Merry moderation

Yes, you can celebrate the holidays – and eat your favorite dishes – without packing on the pounds

Cocktail parties, comfort food, and desserts galore – there’s nothing wrong with getting in the holiday spirit by way of your favorite treats. But if you’re worried about packing on a few too many pounds this holiday season, there are plenty of ways to enjoy yourself in merry moderation.

“Be selective – nobody gains weight during the holidays because of three or four indulgent days,” said Kim Dorval, RD, LD, owner of Nutrition in Motion in Bedford.

“Save the treats for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, etc., and make healthy choices in between.”

A few simple food swaps can make a world of difference for the waistline.

Take cocktail parties, for example. It’s too easy this time of year to load up on cheese plates and cream-based dips, but festive favorites can be made a little bit healthier without compromising on flavor. Even just adding some extra fruit and vegetables to that cheese plate in place of crackers, or substituting the sour cream in your favorite dip with Greek yogurt can cut down on calories.

 “At parties, stick to healthy meatballs or skewers, veggies and shrimp cocktail to keep it light,” Dorval said.

Hummus is also easy to make, and the protein-packed chickpeas can help curb cravings for that cheese-filled spinach and artichoke dip.

Personal chef Patti Anastasia, owner of Anastasia’s Table in Southern New Hampshire, has a family favorite hummus she makes every holiday season.

 “[My] sweet potato hummus is always a hit,” Anastasia said. “My favorite way to serve hummus is with sliced cucumbers.”

It wouldn’t be a cocktail party, however, without a cocktail (or two). Thankfully, imbibing doesn’t have to be a detriment to your diet.

“If you are a fan of eggnog like me, try using almond milk eggnog. I found it last year and it was a great treat,” Dorval said. “You can even lighten it up with some unsweetened vanilla almond milk to save a few more calories and still enjoy this holiday favorite.”

Not a fan of dairy-based cocktails? Try swapping out club soda for unsweetened seltzer to save calories. Cranberry seltzer with vodka and fresh lime juice is a simple, low-sugar idea that’s festive to boot.

When it comes to the main food event at holiday parties, it can be difficult to rein in the cravings, especially when the table is chock full of your favorite traditional eats. But it is surprisingly easy to make minor food swaps, without losing any flavor.

“We skip the candied sweet potato casserole and serve baked sweet potatoes,” Anastasia said. “If your family craves a sweetened dish, drizzle your baked sweet potatoes with a little bit of maple syrup.”

Anastasia also recommends lightening up mashed potatoes with skim milk instead of cream or whole milk, and adding roasted garlic as you mash them for added flavor. Looking to nix the traditional, calorie-laden green bean casserole? Anastasia recommends serving steamed or sautéed green beans with toasted almonds on top in its place.

Dorval also has some tricks up her sleeve for making a holiday menu more waistline-friendly.

“To lighten up some holiday favorites, try making your own cranberry sauce with honey and fruit instead of sugar; cut the calories of your mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes by adding cauliflower; and swap some of your creamy casseroles for veggie dishes with flavorful herbs and spices,” Dorval said.

There is, however, one area of the menu few people are likely willing to compromise on: dessert. But even sweets can be made healthier by simply swapping out white flour for whole wheat flour.

Pies, brownies, and cakes can also be served in smaller-than-usual bites, so guests can enjoy their favorites in moderation. For a healthier dessert, baked pears with vanilla frozen yogurt is a delicious option. And if you’re not willing to forego the annual pumpkin pie, try using whole wheat crushed graham crackers for the crust versus the butter-laden alternative.

If all else fails and you’re not about to cut back on calories this holiday season, exercise is always an option.

“Exercise will not only help with those extra calories, it is also a great stress reliever during this busy time of year,” Dorval said.

Amid the cooking, baking, hosting, and shopping – a stress reliever may be just what you need.  

Michelle Lahey is a food writer who was born and raised in New Hampshire. She also blogs about food at

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