Lighten up your holiday meal

That time of year is back – you know what I am talking about – the festive season where we sometimes go a little crazy on the food front!   We say we will behave ourselves, but it is so easy to eat a little more than planned, exercise a little less and, well, just one extra drink won’t hurt!

While it isn’t always easy to make just a few minor adjustments, you can save yourself hundreds of calories if you do. Here are some of the most common tips out there to reduce calories and fat while preserving the flavor of your meals and try to avoid some of the holiday bulge!


1. Baked Goods 
Oils and butter in these recipes can be substituted with apple sauce, prune puree, or bananas.

2. Chocolate
Use fewer chocolate chips than a recipe calls for.  Why not make it a mix of chocolate chips and raisins where appropriate – the raisins add a chewy goodness to most cookies.

3. Whole Milk, Whipping Cream, Ice Cream

Will a lower fat milk do the trick?  Is a dollop of whipping cream really necessary?  You can  always add a dollop of plain yogurt to the pie – cut on the calories and fat.  Sprinkle with a little cinnamon for a little flavour boost.

4. Butter
Use healthier fats like light cooking spray, canola oil, whipped butter, olive oil or peanut oil.  But all that said…butter in moderation is fine!

5. Salad Dressing
Salads may seem super healthy, but just a tablespoon of some salad dressings can set you back loads of calories. Instead use a more natural topper like lemon juice with cracked pepper, reduced-fat cottage cheese, or herb-flavored or wine vinegar with olive or a specialty oil.  If you are looking for a little more zing – use freshly squeezed lime juice in the equation.

6. Cheese
Instead of the usual cheese, select cheeses that are lower in fat. Personally, cheese is a weakness for me – I just serve less of it.  Dress up the cheese plate with healthy options – a sharp cheddar goes perfectly with tart granny smith apple slices!  Just dip them in a little lemon juice to prevent the flesh from oxidizing (turning brown).

7. Sour Cream, Mayonnaise
Use a plain fat free Greek yogurt-it has the same texture and similar flavor to both sour cream and mayonnaise.  Dress it up with a little fresh herbs – garlic chives or fresh parsley go a long way in both the flavour and visual cues – added bonus: parsley is loaded in vitamin C!  Go ahead – throw it on with reckless abandon.

8. Gravy
While I am not a gravy fan, my sister assures me that it is not a turkey dinner without a pot of steaming hot gravy.  To lighten it up a little, put your gravy into the refrigerator before serving. Once it gets cold the fat will collect at the top.  Skim it off, reheat, and serve.


9. What to Serve
Serve loads of lower calorie foods with the main event.  Fill up on raw and cooked vegetables and colourful salads. Use yogurt based dips, hummus, and/or homemade salsa instead of heavy dips and toppers.

10. Lean Your Meats
Make your meats lean by removing the skin and fat before eating.

11. A Full Plate
Fill up half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables like salad, green beans, spinach, or broccoli.

12. Portion Control
If you have trouble with portion control, try putting your knife and fork down between bites – eating will take longer and you will be less likely to have a second plateful!  Talk and laugh more…it is hard to  be filling your face while telling a story and giggling!

13. Plate Control
If you have trouble with portion control, use smaller plates.  It is the easiest trick in the book!  Can’t have a smaller plate – fill your plate with vegetables and salad – just mind the sauces as they can pack a surprising wallop!  And remember, you don’t have to eat everything!

14. Cooking Methods
Consider steaming your veggies rather than frying or roasting in butter.  Keep more nutrients in by steaming lightly!

food prep


15. Low-Calorie Sweets
Make a lower-calorie dessert like Angel food cake topped with fruit.  An alternative to fruit pie – try a crumble and skip the pastry.  Load the crumble topping with oatmeal and go easy on how thick you make it.  You can still have the crunchy goodness with a thinner a topper.

16. Fruits

Poached or baked fruits also make great desserts.

17. Cakes and Pies
Gingerbread is a lower calorie alternative to the usual cakes and pies.  If you can’t forgo the pie – why not make a crisp and save calories and fat by avoiding the crust?  You get the same warm pie feel with fewer calories.  Top with plain or greek yogurt rather than whipped cream.


18. Add Water
Make spritzers with sparkling water or club soda and add some fruit for flavor.

19. Low Calorie Options
Choose light beer, wine, or drinks made with no calorie mixers.

20. Alternate
Better yet, alternate between alcoholic drink and water to stay hydrated and keep calories lower.


21. Walk it Off
Make activity a habit after your meals – get the whole family involved so that you can all burn a few extra calories and lead a longer, healthier life together.  Living in Ottawa, we often go for a Christmas ski before dinner…great way to get out and enjoy the season.

Walk in the woods

And last but not least:

22. Don’t beat yourself up
If you feel you over-indulged, don’t beat yourself up over it!  Make a plan and bring yourself back to where you need to be.  Add extra exercise or an extra 5 minutes to your morning or daily exercise routine (I know – you are crazy busy and that can be a challenge).  Bring yourself back to your normal eating habits as soon as you can.


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