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Slimdown Wellness Challenge | Holiday Meals

Traci Wilson Traci Wilson November 23, 2020 0 Comments Nutrition

Food is everywhere during the holidays, making it tough to stick to your healthful eating and exercise habits. On average, most Americans gain around one pound during Thanksgiving and the New Year. Is that all?! Well, that may not seem like a lot, but add in a winter of eating a bit more and exercising a bit less and over time that small weight gain adds up. To enjoy the holiday season and your favorite traditions, try to stay focused on two main things.

  1. Daily activity…here and there, anytime, anywhere! AND,
  2. Know what you are eating and the potential calories it may pack on (and then modify or cut portion sizes).

Thanksgiving is certainly a time when we come together to celebrate with family and friends and overindulge. Let’s first breakdown the traditional Thanksgiving meal to see how the calories add up (the following are reasonable portion sizes).

Did anyone say seconds?! Let’s be real, we don’t see mashed potatoes and gravy every day. Most of us have seconds, so add on another 1500-2000 calories to the total, along with the calories from those appetizers and extra drinks you had before and after the meal. Yikes! The recommended daily average intake for adults is 2400 (men) and 1850 (women) calories. Wow, I’m not sure what to be thankful for anymore (laughing out loud)? That one meal greatly exceeded our calorie needs for the day, so now what? It’s decision time!

What can you sacrifice to save some calories? Will it be the seconds? Cutting portion sizes? Skipping the alcoholic drinks and fancy holiday beverages, or lightening up some of your recipes? These are all good strategies to try and save a few calories without sacrificing your favorite holiday traditions.

  • Avoiding seconds and cutting your portion sizes are the easiest ways to save calories while still enjoying all your favorite foods. If this is your choice, then go for it and don’t feel guilty. Feelings of guilt will only weigh you down or may leave you feeling bad. Be proud of your choice and then turn your focus to enjoying family, friends and holiday cheer.
  • Another choice to focus on might be deciding between food and beverage calories. Most cocktails and beer average 150 calories each. That traditional eggnog is 223 calories per cup and those fancy mochas and lattes average 350 calories or more! Sticking to one drink either before the big meal or with the big meal is a good goal to set. Lighter cocktails made with diet soda, light beer, or “mocktails” (drinks without alcohol) will help to lighten up your total calories for the day, too. Save room for the pie!
  • Lighten up those recipes! Shhhhh, no one will ever know. The following are a few tips to cut calories, add more nutrients, and expand on flavor.


It’s not Thanksgiving without the stuffing! Typically loaded with butter and salt, try adding flavor with dried cranberries or apples and a variety of fresh or dried herbs. Then replace some of the breadcrumbs with EXTRA veggies such as onion, mushrooms and celery sautéed in a small amount of olive or canola oil. Toss your stuffing with low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock to keep it moist and flavorful without the extra sodium.


To lighten up traditional mashed potatoes, skip the butter and use skim or 1% milk. To add a rich creamy flavor, try adding non-fat plain Greek yogurt, light sour-cream, or evaporated skim milk. You may also use a combination of low-sodium broth with milk or yogurt to cut calories but not flavor. Adding fresh garlic or parmesan cheese will create a unique taste with a fraction of the calories.


Ummm…I have never found a light or low-fat gravy recipe with a 5-star rating, just saying. It’s almost impossible to replace the flavor of the meat drippings. You can still create a healthier version, however, by using a small amount of olive or canola oil (or no fat) in place of the drippings, low sodium chicken broth, and a variety of herbs and spices such as garlic and onion powder, dried rosemary, thyme and black pepper for a robust flavor.


That sweet potato casserole (or candied yams) with or without the marshmallows can be a sugar bomb! Skip the mallows, cut the butter in half, and try using fruit juice or chunks of real fruit in place of sugar or honey. Additionally, spices like cinnamon and nutmeg add a “sweetness” along with a flavor boost.


Green bean casserole is one my favorites (especially with those little fried onions on top). Any vegetable sides can be lightened up with non-fat dairy products or low-fat cream soups. Or, you can simply skip the cream-based side dishes loaded with butter, cream and cheese and add flavor in other ways. Top ways to flavor any dish are to start with garlic or onions and then add citrus zest and a variety of fresh or dried herbs. Additionally, sprinkling veggies with a small amount of toasted nuts or robust cheeses, such as parmesan or feta, goes a long way. My favorite replacement for green bean casserole is steamed green beans tossed with a little bit of olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, toasted walnuts and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese (did someone say “umami”?). Lastly, replacing starchy vegetables such as peas and corn with lower calorie, colorful vegetables, such as broccoli, zucchini or even a fresh green salad, are simple healthier swaps that might surprise you!

Small changes over time can and will make a difference! You do not have to change the integrity of all your recipes or change multiple holiday traditions to get your calorie intake in check. Prioritize what’s most important to you during the holidays, including your holiday food traditions. Then, focus on those priorities alone to help keep you on track with your daily healthy habits. It’s all about choices, and they are our choices! Pick and choose what’s best for you and ENJOY it.