It’s a common tale of woe this time of year.
You go to a holiday dinner or cocktail party and end up eating and drinking your weight in canapes, cookies, buttery sides, eggnog and cocktails. You don’t even want to think about the calories.
But ponder you must if you don’t want to go up a pant size come January, because all those eats, drinks and second helpings can quickly add up.
“People go to all these parties and tend to take full servings of everything,” says registered dietitian Andrew Wade of Case Specific Nutrition in Shadyside. Or they eat mindlessly, unaware that each bite can add 25 or more calories to their daily count.
There are, however, tricks to keep you on track. Among Mr. Wade’s favorite is the “three-bites rule.” When you sit down to a meal, feel free to indulge — but limit yourself to three bites of each food offered. That way, you can enjoy a taste of everything and feel full, but you won’t walk away stuffed like a sausage.
He also is a big fan of eating throughout the day so you don’t feel starved when you get a party and then overeat.
Mr. Wade advises hosts to add multiple vegetable options and lean proteins to the menu, and to cut fat and sugar in the more sinful recipes. In many desserts, sugar can be reduced by 25 percent without a noticeable difference. Plain Greek yogurt can stand in for heavy cream, cream cheese or mayonnaise in appetizers, and oil can be replaced by applesauce in some baked goods.
Hosts also should consider offering bite-sized portions instead of one giant bowl that encourages consumption, Mr. Wade says. Thought should be given to plate sizes, as larger ones can make a serving of food appear smaller. “There tends to be this fear of underfeeding as a culture,” he says, which is wasteful when you end up throwing food out.
Remember, it’s so easy to drink calories, so offer water with dinner to go with wine, beer and cocktails.
Weigh your options
Here are ways to shave calories from 10 favorite holiday foods, Mr. Wade says:
Alcohol. If you’re a beer drinker, go for the light version, which has about the same calories as a five-ounce glass of wine or 1½ ounces of alcohol (about 100). Instead of pop, mix alcohol with a splash of juice or soda or tonic water. Or choose something you’ll sip instead of gulp, such as whiskey, ordered neat.
Eggnog. Use almond or coconut milk instead of whole milk, and thicken it to a cream-like consistency with banana. Go heavy on the spices; they don’t have any calories.
Green bean casserole. Choose 98 percent fat-free mushroom soup and add freshly sauteed onions instead of the crunchy fried ones from a can. If you use canned green beans, rinse well to remove the salt.
Stuffing. Other than cooking it in a separate dish instead of in the turkey cavity, where fat drippings accumulate, there’s not much you can do to cut calories here. But you can make those calories count with extra vitamins and fiber. Use whole-wheat bread or a super-grain alternative, such as quinoa, and add extras such as cranberries or pear or apple chunks.
Mashed potatoes and gravy. Leave the skin on the potato for more fiber and use 2 percent milk and whipped butter for less fat. Also, use a gravy skimmer to separate liquid fats from the drippings and be judicious when pouring it on — a serving is just ¼ cup.
Candied sweet potatoes. Rely on spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon instead of sugar for flavor. Sweet potatoes are naturally sweet, so cut the butter and sugar in half. For added crunch and protein, add nuts before baking. And skip the marshmallows.
Cranberry sauce. Forget canned. Make it from scratch using whole berries for fiber. Sweeten with a mix of sugar, orange juice and orange zest, and add crunch and flavor with nuts and apple or pear slices.
Finger foods. It’s so easy to fill up on appetizers and still think you haven’t eaten any “dinner.” If you’re going to indulge, consciously build the components of a meal in your head while you’re eating — bruschetta counts as bread, shrimp cocktail as protein, spinach dip as a vegetable, etc.
Holiday cookies. Less is more. Make smaller versions of your favorite cookie so you’re eating less sugar. The best cookies contain whole grains such as oatmeal; other smart choices include simple cookies such as pizzelles and snickerdoodles. Also, cookies with nuts and fruits are more filling, so (theoretically) you’ll eat fewer.
Pecan pie. If you’re the baker, reduce the sugar by 25 percent. Or simply cut down on the portion size.
At the end of the day, says Mr. Wade, “you shouldn’t feel guilty for enjoying a simple pleasure. It just can’t be all of them.”
And if all else fails? Don’t hang out around the food. The holidays, after all, are as much about socializing with family and friends as they are about eating.