Dinner Is Served!

By Kristen Castillo

September 4, 2012 4 min read

Holiday eating is tasty, but it's often excessive. A typical menu includes yummy appetizers, savory entrees and sweet desserts. All that food comes at a weighty price.

"It's estimated that the average adult consumes nearly 3,000 calories during the typical Thanksgiving or Christmas meal," says Rachel Johnson, Ph. D., a professor of nutrition and medicine at the University of Vermont who is also a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association.

*Plan Ahead

"Meal planning is essential for a healthy holiday," says Angela Ginn-Meadow, registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "Creating healthy recipes may take preparation of produce and seasonal ingredients."

Use fresh ingredients and avoid processed foods, which can be fattening and have lots of preservatives.

"There are lots of recipes available for traditional food that tastes great and is heart-healthy," says Johnson, who recommends making "smart substitutions," such as two egg whites instead of one egg or a half-cup of low-fat yogurt instead of a cup of heavy cream.

Ginn-Meadow advises using "healthy oils," including olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil and tub margarine. She also suggests using a half-cup of sugar when a recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar.

*Traditional and Tasty

Foods such as turkey and pie are customary during the holidays, and even though they aren't always healthy, you don't have to give up your favorites.

"Turkey is lean and a great source of protein," says Ginn-Meadow. "Potatoes are creamy and can be moderate in calories and fat. Fresh cranberry sauce can be prepared with half the sugar and is full of antioxidants."

She recommends choosing whole grain rolls and watching portion sizes of desserts. "Always choose one instead of two," Ginn-Meadow says.

Many healthy menu ideas can be found online. The American Heart Association's recipe for turkey with a blueberry pan sauce has 220 calories per serving and five grams of fat. Their creamed corn recipe has 131 calories and two grams of fat. The wild rice with dried apricots and pistachios has 225 calories and five grams of fat.

Satisfy your sweet tooth with maple-cinnamon applesauce, which has just 77 calories per serving! For a bit more indulgence, enjoy berry-topped pudding pie, which has 169 calories and less than seven grams of fat per serving.


"Go to a party full," says Molly Morgan, a registered dietitian and author of "The Skinny Rules," who recommends having a snack before an event and not skipping meals. "If you arrive at a party completely starved, you're not likely to stick to a plan."

Her picks for healthy snacks include a handful of cashews and a pear, whole grain crackers with peanut butter, and carrots with hummus for dipping.

Once at the holiday gathering, avoid high-calorie appetizers. Then, during the meal, fill half of your plate with light fare such as fruit and salad.

"Minimize the number of trips you take to the buffet," says Morgan. "Fill your plate and enjoy it. When it's done, it's done."

Throughout the holiday, choose your drinks wisely. Sip one glass of water for every sugary or alcoholic drink you have.

"For dessert, pick one that's most desirable to you," says Morgan. "Have a small bite."

*Healthy Habits

No matter what's on your holiday menu, be sure to stay on a healthy track.

"If you indulge one day, go right back to your usual healthy habits the next," explains Johnson. "Try to cut back on your portions, and up the amount of exercise you get for the next few days, and you should be able to avoid holiday weight gain."

*Recipe Links:

Find recipes for the dishes mentioned above, plus more healthy recipes and nutrition information from the American Heart Association's Nutrition Center at http://www.heart.org.

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