We get it: December is a tough month. So much shopping, wrapping and cooking, not to mention all the invites, like office holiday parties, neighborhood potlucks and family gatherings. It can make sticking to a healthy diet challenging—but not impossible.
Here are six healthy foods you can find at most holiday feasts.
1. Opt for veggies, veggies, and even MORE veggies. Most celebrations include a veggie platter of some sort, which means you have no excuse. Load up your plate with carrots, peppers, broccoli, etc. Watch the dips. A dollop or two is fine, but make sure you’re not drowning the vegetables, because that will defeat the purpose.
- Pro tip: Not sure there will be vegetables at the event? Bring your own. The Greatist has 51 easy, healthy veggie side dishes that are sure to please even the most finicky palate.
2. Add a little cheese for a dose of holiday cheer—and dieting nirvana. Cheese often gets a bad rap because of the fat and calories, but this protein-packed food can be a good choice to round out your plate (in moderation, of course).
Women’s Health cites a study from the British Journal of Medicine and notes “people who ate a high-protein, moderate-calorie cheese snack ate less during their next meal.” Not a bad way to approach appetizers before the big dinner, right? The same article says that this tasty dairy product can actually help you slim down.
- Pro tip: Remember, like everything else, moderation is key. So choose a few slices or cubes and skip the empty-calorie crackers. Wondering which cheeses to reach for? Mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Swiss, and Gruyere are good options. Live Strong blog offers a nutrition comparison of cheeses.
3. Understand the calorie count of your favorite holiday libations. We’re not suggesting you forgo the eggnog or Bailey’s on ice. Simply pay attention to the caloric count so you can make smarter decisions. WebMD has a good roundup of some of the highest calorie holiday drinks.
Here’s a sampling:
- Hot Buttered Rum – 418 calories per serving
- Eggnog – one cup, and not including any added liquor: 350 calories (opt for “light” eggnog and save 110 calories)
- Champagne – one cup: 182 calories
- Sparkling cider – 140 calories for an eight-ounce serving
This list doesn’t include a holiday staple (perhaps an everyday staple): wine. Pop Sugar offers an excellent recap of different wines, calories, and carbs based on 5 fluid ounces. Pinot Grigio weighs in at 112 calories while merlot is 117 calories.
- Pro tip: You’ve heard this one before, no doubt, but it’s a classic tip that works: switch off between alcoholic drinks and a full glass (or two) of water. It’s important to stay hydrated, and drinking water will help you fill up.
4. Get a little nutty. Nuts have many health benefits, but, again, moderation is key. Watch the sodium! Yes, those salty mixed nuts taste amazing, but the sodium isn’t doing you any favors (and it will make you thirsty, which is fine if you’re drinking water, but not so much if it’s something else). That said, a serving of unsalted almonds, walnuts, or cashews won’t break the caloric bank—and the protein will help satisfy your tummy.
- Pro tip: Roasted chestnuts are a popular holiday treat. The best part? Chestnuts are lower in calories than most other nuts. As LIVESTRONG points out, “Roasted chestnuts have 69 calories per ounce. Most nuts, such as almonds, macadamias, or cashews, have 160 to 200 calories per ounce.” That said, they have less protein than other nuts, so they won’t fill you up like other nuts will.
5. Choose fruit over sugary desserts. Most cheese boards have apple slices and grapes. Grab some for something sweet. If fruit salad is available, add that to your plate. Ditto fruit kebabs.
- Pro tip: Once again, if you’re questioning whether fruit will be available, consider bringing your own. Edible fruit arrangements can make an excellent gift for the host. Or you can assemble your own. Here are 12 simple fruit ideas to inspire you.
6. Allow an occasional indulgence. The key is keeping it singular! Look at the dessert tray and choose the one item that’s speaking to you. Savor and enjoy it. This is especially important if you have multiple events in one week. Decide, in advance, which event you’ll allow yourself to splurge and then be more mindful about healthier options, like fruits and veggies, during the other gatherings.
- Pro tip: Health.com reminds us that Americans gain, on average, 1.3 pounds between Christmas and New Year’s (and that it takes about five months to shed the weight). Now is the time to add more healthful holiday desserts to your baking arsenal. Health.com rounds up 31 favorites and gives them a healthy makeover.
What other healthy foods do you recommend for holiday gatherings? Share your ideas in the comments!