With the holidays approaching, you may be wondering the best way to eat well over the holiday season (or if it’s even possible!). For many of us, the holidays are about relaxing and spending time with loved ones, but if the thought of stepping onto the scale in January fills you with dread, there are ways to keep the added pounds at bay! You don’t have to avoid indulging completely this holiday season, but with a few smart swaps, you’ll be feeling (and looking!) in good shape come January.
10 Healthy Holiday Food Swaps to Make This Season
1. Choose Vegetable or Protein-Based Starters
When it comes to hors d’oeuvres and appetizers, skip the bread and choose the option with vegetables, protein, or healthy fats. Appetizers like deviled eggs, crudités, baked chicken wings, or carrot sticks with hummus are all satisfying, balanced, and delicious options.
2. Opt for Plant-Based Eggnog
Opt for almond, cashew, or another plant-based milk if you want to partake in the tradition of drinking eggnog. Cows milk is high in calories so it’s best to stay away from it to keep your calories down.
3. Skip the Cocktails (& Beer)
Skip the cocktails and stick with wine, champagne, or a spirit mixed with diet soda. Mixed drinks and cocktails contain added sugar and are going to wreak havoc on your body compared to a simple drink. Not only will you wake up with a hangover-induced headache, but your sugar levels will also spike and drop, leaving you dehydrated, tired, and groggy the next day. Beer should also be on your “no thank you” list, because even a low-calorie beer comes in at about 100 calories a bottle.
4. Switch Store-Bought Treats for Homemade
Even if you’re not on a strict diet around the holidays, it’s almost always healthier to try your hand at making some foods yourself. Even if you’ve never baked a festive cookie or whipped up a tray of yuletide hors d’oeuvres, following a recipe is a great way to monitor how much of each ingredient you use. Pre-cooked and pre-packaged meals and desserts often come with almost double the sugar, salt, and calories, so why not try out a few new recipes this year? You can often cut the sugar or swap it with a natural sweetener (like Stevia) to bring the calories down further.
5. Opt for Butternut Squash over Sweet Potato
Opt for butternut squash over sweet potato. Sweet potatoes provide around twice the calories, carbs, and sugar that butternut squash does. If you do choose sweet potatoes, a simple roast in the oven is far healthier than the American classic: sweet potato pie. All those marshmallows and candied nuts add a ton of sugar which you don’t need anyway, as sweet potatoes are already sweet!
If you want to take things a step further, eating pumpkin over butternut squash will further lower the calories, though it isn’t quite as good when it comes to vitamins.
6. Eat Baked Apples with Cinnamon instead of Apple Pie
Bake apples with cinnamon instead of having apple pie – these two ingredients are where the festive flavors come from anyway! With this easy improvised swap, you’ll still get the same warming taste of cinnamon without all the carbs and added sugar.
7. Ask For No Added Sugar When Ordering Drinks
Those festive drinks look great, but they’re certainly not good for you! You don’t need to forego them entirely, however. Ask for no sugar added when ordering a holiday coffee drink. One average Mint Choc Chip Hot Chocolate contains 63g of sugar and 414 calories per serving, and that’s standard among festive coffee shop treats. Ask for the drink without the syrup or for less cream when you order them.
8. Swap Wheat Pasta for Palmini Pasta
Try out palmini pasta (made of heart of palm) or chickpea pasta instead of regular pasta. These options are often higher in protein and fiber, keeping you fuller for longer. Another good switch for wheat pasta is lentil pasta, which is also higher in protein.
9. Replace Green Bean Casserole with Fresh Green Beans
Replace your green bean casserole with some freshly-cooked, well-seasoned green beans. Since American green bean casserole is loaded with dairy and salt, this equally delicious recipe will be a healthier option. You can either fry your green beans in a little oil with some garlic or boil them and season well.
10. Use Endives Over Tortilla Chips
Use endives, carrot, celery, or kale chips instead of tortilla chips or crackers with cheese, hummus, guacamole, and other dips. The dip is often the main event, so it doesn’t make much difference to the flavor if you replace a chip with a fresh, crunchy vegetable!
It’s all about balance
While it’s easy to get caught up in diet culture, especially after the holidays when we all feel guilty about overeating, remember that most foods and drinks are fine in moderation. Just keep a good balance and don’t be tempted into the all-or-nothing mindset where we tend to think “I’ve eaten something unhealthy – I’ll just give up and binge!” The holidays don’t need to result in a spiral out of your hard-earned routine and it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t still have a healthy relationship with food and drink. Just be mindful of what you consume!
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.