When holiday foods hit the table, thoughts of stretchy pants aren't far behind. Research shows that most people gain about 1 pound during the holidays. Unfortunately, this extra weight tends to stick around after the festivities, causing a slow and steady weight gain over the years. You can still enjoy those once-a-year treats, but balance them with healthy foods to avoid a calorie overload.
Fruits and vegetables are low-calorie meal starters that add color to your holiday table. Before the meal, put out a vegetable tray with protein-rich hummus for dipping. For a sweet appetizer, serve chopped fruit and a dip made with canned pumpkin, plain yogurt, honey and cinnamon. If you want a festive conversation starter, bring out a plate of roasted chestnuts. These low-fat nuts contain less than 1 gram of fat per 1/4 cup. You don't even need an open fire, like the song suggests. Prick the chestnut skins with a knife and roast them in your oven.
Shave a few fat grams from your meal by avoiding deep-fried meats and cream sauces. Stick with baked, broiled and grilled cuts of meat, poultry and seafood. For a seasonal flair, top your main course with a colorful fruit salsa. Cut excess fat and sodium from your recipes with some basic substitutions. Use cooking spray instead of butter or shortening to coat your pans. Substitute low-fat, plain yogurt for sour cream. Onion, garlic and other seasoning salts are high in sodium, so use fresh onion, garlic and herbs instead.
Use your side dishes as an opportunity to serve some fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Make a cranberry or pumpkin applesauce. Bake a seasonal vegetable dish with chopped butternut squash, cranberries, raisins and a little brown sugar and oil. Whole grains provide fiber, a plant material that promotes good digestive health. Use brown rice, whole wheat pasta or whole-grain couscous instead of white rice and pasta in your casseroles.
The holidays are the time for a little indulgence, but pay attention to portion sizes and your body. If you're too full for dessert, save a small portion to enjoy later. If you want a lighter dessert after a heavy holiday meal, make baked apples or pears. Sugar plums are another easy and traditional holiday treat. Mix chopped dried fruit, nuts, cinnamon and honey in a bowl. Roll the sugar plum mixture in balls, sprinkle with powdered sugar and refrigerate.
- NIDDK: Holiday Gain Slight, but May Last a Lifetime
- Mayo Clinic: Healthy-eating Ideas for Your Holiday Parties
- Clemson Cooperative Extension: Chestnuts
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Holiday Eating Tips
- University of Nebraska: Healthy Holiday Substitutions
- USDA Nutrient Database: Chestnuts, European, raw and unpeeled
Jennifer Dlugos is a Boston-based writer with more than 10 years of experience in the health-care and wellness industries. She is also an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter who teaches screenwriting and film production classes throughout New England. Dlugos holds a master's degree in dietetics.