If you’re watching your weight or trying to eat more healthfully, the holidays can certainly be a challenge. Buffet tables make portion control more difficult, open bars and punch bowls make it easy to overindulge in alcohol, and seasonal treats are often laden with fat, sugars, and salt.

More on holiday food

And the consequences of overdoing can be long-lasting. Some research suggests that people may put on an average of only a pound or two during the holidays but that it can take some five months to shed that weight.

To help you navigate the season’s dietary minefield, we’ve gathered our nutrition experts’ best healthy holiday eating food hacks.

Sneak In Healthy Items

For healthy holiday eating, swapping in good-for-you ingredients can help you cut down on fat, sugars, and calories (and still allow you to enjoy your favorites).

Instead of butter or sour cream in mashed potatoes, for example, use low-fat or nonfat Greek yogurt. Or replace up to a quarter of the butter or oil you’d use in baking with puréed fruit—try using applesauce with muffins or brownies.


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Get All the Flavor With Less Salt

“When you’re cooking, you can cut down on salt and boost savory flavors by substituting garlic, or herbs such as basil, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme, or turmeric,” says Maxine Siegel, R.D., head of Consumer Reports’ food testing lab.

If you and your guests enjoy spicy food, try adding hot sauce. A recent study showed that this can help people consume less sodium.

Also, keep in mind that the bulk of most people’s salt intake comes from packaged items and restaurant meals, so choose fresh and made-from-scratch items at home and at holiday celebrations when you can.

Have a Party Plan

To make healthy holiday eating easier, eat a small snack before heading to a seasonal gathering—going hungry will only make you more likely to overeat later.

At the party, scope out the offerings before deciding what you’ll have. Then opt for the simplest snacks, such as boiled shrimp, veggies and hummus, and fruit, which will probably be the healthiest items available, Siegel says.

Be Choosy About Booze

Eat a couple of appetizers before toasting, so you’re not drinking on an empty stomach. 

Keep in mind that the type of alcoholic drink you choose can raise your calorie intake, too. A 5-ounce glass of white wine, for instance, contains 121 calories, and a 1.5-ounce serving of coffee liqueur has 175 calories—without any mixers you might add.

To cut down on alcohol consumption and calories, you can alternate alcoholic drinks with nonalcoholic offerings or make a lower calorie, less boozy wine spritzer with half wine, half seltzer.

Or, “If you want to look like you’re part of the ‘gang,’ hold a glass of sparkling water with a twist of lemon or lime,” Siegel suggests. “Maybe add a splash of cranberry juice. No one will be the wiser.”

If you prefer a mixed drink, you might want to stick to clear spirits rather than dark liquors. These contain more of a substance called congeners, which scientists think may contribute to hangover severity. In one one study, for instance, when scientists tested how people felt the morning after drinking bourbon or vodka, the bourbon drinkers reported feeling worse.

Share the Wealth (and Calories)

Bring food baskets, batches of Christmas cookies, and other high-calorie gifts that you receive to the office to share with co-workers. Healthy holiday eating will be easier if you don’t have these temptations at home.

Or check with your local hospital, police department, or fire department about whether it would accept a donation of holiday treats, Siegel suggests.