The Ideal Holiday Meal

From the WebMD Archives

The holidays are a time for friends, fun, and flavorful food. And with the right menu -- and a bit of planning ahead -- you can keep your calories in check, too.

“My best advice is to be mindful of your food choices,” says Toby Smithson, an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokeswoman. “Planning as much as possible is key to help put your brain in the driver’s seat in making the wisest food decisions.”

This advice works for both the hosts and the guests.

Hosting the Perfect Holiday Dinner

For appetizers, Smithson recommends making dips using nonfat plain yogurt, salsa, or fresh lime. Serve them with raw veggies. Olives, which contain healthy fats, make good appetizers, too.

A good starter is this grapefruit and cranberry salad. It has spinach and butter lettuce tossed with grapefruit juice vinaigrette, dried cranberries, tangy hearts of palm, and juicy chunks of grapefruit.

Next course? How about a nutty roasted pumpkin apple soup? It’s low in calories, saturated fats, and cholesterol -- and packs in 6 grams of fiber per serving.

Now you’re ready to serve a super healthful and flavorful main course. Start with an organic bird, and brine it in a low-sodium mixture of fresh crushed garlic, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and water for 24 hours. Then follow the rest of this recipe for lemon garlic roast turkey with white wine gravy.

For a delicious side dish, try this creamy broccoli and cauliflower gratin. Instead of cream and butter, you use low-fat milk, olive oil, and whole wheat bread crumbs, amping up the nutrition and lowering the saturated fats.

And for dessert, whip up a light and easy pumpkin custard pie weighing in at just 161 calories per slice.

Looking to cut more calories? Here are simple changes to make for a spectacular and healthier meal:

  • If you’re serving cranberry sauce, make it from fresh cranberries.
  • Whip up your mashed potatoes with nonfat, low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth, low-fat milk, or fat-free half-and-half. Add roasted garlic for a flavor boost.
  • Instead of sweet potato pie, cut up and roast your sweet potatoes, sprinkling them with cinnamon and a spritz of canola or olive oil or butter spray. “I love using orange halves filled with mashed sweet potato, [alternative] sweetener, cinnamon, dried cranberries, walnuts, and topped with a couple of mini-marshmallows and baked in the oven,” Smithson says. For those who prefer honey or sugar, a small amount can be added instead of alternative sweeteners.
  • Replace the apple pie with baked apples. Serve with chopped walnuts and a cinnamon stick in the core of the apple.
  • Instead of a creamy string bean casserole, serve roasted red pepper strips and green beans.


When You’re the Guest

  • Have a light snack at home so you’re not starving when you arrive.
  • Eat slowly while you catch up with friends and family.
  • Taste in small bites so you’ll have room for the things you like most.
  • Go easy on the alcohol. Too much booze can get you in trouble at a party in more ways than one.
  • If you have a sweet tooth, fill up on vegetables at the beginning of your meal. Then you won’t need much dessert to feel satisfied.

Whether you’re the host or the guest, remember that the ideal holiday meal is one where everyone relaxes and enjoys.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Elaine Magee, MPH, RD on December 11, 2013



National Diabetes Education Program: “Healthy Eating at Family Gatherings and Special Events.”

Toby Smithson, RDN, LDN, CDE; Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokeswoman.

Jim White, RDN, ACSM-HFS; Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesman.

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