If there's one thing the Holidays are known for, it's amazing food. Turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, pies and eggnog are just some of the irresistible delicacies. As always, it seems the better the food, the higher the calorie content. If you're trying to keep calorie intake at a somewhat reasonable level during the Holiday Season, there are options which don't spoil all the fun.
1. Don't Trust Recipes. If you cook from a recipe, beware of adding too much oil, sugar and butter. These three ingredients are extremely calorie dense; even small amounts add a ton of calories to the bottom line. When using recipes, do some fine tuning. Try making the recipe with 1/2 - 3/4 of the required oil, sugar and butter. This takes some planning before the holidays; you don't want to use test batches on guests during a Thanksgiving meal. You might not even notice a big difference after cutting these ingredients in half. If you do, add a bit back in until you are satisfied. Also consider using artificial sweeteners to save even more calories.
2. Cook with Healthier Ingredients. Cooking with healthier ingredients lowers calorie content in certain situations. Whenever possible, replace refined/white flour products (flour, pasta, bread) with 100% whole wheat flour. Though both types of flour contain similar amounts of calories, 100% whole wheat products contain much more fiber and nutrients than refined/white flour. The fiber is much better at making you feel full, helping you eat less. Use fresh or frozen fruit whenever possible as pie fillings instead of canned fruit with sugary syrup. The syrup adds a lot of calories and typically contains less fiber. When making mashed potatoes, leave the peel on and make dirty mashed potatoes. If you use a food processor to mash the potatoes, you won't even realize the peel is there. Peels add fiber and nutrients to any dish.
3. Healthier Side Dishes. Side dishes constitute a big chunk of holiday calories and offer a big potential at reducing total intake. Use low calorie ingredients when making side dishes. Avoid adding butter, use low-fat dairy instead of the whole variety and use less sugar in desserts. You should also provide healthier side dishes such as fresh salads with low-fat dressings and fruit alongside traditional desserts.
4. Smaller Plates. People tend to fill up the plate they're given. Since large plates carry more, they lead to increased calorie intakes. If you don't want to limit the amount of a guest's food, offer large and small plates side by side. Filling up a small plate forces you to get up for more. This means a pause in eating, allowing the feeling of satiety to kick in before you get a chance to load up on round two or three.
5. Exercise. No, exercising doesn't reduce calorie intake but it does blunt the impact of eating too much. Sometimes it's impossible to say no to a great home cooked Thanksgiving or Christmas meal. Weight balance has two sides: calorie intake and energy expenditure. If the temptation is too great, increasing energy expenditure is just as good as keeping calorie intake down. Beware, exercise is great, but burning ~100 calories per mile (running) isn't a quick or efficient way to burn through those 1,000+ calorie meals.
The Bottom Line
Though it's always a good idea to avoid eating a crazy amount of calories, creating healthy habits throughout the entire year is much more important than limiting intake over a few days. When you build an year-round healthy lifestyle, you don't need to worry about a few turkey, ham and pie filled days. Have a Great Holiday Season!