Yes, you can eat healthier and still enjoy holiday favorites

The holidays are here! With the pandemic, the season is looking different for most of us. Families are considering which traditions mean the most to them and determining which activities they can safely enjoy. It’s not easy or fun to forgo favorite traditions, but in some cases, it will be necessary in order to keep us and our families safe and healthy.

The good news is there are definitely some holiday traditions we can safely enjoy this year. For many families, food is front and center during the holidays. Even if we can’t gather, we can still make and enjoy our holiday favorites. But many of those treasured recipes are high in unhealthy fat and calories. Maintaining a healthy weight and a strong immune system are especially important this year as we confront COVID-19 and flu season. So, what to do?

Easy ingredient swaps can lower fat and calories

Fortunately, there are a number of easy ways to reduce the overall amount of fat and calories we consume over the holidays (or anytime, for that matter). Some simple ingredient swaps can significantly reduce the fat and calorie content of those holiday favorites. They’ll still taste delicious and, in some cases, you might even like the lighter version better! Here are some easy swaps to try:

  • Replace full-fat dairy products like cream cheese, sour cream, heavy cream, and whole milk with the reduced-fat variety.
  • Replace white rice with cauliflower rice or brown rice.
  • Instead of using regular russets to make mashed potatoes, try using Yukon golds. They’re creamier and more flavorful, so you can use less butter and milk. If you want to cut calories even further, try substituting cauliflower for some of the potatoes. This recipe for Mashed Cauliflower and Yukon Golds is a good one to try.
  • For pasta dishes, swap white, cream-based sauces for red, tomato-based sauces.
  • Choose white meat chicken or turkey instead of dark, and leave the skin behind.
  • Choose lower-fat versions of ground beef (93% or 95% fat free) or substitute ground turkey or chicken.
  • Cut back on salt and use herbs and spices to boost flavor instead.
  • When making cheesy dishes, cut back on the amount and use fuller-flavored cheeses like sharp cheddar and parmesan to keep the flavor without the extra fat.
  • Serve veggies with your favorite dips and spreads instead of chips or crackers.

Lighten up

Here are a few other tricks for lightening up your favorite recipes:

  • Sneak extra veggies into casseroles, soups, and stews to up the nutrition quotient and make them more filling without extra fat and calories.
  • When baking, you can usually cut about 25% of the sugar in a recipe without sacrificing taste, but you may need to slightly increase the liquid in order to maintain texture.
  • Try replacing about 25% of the butter in baked goods with a heart-healthy oil. There’s no hard and fast rule for how much to replace, so you may have to experiment. (If your recipe calls for creaming butter with sugar, this is not a good option.)

Get ready to party

When you’re doing the cooking, it’s easier to eat healthily because you know exactly what’s in your food. It’s more challenging when someone else is doing the cooking. If you do attend any holiday parties this year (appropriately masked and social distanced, of course), Weight Watchers offers these tips for enjoying yourself without overindulging:

  • Don’t go to the party hungry. You’re much more likely to overeat when you’re starving. Have a small, nutritious snack that includes protein, fat, and a small amount of carbs before you go. Try a small handful of nuts, a little cheese, and some dried or fresh fruit.
  • Use a small plate. You can’t get as much food on it, but your plate still looks satisfyingly full. Don’t stand next to the chip basket and graze.
  • Focus on socializing. Getting caught up in an interesting conversation can help prevent you from overeating.
  • If you drink, mind your alcohol intake. Deciding in advance how much and what you’re going to drink can be helpful. This alcohol calorie calculator can help you make smarter choices.

Enjoy … mindfully

The holidays only come around once a year, so take time to savor those favorite holiday foods. If you love your grandma’s chocolate peppermint cheesecake, don’t deprive yourself of that pleasure. Think about which holiday favorites you really love and decide which special treats you’ll indulge in. Then consciously choose your portion size, and mindfully enjoy every bite. You’ll likely feel just as happy and satisfied—maybe even more so—than if you had mindlessly overindulged.

Stay safe and healthy, and enjoy the holidays!

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