Smart Ways to Eat Healthy, Natural Foods for the Holidays - Healthy Living Association

Smart Ways to Eat Healthy, Natural Foods for the Holidays

Is it possible to enjoy the holidays without having to consume tons of fattening, unhealthy food? It seems like every holiday party, office get-together or neighborhood social function during December and January features enough food for 500 hungry lumberjacks. That makes tables look great, but end up making our bodies look not so great.

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid the excess and simply enjoy the celebratory months. Nutritionists and physicians have come up with all sorts of weapons for fighting against holiday weight gain. Even for people who don’t need to worry about weight, there’s something not right about eating 25 cookies at one sitting. “But that’s all I’ve eaten today,” I say, to the roomful of shaking heads and angry cookie-lovers who realize I’ve cleaned out the bowl.

Figure 1: Smart eating makes the holidays happier

So that you don’t suffer that same fate, here are some clever, effective ways to swap out “evil” foods for good ones, as well as a couple lists of “Do this, don’t do that,” advice about how to survive the December-January round of “special occasion” meals that haunt the winter like one of those classic Christmas ghosts.

Figure 2: Stop before your drop. The “bad pyramid” of holiday foods.

Smart Swap-Outs

What is a swap-out? It simply is a way of getting rid of a bad thing and replacing it with a good one. Holiday eating is full of potential swap-outs that are simple and delicious. Exchanging a high-fat, processed treat for a healthy one doesn’t have to mean trading down. Here are some of the most effective swap-outs for seasonal feasts:

Avoid fatty dips and opt for yogurt-based ones instead. There’s no sense in wasting your caloric limits on pre-meal junk you don’t need. But if you want dips with anything, choose low-fat ones like yogurt of any variety (preferably Greek), or non-fat sour cream.

Go light on the alcohol. That can mean either avoiding it altogether or subbing a wine spritzer for full-wine beverages or hard liquor. This way, you can still enjoy the fun, have a drink or two, and go home knowing you didn’t consumer 600 calories in alcohol.

Try roasted sweet potatoes in place of candied yams. This little trick can cut your intake for the meal by as much as 300 to 500 calories. The bonus here is that you’re getting a healthy food (potatoes) in place of something that is not so healthy. This is an instructive little switch because it demonstrates just how easy it is to trade a high-calorie thing for a low-calorie one without losing out on flavor and fun.

Trade dark meat for white. There are multiple wins in this scenario, including the fact that you’ll be reducing total calories by about 40 percent and avoiding saturated fat that comes with the dark meat and its skin. Another pointer for turkey lovers: practice portion control by knowing what a “serving” looks like. Turkey breast portions that are roughly the size of a pack of playing cards will only add about 165 calories to your total for the meal.

Stay far away from store-brand stuffing. If you make your own from low-sodium chicken broth, vegetables, olive oil and whole grain break, you’ll be slashing the calorie count by about 75 percent and adding a healthful dish to your table. Homemade stuffing can taste better, provide more fiber, be more filling, and contain much less fat.

Make your own gravy the low-fat way, and skip the standard versions. Mix about 4 tablespoons of flour, 2 cups of turkey broth (the fat-free kind), and your favorite seasonings. Gravy is a seasonal favorite and is one of the areas where people tend to overdo it, so make your own gravy and enjoy the meal.

Say no to casseroles and opt for fresh green beans instead. There’s no need for the fattening soup and fried onions when you can simply prepare steamed green beans and toss in a few slivered almonds. A general rule of thumb for vegetables during holiday time: consume them first and you’ll be less likely to chow down on rolls and other high-calorie meal add-ons.

Avoid white-flour rolls. Instead, go for any of the whole wheat varieties. Or, just skip rolls altogether if you’re already serving stuffing or other bread-containing side dishes.

Trade in your eggnog for a cider drink. Not only will this little switch reduce your calorie count by at least 50 percent, you’ll probably discover that cider is a better aid to digestion than eggnog. For those who can’t live without an eggnog fix, here’s a good place to practice a little bit of self control: have just a single, small glass of eggnog and then move on to cider or just plain water for the rest of the meal.

 “Do this. Don’t do that.”

Want to know what to do, and what not to do, when it comes to holiday meal strategies? Here’s the list, giving full credit to the Five Man Electrical Band’s 1971 mega-hit, “Signs,” whose lyrics implored, “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind. Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”


  • Use vegetables as appetizers, with low-fat dip.
  • Opt for a no-alcohol meal and thus avoid a major source of calories. Practice portion control with main foods, especially meats.
  • Learn to master “the pie trick.” That means trading out pecan pie, one of the holiday season’s most evil characters, for pumpkin. Sure, even pumpkin pie has a bunch of calories, but it weighs in at about 60 percent of the pecan pie total. Or, if you have enough self control and want to do a very good deed for yourself, just skip the pie this year and enjoy one of the other traditional desserts. Another bonus: pumpkin pie is rich in calcium, vitamin A, and iron.
  • Try to include sweet potatoes in the meal.
  • Serve steamed collard greens and roasted carrots.
  • Consider having small pieces of dark chocolate and some candy canes on the dessert try as a great alternative to high-fat, calorie-laden traditional desserts.
  • Think about serving hot chocolate in place of eggnog to maintain the “tradition” part of the holidays and getting rid of one of the bad boys of the gang.

Don’t: A former First Lady made an entire side-career out of the phrase “Just say no.” Now it’s time to put that philosophy into practice. Here is what not to do when it comes to holiday meals and feasts.

  • Don’t eat turkey skin. It’s loaded with fat calories, particularly saturated fat calories. That’s the worst of the worst. Say no.
  • Don’t even think about stuffing, pecan pie, buttery mashed potatoes, high-alcohol drinks and eggnog. You can just say no to these things and substitute something else (see above) or simply ditch them completely. Focus on the good stuff like vegetables and turkey breast meat.
  • Don’t eat “pigs in a blanket” or any of the “traditional” fattening finger-foods.
  • Don’t put potato pancakes on your plate this year. They are one of the highest-calorie per gram foods on a traditional holiday menu, contain tons of fat and for some reason seem to be enjoying a surge in popularity this year.
  • Leave the caramel popcorn behind. It smells great but is a calorie monster that keeps showing up in various forms, like those gigantic caramel corn balls that party-throwers love to place on the table. Say no, with no regrets.
  • Don’t eat cakes and cookies in large quantities. Try to sample one or two of the sweet desserts and then say bye bye to the sweet cart.
  • Don’t stay in your seat after you’ve finished eating. This will help with your urge to have “one more…” that the host might offer.
  • Never sit near the buffet table before or after the meal. If social time means you need to find a place to sit and talk, stake out a “safe zone” that is not near food.
  • Don’t show up without a “secret weapon.” Carry some sugar-free chewing gum or sugar-free hard candy. When the after-dinner urge for more pie or eggnog strikes, whip out your secret, sugar-free weapon and enjoy the rest of the event.
  • Don’t be anti-social. Try to have conversations with people during the meal (even if they’re in-laws!). This is a smart, effective way to slow down the pace of your eating and focus on something other than the food. Most people find that they eat less, eat more slowly, and feel fuller when they have a conversation during a holiday meal.
  • Don’t become a “food cop.” That’s a nice way of saying, “Keep your dietary practices to yourself.” Just because you’re trying to lose weight or eat better does not mean your dinner companions are. This healthy eating thing is your gig, so keep it to yourself.

Healthy Cooking “By the Book”

There must be as many seasonal cookbooks as there are pine needles leftover on the living room carpet after the Christmas tree has been hauled off. That means thousands. Here is one of the best of the genre:

The Holiday Cookbook: 30 Thanksgiving and Christmas Recipes Which Are Easy, Stress-Free, Healthy, and Perfect for the Holiday Season

Packed with healthy recipes, The Holiday Cookbook covers all the culinary bases. It offers a huge range of recipes for beginners and master cooks. There’s even a “game plan” for the entire winter entertaining cycle, and enough recipes that you won’t have to use them all in one year.

Highlights are the sections where the author discusses why the holidays are the best time to begin eating right, a list of easy-to-make snacks, tips for new cooks, and a generous helping of dessert recipes. If you’re looking for a one-stop cookbook for special occasions that offers numerous options, this is the book to check out.

Let us know your holiday meal suggestions for eating healthy. Make a comment below or visit our Facebook page and leave some feedback, no pun intended. We always like hearing what our readers have to say.

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