Calorie-cutting tips to help you eat healthier during the holidays

If you believe the Calorie Control Council, you will consume 4,500 calories this Thanksgiving, our national day of gorging. That’s double the daily limit you should eat for good health, or to put it in terms that a Scouter can appreciate, the caloric equivalent of 32 s’mores. Healthy Holiday Tips

Even if you avoid the second helping of pie, you’re not out of the woods. Turkey Day is only the beginning of a long holiday season of overeating that culminates with midnight champagne toasts and pigs in blankets.

But you can do your part to stem the tide of obesity engulfing this nation (a rate expected to reach 50% in 2030!) by making healthier choices when faced with the all-you-can-stuff-in-your-face holiday buffet.

Step 1: Eat a high-protein appetizer, such as shrimp or raw almonds, to take the edge off hunger. “Protein slows down the absorption of carbohydrates (sugars) you eat with it, which evens out the rise and fall of blood sugar and insulin,” says Dr. Florence Comite, a New York City endocrinologist, expert on metabolism and author of Keep It Up (Rodale, 2013). Fewer blood-sugar spikes mean less chance of increasing body fat and becoming diabetic.

Step 2: Grab a dinner plate and make the following smart swaps.

Thanksgiving Dinner
How you fill your dinner plate can determine whether you go back for seconds and a cornucopia of extra calories. Start by selecting turkey breast instead of dark meat for a 200-calorie savings. Next, nix the stuffing, which weighs in at 175 calories per serving. You’ll get your carbohydrate fix through a small dinner roll with a pat of butter and, of course, the mashed potatoes and gravy. Avoid the candied sweet potatoes for a 260-calorie savings. Sure, they are rich in beta-carotene (vitamin A), but remember how they’re often made — with a half-cup of butter and about two cups of brown sugar. Steamed green beans are always a better choice than the casserole version of the vegetable made with butter, cream of mushroom soup and crispy, fried onions.

Holiday Shopping Meal
Heading to the mall’s food court? Know before you go. If you have a favorite fast-food restaurant, check nutrition information on its website and pick a less calorie-dense choice before you go. For example, at Taco Bell, save more than 500 calories by choosing two Grilled Steak Soft Tacos (200 calories; 80 calories from fat) instead of the Cantina Double Steak Quesadilla (960 calories; 400 calories from fat). Add a side of black beans, and you’ll gain belly-filling fiber and protein for just 90 more calories.

Christmas Dinner
Prime rib and spiral-sliced honey ham are traditional Christmas dinner favorites. Choose the ham. You can have a double serving and still come in significantly under the 600 calories that a six-ounce serving of prime rib delivers. For a starch, go with roasted red potatoes cooked in vegetable oil (100 calories) instead of a baked potato with butter and sour cream (400 calories). Just making these simple swaps will leave you with room to splurge on dessert. May we suggest the pumpkin pie with whipped cream? It has about 220 fewer calories than two medium-size brownies because of its high water content. And at 340 calories, it’s a better choice than another popular holiday treat, pecan pie, at 505 calories. (And, yes, that’s without the ice cream.)

Hanukkah Staple
It’s not a Hanukkah celebration without latkes! But this traditional Jewish comfort food, potato pancakes fried in lots of oil, delivers 329 calories and 17 grams of fat in a pair. And who can stop at just two? Save about 200 calories per serving by making baked sweet-potato pancakes. Bonus: Sweet potatoes have more fiber and vitamin A than white potatoes, and they are lower on the glycemic index, meaning they are less likely to spike your blood sugar.

Finger Foods

  • Three pigs in a blanket (mini hotdogs rolled in dough): 400 calories
  • Twelve jumbo shrimp with cocktail sauce: 165 calories
  • Artichoke dip: 320 calories per serving, not counting crackers
  • Guacamole: 54 calories per serving, not counting tortilla chips. Bonus: Avocados are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

The holidays are for celebrating life, not sacrificing taste. You don’t have to deny yourself if you practice mindful eating at the many opportunities the season presents.


  • Keep your mouth busy … by talking. Engaging in good conversation reduces mindless face-stuffing.
  • Use a salad plate. Studies show you’ll consume fewer calories using a smaller plate because large dinner plates encourage us to fill them.
  • Turn your back on the buffet. Researchers have found that people who sit facing the buffet in all-you-can-eat restaurants are more likely to go for seconds and thirds. Fill your plate and then walk to a far corner of the room or to another room altogether to avoid temptation.
  • Stunt sugar spikes by walking. A brisk walk after a big meal moves glucose into the muscles to help with metabolism, regulating blood sugar levels and may lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to a study in the journal Diabetes Care.

JEFF CSATARI is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Belly Off! Diet.


    • Hi, Kristen. You’re right. The original headline for the story stated “five steps.” This was a little misleading, as not all of the advice is identified with the word “step.” We’ve changed the headline to help amend this.

      However, the article above has more than five sections with advice for eating healthier during the holidays. If you have extra tips to share with our readers, please leave your suggestions in the comments.



  1. An observation on the recommendations around Chanukah. A very strong part of the Chanukah observance is to note the miracle of the oil used during the reconsecration of the Temple. Traditionally, this is done through lighting candles (the oil was sacred lamp oil), and eating foods fried in oil. Traditional foods have become felafel, sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) and latkes (potato pancakes). Simply eliminating these to save calories goes against the tradition.

    Another suggestion: many times, people accompany latkes with sour cream. Substitute apple sauce. Or, instead of an entire sufganiyah, substitute a donut hole. Perhaps have one or two latkes, and accompany that with salad or a hearty borscht, instead of chowing down on four or five or more latkes).

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