bring water to a boil. Pour in a bag of cranberries. Add orange juice (about 3/4 cup), orange zest, and just a little sugar. Mix. Now you have cranberry sauce that's just 40 calories per serving.
  • Cut calories in potato pancakes by mixing potatoes, egg whites, onions, salt and pepper and cooking with a cooking spray and just one tablespoon of oil.
  • Holiday eating may be as easy as knowing what food and drink to substitute. Follow our holiday eating guide that won’t sacrifice the flavor of your favorite dish.
  • Serve apple pie with vanilla frozen yogurt instead of pecan pie with whipped cream. You will save 460 calories and 32 grams of fat per slice.
  • Save 82 calories and 8 grams of fat by substituting mustard for mayonnaise on your turkey sandwich leftovers.
  • Top vegetables with nonfat yogurt or low-calorie sour cream instead of butter. You'll save an average of 100 calories and 10 grams of fat per tablespoon.
  • Avoid drinking your calories. Two mixed drinks can have as much as 500 calories and one cup of eggnog can have as much as 380 calories. Try a glass of white wine or cider. These options only have 300 calories per glass.
  • Eat white-meat turkey, which has fewer calories and less fat than dark meat. A three ounce serving of skinless turkey breast has 119 calories and 1 gram of fat. The same amount of dark meat has 142 calories and 5 grams of fat.

Traditions are all a part of the holiday season. Start new habits with your family and friends that embrace a healthy holiday lifestyle. This year start a tradition of:

  • Going for a walk after dinner.
  • Bringing a healthy dish to the party to ensure there is a nutritious option.
  • Using small plates or napkins at the buffet table. You can’t fit as much on a napkin, that way you won’t eat as much.
  • Eating a healthy meal with shopping buddies before going to the mall. Food courts are calorie land mines. 

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