8 Healthy Holiday Hacks

Celebrate the holidays with decadent, flavorful food while lowering the calorie load with these healthy tips.

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Christmas duck

Photo by: Dzinnik Darius ©Dzinnik Darius

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We’re all for celebrating the holidays with decadent food. But if we can cram in more nutrition (and lower the calorie load) without affecting flavor, that's even better. Here are some of our favorite tips, along with advice from our favorite nutrition experts.

Add oil at the end, so you can really taste it. The same trick works for salt and cheese.

Used mashed avocado in place of oil — you can swap it one-to-one, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, nutrition expert and author of Read It Before You Eat It. Avocados have lots of healthy fats, plus a helping of fiber.

• When a recipe calls for heavy cream, try 2% evaporated milk. It has one-third of the calories, but still lends creamy taste and texture to cream soups and pumpkin pie.

• "At holiday dinners, I aim to fill about half my plate with veggies or salad so the volume/fiber will help to fill me up without leaving me feeling uncomfortable. (If no veggies or salad are on the menu, offer to make or bring some yourself!) Then, one-quarter of the plate is protein, and then the rest is more “fun” stuff – mashed potatoes, etc. If I really want more of any of it, I can go back for more, but I sit and wait it out to give my body a chance to catch up first. Bonus: By taking this approach, I have room to enjoy pumpkin pie, my favorite dessert." — Anne Mauney, MPH, R.D., registered dietitian and blogger at fANNEtasticfood.com

Sneak in “skinny starches.” Holiday meals tend to be overstuffed with starch —stuffing, potatoes, sweet potatoes, rolls, pie … it’s a lot. But several nonstarchy vegetables can mimic starches, helping to cut the calorie load and increase the flavor. Celeriac and parsnips are great add-ins to mashed potatoes, while glazed carrots are a lovely stand-in for candied yams. Choose one or two starches that you really love, and then fill out the rest of the plate with delicious nonstarchy sides (green beans and Brussels sprouts are also among our faves).

• "Cream-based soups can be delicious, but you often don't need the cream for a velvety, rich texture. Blending soups like sweet potato and butternut squash with herbs and a bit of olive oil can help keep calories down. Bonus: Starting a meal with a soup course can help take the hunger edge off so you eat less of the higher-calorie main course as a result." — Rachel Meltzer Warren, M.S., RDN, author of The Smart Girl's Guide to Going Vegetarian

• "I make stuffing muffins on Thanksgiving using whole-grain bread and lots of veggies. They are lower in calories and portion-controlled because I bake them in muffin tins." —Dori Brill Steinberg, Ph.D., R.D., nutrition researcher at Duke University

• “Substitute some of the high-saturated-fat fats with healthier fats,” says Jill Weisenberger, R.D., author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week. “I often replace 4 tablespoons of butter with 3 tablespoons olive or canola oil in recipes for baked goods.” No need to swap out all the butter, since butter adds mega flavor. But by replacing some butter with canola or olive oil, you’ll get a healthier ratio of saturated to unsaturated fats.

Kerri-Ann is a registered dietitian who writes on food and health trends. Find more of her work at kerriannjennings.com or follow her on Twitter @kerriannrd or Facebook.

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