Apple and pumpkin pie are common holiday foods.

Before you start stressing about how to eat healthfully this holiday season, take heart. Nutrition pros approve, and even encourage, taking a break from your health goals to enjoy those once-a-year favorites. “If the holidays are the only time you get mom’s mashed potatoes or great aunt’s fruit cake, then take a serving, savor it, and be satisfied,” says Debbie Petitpain, M.S., R.D., wellness director at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

Still, when you're choosing between, say, apple pie and pumpkin pie, you might be wondering which seasonal specialty has the nutritional advantage. If you can eat a favorite food and do less dietary damage, it’s a healthy holiday win, so here's some guidance.

Pumpkin Pie or Apple Pie?

Though you may try to convince yourself any food that contains pumpkins or apples is a healthy choice, pie is still a special occasion dessert. Calories, carbohydrates, and fat are realities either way. Pumpkin pie, though, will have roughly 100 fewer calories per slice than apple pie, primarily because it only has one crust, says Joan Salge Blake, Ed.D., R.D.N., professor of nutrition at Boston University. More crust means more calories and saturated fat from the butter or shortening used to make it. (Or try CR's Crustless Pumpkin Pie recipe.) Better Pick: Pumpkin Pie.

Cheese and Crackers or Chips and Dip?

These two starters have a lot in common, starting with the fact that they’re both easy to overeat, as foods that are high in carbohydrates and sodium tend to be. Cheese and dips both pack a lot of sodium, and—unless you’re talking about vegetable- and bean-based dips like salsa, guacamole, or hummus—saturated fat.

Calorie-wise, the choices are even. Both five Ritz crackers with two cubes of Swiss cheese or an ounce of potato chips with 2 tablespoons of onion dip provide about 200 calories. 

But with cheese and crackers, you get a decent amount of calcium, says Lona Sandon, Ph.D., RDN, associate professor of nutrition at UT Southwestern.  Two cubes of Swiss cheese has 267 mg of calcium—about a quarter of the daily value (1,000 mg). The cheese also supplies 8 grams of satisfying protein from the Swiss cheese. And if you choose thin slices of cheese and eat them sandwiched with pieces of fruit like apples or pears in place of crackers, you’ll get filling fiber and loads of flavor. Better Pick: Cheese and Crackers.

Mashed Potatoes or Sweet Potato Casserole?

Both sweet and white potatoes are “ridiculously rich in a lot of nutrients,” says Salge Blake. Both contain vitamin C and potassium, a blood pressure-lowering nutrient that most Americans fall short on.

More on Healthy Holiday Eating

Of course, we’re not exactly comparing potatoes to potatoes here—your choices are white potatoes mixed with butter and cream versus sweet potatoes made even sweeter. But the casserole gets a slight edge because sweet potatoes have wider range of nutrients, including the antioxidant beta carotene, than white ones. To cut back on sugars (and calories), skim off the marshmallow topping—who needs anything extra when you already have so much natural sweetness? Better Pick: Sweet Potato Casserole.

Parker House Rolls or Cornbread?

Ounce-for-ounce both breads have roughly the same number of calories and grams of carbohydrates. While cornmeal has some vision-protecting lutein and zeaxanthin, neither option provides a ton of nutrients, and that’s okay. “Not every item on the plate has to be a superfood,” says Petitpain. Cornbread can be enjoyed plain, however, while the roll will probably be slathered with butter or drowned in oil, says Salge Blake. Better pick: Cornbread.

Sugar Cookies or Snickerdoodles?

The recipes for these cookies share the same basic ingredient list, in similar proportions. The major difference is the addition of cream of tartar to the snickerdoodles, which give them a softer texture than sugar cookies—and doesn't affect nutrition. But a crisp, hard sugar cookie is a better vehicle for colorful holiday icing, which only adds more sugarsBetter Pick: Snickerdoodles.

Champagne or a Cocktail?

All pure alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, and little other nutritional value. But that’s just the beginning of the story. Bartenders may add health intrigue in the form of mixers like pomegranate or cherry juice that make some cocktails sound like wellness tonics. But the juices still add extra calories. 

What’s more, mixed drinks can pour on far more alcohol than you realize, which can make all of your other thoughtful decisions about what to eat go out the window. With champagne you know exactly what you’re getting, says Salge Blake. Better to opt for the drink where you can see how much alcohol you’re sipping. Whatever your choice, though, “stick to one drink, enjoy, and be done with it,” says Sandon. Better pick: Champagne.