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."
A Healthy Holiday Menu
Here's a menu for a perfectly nutritious and delicious holiday meal that's sure to please everyone at your dinner table.
- Tuscan vegetable soup
- Red leaf, pear, and walnut salad
- Savory sugar snap peas (or green beans)
- Sweet potatoes & carrots a l'orange
- Cranberry vegetable risotto
- Roast turkey or beef tenderloin (your recipe)
If these selections don't appeal to you, check out the Weight Loss Clinic's other healthy recipes -- you're sure to find something that will be a hit at your family feast.
10 Strategies for Success
Here are Zied's top 10 tips on how to enjoy the perfect holiday meal:
1. Have a small snack an hour or two before the meal. "If you arrive ravenous, chances are you will dive into the meal and overeat," Zied says. "So take the edge off your appetite with a protein-rich snack, like yogurt or a piece of fruit and a small handful of nuts, or a few cheese cubes on whole-grain crackers."
2. When it's time to sit down to the holiday meal, first load up half your plate with any fruit, salad, or vegetable dishes being served.
3. Start the meal with a hot bowl of broth-based soup. It will help fill your belly for very few calories.
4. Salads that are already dressed can be blotted with a napkin to remove excess dressing.
5. You can enjoy your favorite fattening foods -- just be sure to keep your portions small. Remember that the first few bites taste the best, anyway.
6. Save room for a small portion of dessert. A few bites of pie or cake or a few small cookies make a sweet finale to a perfect holiday meal.
7. Eat slowly and savor each bite. This way, you'll get the taste you're looking for without overdoing it.
8. If you drink alcoholic beverages, alternate them with zero-calorie drinks like water or seltzer with a lemon, lime, or orange slice.
9. Eggnog lovers beware; there are lots of calories in this holiday beverage. Enjoy a small glass of eggnog as your dessert, or dilute it with ice or low-fat milk.
10. Enjoy your delicious plate of food, but resist the urge to go back for seconds. Give your belly time to send the signal to your brain that you're full.
You really can have your cake and eat it, too, as long as you follow these guidelines. And if you do overindulge, no problem; just get right back on track the next day!