3 Tips to Put a Healthy Twist on the Holidays

3 Tips to Put a Healthy Twist on the Holidays

By April Schetler, MS, RD, Virtua Registered Dietitian and Director of Nutrition

Ready or not, here come the holidays. We’ll all be steeped in a solid month of food, parties, food, festive cocktails, more food...and did we mention the food?

It’s the same challenge every year. But, even if you’ve given into holiday overindulgence in the past, this year can be different. If you’re ready to try some healthy tactics to combat the traditional calorie overload, you’re in luck. 

Here some quick tips and creative food swaps to get you through the holidays and beyond.

Tip 1: Exercise the morning of the holiday

We seem to have an unspoken rule about this in our culture: You don’t exercise on holidays. But, why not? It makes you feel great, and you’re setting yourself up to make better food choices later in the day.

Taking some time out to exercise on a holiday will leave you feeling proud of your accomplishment and less likely to blow it on a big meal. And, if you're like millions of others and the holidays bring on stress, anxiety, or depression, you’ve just boosted your spirits with those feel-good exercise hormones. Try a phone exercise app for easy ideas. 

Tip 2: Bring something to the party

First, identify your temptation. Is it the appetizers? The side dishes? The desserts?

Bring a healthy alternative of your favorite dish to the party, and bring enough of it to share with the other guests. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been thanked for bringing something as simple as a veggie tray to a holiday party. Even people who aren’t dieting appreciate a fresh, healthy snack in the midst of heavy, traditional holiday dishes. You also can try this lightened up buffalo chicken dip or skinny guacamole

Tip 3: Consider a festive food swap

I'm all about turning a fattening recipe on its head with some nutritional expertise. Here are a few ways to cut calories and add nutrition and volume to some holiday favorites. 

If you’re partial to pumpkin pie...
Try this pumpkin cake instead. Start with a store-bought box of cake mix—I recommend a vanilla, carrot, or spice cake—and instead of adding the recommended oil and eggs, mix in a 15-ounce can of pure pumpkin puree and bake according to the package directions. I often top it off with a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar. You can bake it into muffin cups to help with portion control. And, you could even throw in nuts or raisins. Any pumpkin lover, dieting or not, will almost certainly enjoy it.

If mashed potatoes are your must-have...
You can go a few ways here. Stick with regular mashed potatoes and have a few bites. Try this lightened up savory mashed potatoes recipe. Or, consider a food swap and try half potatoes, half mashed cauliflower. It’s going to taste similar, but the cauliflower has far fewer calories per ounce, allowing you to enjoy more of it without all the calories. 

Mashed sweet potatoes are another healthier alternative. They have more nutritional value and a lower glycemic index than white potatoes, meaning they’ll make you feel full longer. Add nonfat sour cream or nonfat buttermilk to get the consistency you want, and then throw in a little brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg.

If you’re a dedicated dipper...
You’re not alone—really, who doesn’t like to dip? Even the healthiest among us can’t deny that raw veggies are just begging for a little extra oomph from time to time. 

Try swapping out the calorie-laden mayo and sour cream in most dip recipes with nonfat sour cream or plain nonfat Greek yogurt. Or, if you’re not ready to go completely nonfat, try swapping out half. You’ll never know the difference. I also like hummus as a healthy dip alternative, but watch your portion size so you don’t overdo it.

If you need help creating a healthy eating plan that works for you, call 1-888-VIRTUA-3 to schedule an appointment with a Virtua registered dietitian.  

Updated November 21, 2017

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