The holiday season is a magical time when family and friends travel to celebrate and share meals together, but enjoying holiday cheer doesn’t require you to replace your daily salad with a plate of cookies. Avoid the notorious “holiday weight gain” and the guilt that often comes with it, and, instead, take a cue from traditional diets this season. Over our years of studying the healthiest and happiest populations around the world, we’ve learned that health is not about deprivation, but about all things in moderation — a crucial concept during the holidays. We asked our incredible group of nutrition wizards how they participate in holiday parties and potlucks without letting their health take a backseat, and what recipe they pull out to please a crowd without broadcasting, “I’m on a diet.” Check out these creative tricks below to ﬁnd out how you can, in fact, have your cake and eat it too this season.
Ask the Experts, Healthy Holidays Edition
Stay True to Yourself. I don’t deviate from my normal eating habits that much during the holidays. A lot of people feel that ‘eating a lot is what we do during the holidays’, but that can really make for a tough recovery come New Year’s Day! I still eat tons of vegetables, I watch my alcohol intake, and I choose one or two special ‘only at the holidays’ foods to indulge in. Plus, I focus on the other parts of the holidays — being with friends and family, and giving/receiving gifts! My favourite dish for a potluck (besides guacamole) is my recipe for Cauliﬂower Fried ‘Rice’ (courtesy photo below). It’s SO delicious and virtuous without being plain. LOVE. Do it with chicken or shrimp, or crack an egg into it for a vegetarian option.
– Abby Langer, RD, owner of Abby Langer Nutrition in Toronto, Canada
Quality over Quantity. Using good-quality, bold-ﬂavored ingredients allows you to successfully pull oﬀ the “less is more” approach. Two of my favorites that can hold their own in small amounts: tangy, salty feta cheese and rich, slightly sweet aged balsamic vinegar. My salad of Roasted Squash and Cinnamon Apples, Mixed Greens, Feta and Aged Balsamic (courtesy photo below) turns nutrient-rich seasonal produce into a deliciously unique and healthy dish that’s sure to go over very well with any crowd.
– Heather Goesch, MPH, RDN, LDN, nutrition consultant and food blogger at Heather Goesch Nutrition, contributing author to Food & Nutrition Magazine, www.heathergnutrition.com
Let Veggies Do the Work. Front-loading with vegetables ﬁlls you up so you have less room for the inevitable treats! During the holidays, I encourage people to load up on vegetables and protein ﬁrst. There is always the obligatory crudite, and some sort of protein from nuts and cheese to smoked salmon or sliced meats. My Maple Ginger Pear Crumble was a hit last year and it will be making an appearance throughout the season again.
– Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD, Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist, Spokesperson and Consultant, Contributing Editor, Food & Nutrition Magazine, marisamoore.com
Eat Before You Eat. Don’t go to a party hungry — you will just end up overeating. And, remember, you are not going to “your last supper”! Enjoy the company and engage in conversation instead of just focusing on the food. Allow yourself one treat, and pick the one you like, and bring along a healthy dish. Pick your favorite winter veggies like butternut squash, acorn squash, carrots, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, beets, you name it, put on a baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt to taste, and roast in the oven. It does not scream “I’m on a diet!” and if you include a variety of veggies, the crowd will enjoy at least some of them.
– Lisa R. Young, PhD, RD, adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University, www.portionteller.com
Enjoy Your Favorites in Balance. Don’t deprive yourself of something special, such as a holiday cookie or a slice of your favorite apple pie. Instead, balance your diet with healthy choices. Exercise every day to increase your energy expenditure. Eat lighter lunches to make up for a holiday dinner. And ﬁll your plate with lots of vegetables to allow more space for a slice of something a bit more decadent, whether it’s a party quiche or pecan pie. Remember, portion really matters. Often a small slice of a treat is all that you need to satisfy you — those ﬁrst few bites are always the best. A few of my favorite delicious healthy holiday recipes include: Squash Filled with Herbed Quinoa and Cranberries, recipe here; Cranberry Apple Hazelnut Crumble, recipe here (courtesy photo below); Purple Sweet Potato Black Bean Patties with Purple Cashew Cream, recipe here; and Lentil Patties with Basil Arugula Cashew Cream, recipe here.
– Sharon Palmer, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian, author of Plant-Powered for Life and The Plant-Powered Blog, nutrition consultant for Oldways, www.sharonpalmer.com
Three Steps to Success. I have three ways that help me stay on track during the holidays: 1) Oﬀer to bring something nourishing to the party. Usually I choose a salad or vegetable to bring. That way I know there will be something nutritious on the table. 2) Exercise! Seems simple enough, but it can sometimes be hard to ﬁnd time for exercise during the holidays. I make it a priority to go for a run or walk or anything that gets my heart rate up…AND I invite anyone to come with me. 3) Create activities that don’t involve food! Take advantage of having little ones around to have kid-style fun. Center the fun around activities like building a snow man or crafting or a game of hide and seek. Fun for kids and adults! I especially love this recipe for Whole Grain Banana Nut Muﬃns (courtesy photo below) that aren’t dry!
– Sara Haas, RDN, LDN, Dietitian and Chef, www.sarahaasrdn.com
Savor the True Holiday Spirit. I like to go back and focus on what the holidays are really about: Being thankful for those around you. Change your mindset to an “anything goes” mentality and think of it as just another dinner, this time, surrounded by all your friends and family. At parties and potlucks, follow the rule of “eat what you love, leave what you don’t”. Not crazy about mashed potatoes? Skip those to leave room for the foods that you enjoy most. I love to bring my Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal with Streusel Topping (courtesy photo below). The pumpkin gives the dish a rich ﬂavor that makes it hard to believe it’s actually healthy.
– Alissa Rumsey MS, RD, CDN, CSCS, owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness Consulting, www.alissarumsey.com
The Gift of Food. Gift-wrap produce in pastry crust. This Vegetable Crostata (courtesy photo below) has its roots in Italy, where it’s known as erbazzone — think calzone stuﬀed with greens. It’s easy to make, stylish to look at, tastes like a treat, and gets good vegetables into you, too.
– Ellen Kanner, Soulful Vegan writer & recipe developer, author of Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner & e-book Beans: A Handful of Magic, Huﬃngton Post’s Meatless Monday blogger, soulfulvegan.com
BYO-Healthy Dish. When the party invitations arrive, I always oﬀer to bring a dish. That way I am assured I have one healthy dish to enjoy. My healthy dish is also the crowd-pleasing dish, and no one knows the diﬀerence. Enjoy my Sorghum, Black Bean and Vegetable Chili this season.
– Kathy Siegel, MS, RDN, CDN, Managing Partner & Communications Director, Triad to Wellness Consulting, triadtowellness.com
Sneak in Some Goodness. Food brings people together, and I love that, especially around the holidays! I for one am all about practicing portion control and enjoying every single minute of the season with one another. But, to help sneak in an extra serving of veggies that I know even my meat-loving family will enjoy, I like to bring this Vegan Broccoli Salad (courtesy photo below)! It’s colorful, festive and packed full of nutrition, but, most importantly, a crowd pleasing dish everyone can enjoy!
– Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT, Nutrition Communications Consultant & Owner of Shaw’s Simple Swaps, author of the Fueling Fertility Book 2017, Freelance Writer for Fitness & Shape.com
Cheers, in Moderation. The most wonderful time of the year is also the booziest. I try to avoid alcohol or just drink one alcoholic beverage per party. Here’s why: Alcohol is high in calories, stimulates your appetite while it chips away at your resolve to eat healthier. After a few drinks, all bets are oﬀ and you’ll probably dive into foods you wouldn’t otherwise eat.
– Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD, Appetite for Health, co-author of 101 Fat Habits & Slim Solutions, appforhealth.com
Deck the Plates with Fiber. The holidays can be tricky with food being a big part of our holiday celebrations. I always like to scan the table to see all the options before I start making my plate. I always aim to ﬁll half my plate with ﬁbrous vegetables, like those in my Warm Kale Salad with Delicata Squash and Pomegranate (courtesy photo below) no matter what then choose some other potluck components. Skip the everyday kind of items that you could have any time of the year and enjoy the special recipes that only pop up during the holiday season. Enjoy your meal, but also enjoy the company you are with. Take the focus oﬀ the food and enjoy the atmosphere you are in and practice mindful eating.
– Julie Harrington, RD, Registered Dietitian and Culinary Communications Consultant, RDelicious Kitchen
Simple Recipe Tweaks Go Far. Over the years I’ve discovered that just about every holiday recipe has way too much butter, salt, and sugar. So I just go ahead and slim them down by cutting these ingredients by 25 to 50 percent. Nobody ever notices the diﬀerence, and the newer lighter versions keep me — and my guests — from feeling weighed down and bloated. Cranberry sauce is a great example as it almost always has too much sugar. In this recipe, which I found on Allrecipes.com, I trimmed the sugar in half from 1 cup to ½, and it’s still incredibly delicious.
– Karen Ansel, MS, RND, author of the Healing Superfoods for Anti-Aging: Stay Younger, Live Longer (Hearst, 2017), www.karenansel.com
BONUS RECIPE: Cranberry Sauce Extraordinaire
This recipe was adapted from Allrecipes.com.
1 cup water
½ cup white sugar
1 (12 ounce) package fresh cranberries
1 orange, peeled and pureed
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced
1 pear, peeled, cored and diced
1 cup chopped dried mixed fruit
1 cup chopped pecans
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
In a medium saucepan, boil water and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to simmer, and stir in cranberries, pureed orange, apple, pear, dried fruit, pecans, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries burst. Remove from heat, and let cool to room temperature.