Top 25 Tricks for Eating Light During the Holidays

Eating Light Tip #1: Start with Soup

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According to a study in the journal Appetite, people who sipped soup before lunch ate 20 percent less during a meal than those who didn’t. But stick with veggie soup recipes, says Ellie Krieger, R.D., host of the Food Network’s Healthy Appetite. “Cream-based bisque or chowder often has 250 calories or more per cup.”

Eating Light Tip #2: Say (Light!) Cheese

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Soft goat cheese, feta cheese and part-skim mozzarella cheese have about 76 calories and 6 grams of fat or less per ounce—up to 26 percent less than the amount in cheddar and blue cheeses. Brie weighs in at 95 calories and 8 grams of fat.

Eating Light Tip #3: Nix the Nog

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Made with eggs, heavy cream, and rum, nog weighs in at 343 calories and 19 grams of fat per cup. “Have hot chocolate instead for less than half the calories—plus antioxidants and calcium,” says Krieger. Can’t imagine the holidays without eggnog? Try a low-fat version, such as Silk Nog. Or satisfy your craving with this eggnog dessert recipe.

Eating Light Tip #4: Cut Down on Prep Time

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“Roasting is one of the easiest—and healthiest—ways to prepare a side dish,” says Cory Vicens, culinary director of “It brings out natural flavors, so you won’t need butter, sugary glaze, or cream sauce.” Toss any veggie in a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then bake at 375°F for 20 to 40 minutes, or until tender. Or try these 8-minute veggie recipes.

Eating Light Tip #5: Sip Low Calorie Cocktails

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Mixed drinks, like vodka tonics (175 calories), are higher in calories than wine

(120 calories), light beer (103 calories), and Champagne (91 calories). If you’re craving a cocktail, opt for club soda in place of tonic water to save 80 calories. But wait until you’re seated to start sipping. Alcoholic drinks stimulate your appetite,” says Sharon Richter, R.D., a nutritionist in New York City.

Eating Light Tip #6: Spoil Your Appetite

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The right healthy snacks before dinner take the edge off your hunger, says Richter. Steer clear of fried finger foods, like egg rolls (220 calories each). Low calorie apps: crudités (31 calories per cup), shrimp cocktail (31 calories for four shrimp and sauce), chicken satay (90 calories for one skewer and sauce), and mozzarella and veggie skewers (141 calories each).

Eating Light Tip #7: Bring Your Own Healthy Food

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Don’t know what your sister-in-law has on the menu? “Bring a dish so you’re guaranteed to have at least one healthy option,” says Krieger. One of her favorites: a green-and-red crudité plate. “I arrange sugar snap peas, blanched green beans, red pepper slices, and cherry tomatoes around a bowl of dip,” she says. “It looks like a holiday flower!”

Eating Light Tip #8: Dial Down the Volume

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When it’s time to sit down to dinner, turn off the Christmas carols—or put on soft instrumental music. Researchers at Penn State University recently found that women who ate in a room with loud background noise consumed twice as many calories as those in a more peaceful environment.

Eating Light Tip #9: Choose Dips Wisely

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Creamy dips like crab, artichoke, blue cheese, and French onion can pack 100 calories per scoop! Reach for hummus (25 calories per tablespoon) and salsa (4 calories per tablespoon) instead. Or make your own light version with this easy spinach dip recipe.

Eating Light Tip #10: Enjoy the Aroma of Food

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A study from the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry suggests that smelling foods before you eat them can make you feel full. The scent can heighten the flavor, so you feel satisfied sooner, say experts. Plus, pausing between bites to take a whiff gives you time to gauge your hunger.

Eating Light Tip #11: Bring a Clutch

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Hold it in one hand and a drink in the other. “When your hands are occupied,” says Richter, “it’s tough to reach for that mini quiche!” For more of the best diet tips to avoid holiday weight gain, check out these strategies from Bob Greene, trusted trainer to Oprah Winfrey.

Eating Light Tip #12: Do a Once-Over

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Instead of blindly loading your plate with every finger food in sight, take a moment to scan the spread of party food so you know exactly what you have to choose from. Then help yourself to two or three things you truly love.

Eating Light Tip #13: Back Away from the Buffet

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“An important party rule is don’t linger by the food,” says Brian Wansink, Ph.D., author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. “If it’s right in front of you, you’ll be more tempted to pick at it—even if you’re stuffed.” Be prepared for your next holiday party with this guide to the best and worst foods from a buffet.

Eating Light Tip #14: Cook with Yogurt

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Substitute nonfat plain yogurt for sour cream in recipes like mashed potatoes and you’ll save a whopping 341 calories and 45 grams of fat per cup. Plus, you’ll add a dose of calcium (this flavor-packed snack is another great source of calcium).

Eating Light Tip #15: Break from Traditional Foods

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Instead of baking a holiday ham, consider roasting a pork tenderloin. One 3-ounce serving of the lean meat contains 122 calories and 3 grams of fat, compared with ham’s 228 calories and 16 grams of fat. Serve it with fruit compote.

Eating Light Tip #16: Be a Smart Christmas Cookie

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“Focus on one special dessert—something that you can get only this time of year—and savor it,” suggests Forberg. Skip the cheesecake bars (219 calories, 16 g fat) and have a gingerbread man (79 calories, 3g fat), thumbprint cookie (102 calories, 6 g fat), or a piece of peppermint bark (75 calories, 3 g fat for 1 ounce).

Eating Light Tip #17: Use Your Bean

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Cheese, creamy soups, and fried onions quickly turn green beans into a calorie bomb. Instead of the classic green bean casserole, Vicens suggests infusing the beans with flavor, not fat. “Sauté beans with olive oil, shallots, tarragon, and parsley,” she says. “Garnish with sliced roasted almonds and dried cranberries for crunch and sweetness.”

Eating Light Tip #18: Make Healthy Gravy

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“Porcini and cremini mushrooms have a meaty flavor that’s perfect in gravy,” says Forberg. “They’re also high in heart-healthy nutrients, like selenium and vitamin B12.” Sauté mushrooms, garlic, and shallots in canola oil, then add a pinch of flour, salt and pepper, and lowfat chicken broth or turkey stock. Transfer all to a blender and pulse until creamy.

Eating Light Tip #19: Dress Lighter

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“The secret to moist, delicious stuffing is using chicken broth in place of water,” says Forberg. Boost the nutrient content with herbs (rosemary and sage), fruits (raisins or apples), vegetables (carrots, celery, or mushrooms), and whole grains (whole-wheat bread or wild rice). Then bake it in a separate dish. When you bake stuffing inside the bird, it absorbs the drippings—and extra fat and calories.

Eating Light Tip #20: Can the Canned Cranberries

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Pre-made cranberry sauce is convenient, but a quarter cup has almost as much sugar (21 grams) as a cup of soda. Homemade relish is much healthier. Simmer 2 cups fresh cranberries with 1∕2 cup each honey and water or orange juice until thick (about 20 min). Add in grated orange zest for more flavor. Cover and chill until set (30 to 60 min).

Eating Light Tip #21: Choose the Right Cut

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At 115 calories per 3-ounce serving, skinless turkey breast has 45 fewer calories than dark meat. Go ahead and help yourself to dark or light meat, but leave behind the skin to save 40 calories and 5 grams of fat. In case turkey’s not on your dinner menu, cut calories from any meal with these 15 best protein bets.

Eating Light Tip #22: Finish with Fruit

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To end your meal on a sweet note, help yourself to fruit. “I make a tropical salad with pineapple, papaya, mango, and shredded coconut,” says Krieger. “Not only is it lighter than other desserts, but it also feels unique.” For a more indulgent splurge, have a chocolate-dipped strawberry (48 calories, 2g fat). Or make one of these guilt-free chocolate desserts.

Eating Light Tip #23: Pick the Right Slice

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Opt for pumpkin (316 calories, 14g fat), sweet potato (310 calories, 10g fat), or lemon meringue pie (362 calories, 16g fat) in place of apple (411 calories, 19g fat) or pecan (503 calories, 27g fat). A good portion: For a 9-inch pie, the thickest part of the wedge should be no more than 3 1∕2 inches (length of a business card).

Eating Light Tip #24: Pare Down Holiday Pie Recipes

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That buttery crust contains at least 2 tablespoons of butter per slice. Leave behind the bottom part to slash 125 calories and 7 grams of fat—or just eat the lattice. Or “consider creating a crustless dessert altogether, like a pumpkin flan or pudding,” says Miller.

Eating Light Tip #25: Make Low Fat Desserts

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Does that mint-fudge brownie recipe call for a can of evaporated milk? Pick up the fat-free kind to shave off 180 calories and 24 grams of fat. “You can’t even tell the difference in baked goods,” says Robin Miller, author of Robin Rescues Dinner. See more tricks to slash up to 500 calories without even noticing.

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