By Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN
For most people, the holidays are a dreaded time for weight gain and falling off the health wagon, but it doesn’t have to be. This year we want you to look at this time as a time to enjoy, a time to celebrate and a time to stick to your healthy eating plan, while still having fun. To help you prepare to stay on track, we’ve highlighted some of the worst holiday party foods you might come across, and some healthier swaps to choose from.
1. Spinach & Artichoke Dip
Actually, dips in general like buffalo chicken and that Mexican 7-layer dip that you’ve been making for years are absolutely loaded with calories, which may come as no surprise given that they are often made with full-fat dairy ingredients. Because they’re so tasty, these dips can be almost impossible pass on, but keep in mind that one serving of spinach and artichoke or seven-layer dip along with chips can add up to a whopping 400-500+ calories per serving. So do your best to avoid these dips and instead head toward healthier choices.
Head for the hummus or salsa. Limit your chip intake and then reach for a few carrots or celery sticks. If you’re afraid you won’t be able to find any at the party you’re headed to, offer to bring a healthier dip like the red and green options from the Rainbow Hummus or Eggplant Salsa with carrots or celery.
2. Fried Anything
Chicken fingers, chicken wings, fried goat cheese balls, spring rolls and dumplings are some of the most common foods you’ll see at a party. They’re inexpensive and make the majority of the crowd happy. But they are loaded with calories, fat and potentially even trans fats depending on where and how they were made. The convenience of making them is why they are so appealing since you can buy them frozen at the grocery store, but healthy appetizers can be simple too!
Head for the baked, roasted or grilled appetizers like grilled chicken and veggie skewers, or an apple with goat cheese lightly smeared on it and topped with pistachios. If you’re making your own, impress the guests with these Zucchini Macadamia Pesto Roll Ups – they are festive and taste amazing.
3. Cheese, Cheese and More Cheese
What’s a holiday party without a baked brie appetizer, a cheese and meat plate, and a cheesy sip? Cheesy appetizers are almost sure to be on the food list for your upcoming holiday parties. When you take the servings too far you will likely end up consuming way too many calories and fat, maybe even up to 500-600 calories from just one dish, and the baked brie isn’t far behind it at a whopping 200-300 calories per serving.
If you enjoy eating cheese at holiday parties, just be mindful of portion size. Just get one plate of apps and only put a small serving of the cheese dishes on at one time, or if you’re a “once you start you can’t stop” kind of eater, then choose the nuts instead for your dose of healthier fats.
4. Pigs in a Blanket
Those mini hotdogs wrapped in dough are a holiday party favorite. Since they are small you feel like you can consume more than you should. But think again. Hot dogs are full of artificial ingredients and offer no nutritional benefit, not to mention they are high in calories and fat. One little pig in a blanket is about 70 calories each (and who only eats one?). Try to avoid or at least moderate consumption of the pigs in a blanket and head for the healthier options most of the time.
The only healthier option would be veggies wrapped in dough instead of the hot dog like these Phyllo-Wrapped Asparagus Spears from One Fresh Kitchen. The dough doens’t have much on the nutrient-front either but at least you’ll be getting in a veggie.
5. Winter Cocktails & Drinks
There’s nothing better than a cozy winter drink – mulled wine, eggnog and hot chocolate to name a few. Unsurprisingly, eggnog is one of the worst holiday party beverage choices as it’s packed with calories and fat; one serving can have as much as 350 calories (and that’s before you’ve even had anything to eat)– not to mention it’s loaded with sugar as well. And hot chocolate can get up there too! The mulled wine has added sweeteners but that smell might make it too hard to say no to.
Choose one. Don’t drink the wine and the hot chocolate. Your best choice is a white wine spritzer or just to stick with water or club soda. There’s enough calories in the food so if you do indulge in eggnog, try to settle for a sip and keep moving along. Or make your own with healthier ingredients. We have a vegan eggnog and hot chocolate recipe that you will love!
6. Holiday Cookies
What’s not to love about a holiday cookie? You look forward to them all year, so the likelihood of you completely saying no to them is probably rare. There’s typically nothing healthy about them so the best tip is to enjoy the cookie but scale back on other areas – have one glass of wine instead of two, pass on the bread heavy appetizers, and reward yourself with that one cookie! But also consider bringing your own to lighten the load and show your guests that healthier sweets can be just as good as the real deal.
Almond Butter Kiss Cookies! Make this cookies that are only 110 calories each with only 2 grams of sugar.
Get more simple tips for how to navigate a holiday party.