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How to serve (and savor) a festive, not-too-fattening feast

Visions of a gorgeous holiday table -- set with fine china, special silverware, and fancy crystal for the annual feast -- bring joy to my heart. I dream of the intoxicating aromas of a traditional holiday meal, with all the wonderful trimmings.

Of course, the challenge is to figure out how to indulge in this once-a-year feast without packing on the pounds. But all it really takes is the right menu and a little planning, experts say.

The Perfect Meal

For American Dietetic Association spokesperson Elisa Zied, RD, the perfect holiday meal has two main ingredients: "First, the meal is one that contains foods you love and brings back fond memories of home or someone close to you.

"The second ingredient is good company. Surrounding yourself with those people in your life who make you feel good about yourself and make you the happiest is the greatest joy."

To make sure your food choices keep you feeling good about yourself, Zied suggests thinking of your dinner plate as being divided into four equal parts.

She recommends that one-fourth of your plate be made up of lean protein, like roasted turkey breast (cook it with the skin for flavor, then removes skin before eating) or lean meat. Fill half your plate -- two fourths -- with steamed or lightly sautéed vegetables, like green beans, spinach, carrots, or eggplant. Whole-grain starches, like rice, pasta or potatoes, can round out the other fourth -- that is, unless you're planning on a decadent dessert.

"Skip the starch if you want to save a few calories for some cookies or a piece of Grandma's famous holiday pie," advises Zied, author of the upcoming book So What Can I Eat?

In fact, with so many fabulous foods on hand, you should skip anything that doesn't absolutely thrill you, she says. "Don't waste valuable calories on foods or desserts you don't really enjoy."

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