3 Tips to Put a Healthy Twist on the Holidays

3 Tips to Put a Healthy Twist on the Holidays

Ready or not, here come the holidays. Soon we’ll all be submerged in a solid month or more 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 a holiday binge-fest 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: Virtua registered dietitian and director of nutrition services April Schetler is here to help with some quick tips and creative food swaps.

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,” says Schetler. 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 among the many Americans for whom the holidays bring on stress, anxiety, or depression, you’ve just boosted your spirits with those feel-good exercise hormones.

Tip 2: Bring something to the party

“First, identify your temptation,” says Schetler. 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,” says Schetler. “Even people who aren’t dieting appreciate a fresh, healthy snack in the midst of heavy, traditional holiday dishes.”

Tip 3: Consider a festive “food swap”

While we’re talking about healthy alternatives: Schetler is all about turning a fattening recipe on its head with her nutritional know-how. Here are just a few of the ways she cuts calories and adds nutrition and volume to her holiday favorites:

If you’re partial to pumpkin pie...
Try Schetler’s pumpkin cake instead: “All you do is 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 pumpkin puree and bake according to the package directions.” That’s pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling. “And no icing,” says Schetler, “though I do often top it off with a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar. You can even 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 two ways here,” says Schetler. “Stick with regular mashed potatoes and have a few bites. Or consider mixing in a food swap and scoop a whole cup onto your plate.” Here’s something to try – half potatoes, half mashed cauliflower. “It’s going to taste really 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: sweet potatoes 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, then throw in a little brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg,” says Schetler.

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. So, here’s the deal: “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 full force with nonfat fillers, try swapping out half. You’ll never know the difference!” Schetler also likes hummus as a healthy dipping alternative, but watch your portion size so you don’t overdo it.

Updated June 6, 2016

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