Low-Calorie Holiday Recipes

How to make high-taste, low-cal holiday fare.

Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on October 20, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

A typical holiday meal can mean a disaster for your diet, with an average calorie count of more than 2,500 for every festive spread you indulge in. Given that 3,500 calories equals one extra pound of weight, a few over-the-top meals, in theory, could turn into a few extra lines on the scale. Is all the merrymaking really worth a serious case of snug-fitting clothes and the winter-weight blues?

This year, a holiday meal makeover is definitely in order, meaning it’s time to deck the kitchen with healthier ingredients and lower-cal treats. With visions of skim milk, egg substitutes, pomegranate seeds, and a sprinkle of cinnamon dancing in your head, the trick is to pack in the flavor and pull out the fat -- so you can enjoy all of the tasty treats the season has to offer, without the guilt and gratuitous calories.

WebMD offers these yuletide alternatives to some traditional appetizers, drinks, and dessert. (We’ll leave the main dish to you -- since you already know to eat just the white meat on the bird and go easy on the stuffing and gravy, right?) So, this holiday, focus more on giving thanks and wrapping presents and less on the needle on the scale.

Low-Calorie Holiday Drinks


Eggnog is a minefield of calories -- from the heavy cream to the sugar to its main ingredient, eggs. Weighing in at around 340 calories per cup, with 19 grams of fat, this is one holiday drink that’s better left at the bar -- unless you make some serious changes. First, skip the heavy cream and use skim milk and fat-free half-and-half instead. Egg substitutes are just as good as the real deal, and a single packet of artificial sweetener can add all the flavor of a teaspoon of calorie-heavy sugar. And, since you’ve carved off the calories in all the right places -- down to about 60 calories per serving -- feel free to add 1/4 cup of brandy or rum for a little kick, or spice it up naturally with a shaving of fresh nutmeg.


Makes 4 servings

1 1/2 cups skim milk
1/2 cup fat-free half-and-half
1/2 cup pasteurized egg substitute
1 tsp vanilla
1 packet artificial sweetener
1/4 cup brandy or rum (optional)
Nutmeg (for garnish)


Combine all ingredients in a shaker or blender, or whisk to blend. Serve cold or over ice and garnish with nutmeg.

Per serving (without brandy): 64 calories, 7 g protein, 8 g carbohydrate, 0.5 g fat, 0.3 g saturated fat, 3 mg cholesterol, 0 g fiber, 144 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 7%.

Wine Spritzer

This colorful holiday cocktail is the perfect way to make merry without packing on the pounds. Start with just a splash of wine in lieu of a whole glass and add a dash of healthy pomegranate or cranberry juice, both of which are nutrient-heavy and calorie-light. Finally, throw in a touch of soda or sparkling water for a little pop.

Makes 1 serving

1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup pomegranate or
cranberry juice
1/4 cup club soda or
sparkling water
Garnish with lime wedge

Per serving: 50 calories, 0.3 g protein, 12 g carbohydrate, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 g fiber, 13 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 0%.

Low-Calorie Appetizers

Crabmeat Spread

A picture-perfect addition to any holiday spread, this crabmeat pomegranate dip is low in calories compared with the typical veggie dip. Light mayo is the only ingredient that adds a few fat calories; otherwise this holiday appetizer is protein-packed and full of flavor.

Makes 16 appetizer servings

8 oz lump crabmeat, drained and shell pieces removed
4 tbsp light mayonnaise
1 tbsp finely chopped green scallion tops or chives
1 tbsp fresh lime or lemon juice
Assorted crudités (red pepper strips, cucumber slices, and carrot sticks)
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

Mix crabmeat with mayonnaise, scallions, and lime juice. Mound crabmeat mixture in the center of a platter and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds. Arrange colorful vegetables around the plate.

Per serving: 26 calories, 3 g protein, 0.4 g carbohydrate, 1.4 g fat, 0.2 g


Stuffed Figs

Pigs in a blanket are a holiday no-no, laden with 6 grams of fat and not a lot of nutritional value per each bite-sized portion. Stuffed figs (the figs replace the pigs) wrapped in prosciutto are delicious and nutritious -- cutting the calorie count down to 85 and the fat grams almost in half.


Makes 12 appetizer servings

12 large fresh figs (mission or any other fresh variety)
2 oz goat cheese
2 oz thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into 12 strips
2–3 oz balsamic vinegar
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut figs in half but not all the way through. Stuff the fig with a small scoop of goat cheese and press gently to seal. Wrap stuffed fig in a strip of prosciutto to secure cheese, tuck ends of prosciutto under fig. Place figs on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Drizzle balsamic vinegar over each fig. Bake figs 8 to 10 minutes; serve warm.

Per serving: 93 calories, 3.5 g protein, 14 g carbohydrate, 2.5 g fat, 1.4 g saturated fat, 9 mg cholesterol,
2 g fiber, 145 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 26%.

Low-Calorie Desserts

Apple Crisp

What’s a holiday feast without a little apple pie? It may be an age-old tradition on your table come November and December, but there’s a slimmer way to do it. While it’s not exactly lean cuisine, this crisp is certainly a step in the right direction, especially if you use a no-trans fat margarine and a sugar substitute, in lieu of the real thing. Topping out at around 220 calories and 8 grams of fat, this dessert is a big nutritional improvement with almost no sacrifice in taste.


Makes 8 servings

1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
3 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tbsp no-trans fat margarine

4 cups cored and thinly sliced apples (pippin and Granny Smith work well), firmly packed
1/4 cup sugar (or substitute 2 tbsp Splenda)
1 tsp apple pie spice
2 tbsp unbleached flour


Preheat oven to 375°. Coat a 9x9-inch baking dish, 9-inch cake pan, or deep-dish pie plate with canola cooking spray. Toast the walnuts by spreading on a pie plate and heating in oven until fragrant (about 7 minutes). Chop the nuts medium-fine.

Combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a mixing bowl. Cut margarine into the mixture until the topping resembles small peas or until crumbly. Add the chopped nuts and mix well. (The topping can be prepared up to a week ahead and refrigerated.).

Put the sliced apples in a large bowl. Add the sugar (or Splenda) and apple pie spice to a 1-cup measure, then pour over the apples and toss. Sprinkle flour over the apples and mix gently. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Spoon the topping over the apples, pressing down lightly. Place the dish on a baking sheet to catch any overflow. Bake on the center rack of oven until the topping is golden brown and the juices have thickened slightly, about 35-45 minutes.


Per serving (using Take Control margarine): 214 calories, 3 g protein, 33 g carbohydrate, 8 g fat, 1.3 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 2.5 g fiber, 33.5 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 34%.

WebMD Magazine - Feature


Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, director of nutrition, WebMD Health and the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic.

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