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Great Tastes, Fewer Calories: Festive Recipes

Eat deliciously this holiday season without sabotaging your diet.

The holidays are a notoriously difficult time for dieters and even for non-dieters who are trying to maintain their weight through the season of temptation.  Many people just assume they’ll be gaining a few pounds this time of year.  If you’re fine with indulging a bit and welcome the challenge of dropping pounds at the start of the new year, then there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself this holiday season. But often, a few treats turn into two months of cookies, fattening appetizers and second helpings. However, heading into 2014 a few pounds heavier than anticipated is not inevitable. There are plenty of delicious recipes and substitutions to lighten up holiday classics to make this holiday season a delicious and healthy one. 


It can be hard to think beyond the boring vegetable tray or fruit salad when it comes to healthy appetizers. There’s nothing wrong with a healthy veggie platter but there are many more options beyond that. Lots of less-healthy recipes can be tweaked and made much better with a few substitutions and some creativity. Taco dip is a crowd-pleasing appetizer that can be loaded with sour cream and cheese or made with lots of fresh vegetables.

With a basis of corn, beans, avocado and tomato, along with onions, garlic and other spices to add flavor, this dip has tons of flavor and cuts calories by forgoing the heavy cream cheese, sour cream and cheeses of regular taco dips. Go light on these ingredients, if you add them at all, and load up on the good stuff.  This recipe only has 140 calories per serving. Many recipes that are conventionally fried can easily be made much healthier by baking instead. These oven-fried zucchini sticks have only 127 calories per serving because they eliminate much of the fat and calories that come from frying. Try substituting oven baking instead of frying to make your favorite holiday appetizer a healthy one.

Main Courses

There are countless main dishes that can be quite healthy. Start with a good protein: salmon or another fish, chicken, turkey or another low-fat meat.  Basing the meal around one of these proteins fulfills a necessary ingredient of a well-rounded dinner.  The key is to pay attention to the cooking method. Frying or using lots of oil or butter will make a good meal turn unhealthy quickly. But there are still lots of ways to enjoy a hearty holiday meal without the extra calories.

This stuffed turkey breast with a cranberry glaze is only 225 calories per serving, due to the centerpiece skinless turkey and the healthy cooking method. There’s no reason not to enjoy a holiday turkey this year!  This chicken recipe is packed with flavor from lots of fresh herbs and vegetables that don’t pack on the calories: it’s a Roman-style chicken with just 266 calories, which is few enough to keep inline with most diets. When in doubt, nix the fats and load on the vegetables.


It’s tricky to make desserts healthy, but certainly not impossible: you don’t have to end a meal with something rich, creamy and full of chocolate. When indulging in a sweet treat, portion control is key, plus  there are lots of ways to cut calories without cutting down on taste. These mini carrot cakes use whole-wheat flour and Greek yogurt to stay healthy and moist. Baking them as individual cakes also help with portion control by separating out servings.

Finally, a light glaze instead of a thick frosting cuts even more calories, making these desserts 240 calories per serving. This chocolate cake recipe also utilizes Greek yogurt for low-fat moisture where a fat would conventionally be used; it’s a lightened-up recipe that still has the chocolate to make the dessert delicious, but at only 180 calories per serving.

Other Eating Tips

Sometimes making healthy choices isn’t all about the offerings on the table. Eating a smaller, healthy meal before a holiday party or a couple hours before a dinner is a good way to fill up on nutritious foods and prevent oneself from grazing too much just because the food is there. While it is very difficult to resist treats at a party, sampling a few that are most appealing is a lot better for a diet than making a meal out of fried foods and desserts. Another way to be sure a party has a healthy dish that you love is to bring one!

Bring a nice-sized helping of a dish you know you’ll want to eat and that you can control the ingredients of – plus, the host will be grateful to the considerate guest who offered to bring something to contribute to the party. Lastly, sometimes thirst can be mistaken as hunger, causing you to keep grazing on unhealthy snacks and overeat. Make sure to stay hydrated, especially if drinking alcohol or caffeine, as these can dehydrate the body. Drink lots of water before binging on snacks to make sure it really is hunger driving you. Also know that even though the previous recipes are measured in calories, there are more parameters to judge a dish. Anything that is very high in fat, sugar or sodium may also be a threat to your diet.


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