Nutrition Articles

11 Holiday Foods You Can Enjoy Without Guilt

Eat, Drink and Be Merry This Winter

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The holidays should be a cheerful time of year. But is the constant worry about making the "right" food choices making you feel less like a sugar plum fairy and more like a Grinch? Relax! You don't need to hibernate at home to avoid weight gain or food temptations. Resolve to eat, drink and be merry this season by focusing on all the healthy foods you CAN enjoy without guilt!

At holiday get-togethers, high-cal foods are par for the course. But you can also serve (as host) or bring along the following nutritious foods to please any guest's palate. Here are six healthy party foods that will fit in at any holiday gathering.

Bruschetta
Freshly cut tomatoes mixed with basil, balsamic vinegar, garlic and a splash of olive oil on top of lightly toasted bread. Is your mouth watering yet? When made right, bruschetta (get the 84-calorie recipe here) becomes a light and nutritious appetizer that everyone loves to munch. Its tomatoes provide the phytochemical lycopene, and by swapping whole-grain bread for white bread, you'll boost the fiber content. Those benefits make this a snack worth relishing.

Artery-Loving Artichoke Dip
Who doesn't love a creamy artichoke dip? Most classic recipes are loaded with saturated fat and calories, but this quick recipe (66 calories and 4 grams of fat per serving) makes a rich tasting spinach dip perfect for fresh-cut veggies and whole-wheat rolls alike.

Baked Apples
There is nothing better than leaving the cold behind and entering a warm, cozy home filled with chatting friends and the smell of cinnamon-apples wafting through the air. Treat yourself and your friends or family to a winter delight with 70-calorie freshly baked apples during your next gathering. Naturally sweet apples pair well with cinnamon and just a dash of sugar (or calorie-free sweetener) for a healthy, low-cal dessert.

Sweet Potatoes
These orange, nutrient-packed root veggies are often used in rich pies and casseroles, but don’t forget about the lighter ways to enjoy them. Tasty sweet potatoes don’t need much to flavor them, thanks to mother nature. Get some fiber, vitamin A and plenty of antioxidants while you indulge (guilt-free!) in one of our earth's healthiest foods, with a recipe that doesn’t add extra fat and sugar. Enjoy them as chips, "fries" or mashed.

Lean Ham
A lean cut of ham can be the co-star on a healthful holiday dinner plate. Trimming any visible fat before cooking helps remove saturated fat, and flavoring your protein dish with fruit rather than brown sugar can also up the nutrition content of your meal. Pineapple and peaches both compliment the meat nicely. This flavorful entree is definitely easier on the calorie budget than fried poultry or high-fat roast beef.

Fruity Angel Food Cake
Pile the fresh fruit high on top of a slice of spongy angel food cake for a tasty post-meal treat. Angel food cake isn't just for summer. By using fruits found later in the growing season (such as baked apples, sliced pears or dried cranberries), you can transform this dessert into a winter favorite.

It would be great if we could set the menu for every gathering we attend, but that’s not always the case. You’re bound to attend some parties where healthy choices are few and far between. Try these five tips at the next holiday gathering you attend.
  • DIY Wine Spritzer: Slash the calories in your dinner wine in half by concocting a bubbly spritzer. Enjoy your favorite type of wine, mixing equal parts wine and soda water. The light flavor will be refreshing, and you’ll save on your calories.
  • Eat Like a Rabbit: Veggie trays are usually a staple at holiday parties, as are salads. If a light veggie dip isn’t an option, peek at the available salad dressings. Grab a light Italian, Greek or ranch and drizzle a bit over your veggies. This will give them a blast of flavor without all the extra calories from a full fat veggie dip.
  • Don’t Skimp on Shrimp: Although fairly high in cholesterol, shrimp is low in fat, high in protein and tasty as can be. Thankfully, saturated and trans fats are more responsible for increasing your total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, so if you’re in fairly good heart health, enjoy some chilled shrimp with a small dab of cocktail sauce. This option is definitely lighter than fried wings or high fat sausages. Four large shrimp have a whopping 18 grams of protein to control your hunger, 85 calories, 1 gram of fat and 166 grams of cholesterol.
  • Seek Out Fruit: Most party hosts put out at least a little fruit, sometimes as a centerpiece! Enjoy a hearty serving of tasty, high-fiber fruit to satisfy your sweet tooth.
  • Choose Lean Meats: Choose white or lean meats when serving yourself at a party. There is nothing wrong with taking a bit of time at the turkey platter to avoid the slices of dark meat. Also, remove skin from poultry to decrease the amount of fat per serving. These little changes can definitely add up and keep the total fat intake for meals in check, which is especially important when the averages for holiday dinners can creep up to more than 150 grams of fat!
  • Drink Your Water: Throughout the party, be sure to drink water! Many times, we confuse our body's thirst cues for hunger. Stay hydrated to curb that nagging feeling in your tummy by keeping a glass of water with you before, during and after the meal.
These are some of the many foods you can enjoy during the winter holidays. Lighter fare can bring comfort and joy and can give you that same warm fuzzy feeling as higher-fat foods. Resolve to look for the good in party foods this year. Approaching the season with positive attitude, excited about trying new recipes and foods, is key to having a fun and healthy holiday.

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Member Comments

  • ANNE-IN-GTX
    Can we please just stop all the nonsense talking about "guilt" where food is concerned?!?!?
    We ALL eat. We all slip up every now and again. We can ALL get back on the wagon, and start again the next day, or even at the next meal...let's cut the crap about "guilt" shall we?!?!?
  • ETHELMERZ
    When you are "pushing" tomatoes" because of lypotene, remember they have to be cooked in order for your body to absorb that......fresh tomatoes on a piece of toast are nothing special. Eat what you like and move on. These little recipes are nonsense, just stay home if you want to be nit picky.
  • DANMOFFETT
    On the "shrimp" question...Shrimp is basically 59 mg cholesterol per ounce of shrimp.

    On the "Artichoke Dip" recipe...Your post says "66 calories per serving" yet the recipe says "73.9 calories per serving. It would also be helpful if the serving size was provided rather than saying "this recipe makes 20 servings". Unless you can actually physically divide the recipe into 20 separate servings (and hope they are all equal) the nutritional information is useless. How many ounces is "each" serving?

    At least the "Baked Apples" is easier to divide (only 4 servings)!

    Sweet Potato Fries...the breakdown for calorie per ingredient link says "68 calories per 1/2 sweet potato, 5 inches long", how can you measure calories like this? There are skinny and fat sweet potatoes. If you have one that is twice as fat as another your calorie count will be double. Why not give ounces per serving? This would be a much more "true" calorie count!

  • ETHELMERZ
    After all the rules and regulations, just enjoy some good tasting food and move on, years and years of trying "slimmed down" this and "lower that", just makes you overeat in January. Enjoy and move on, it's real life!
  • Oh my goodness, 166 GRAMS of cholesterol in shrimp? I hope you mean milligrams!
  • It's interesting that this article 'gives permission' to enjoy shrimp as part of the holidays and yet, whenever I list them in my nutrition tracker, thus upping cholesterol consumption for the day, I get a major (virtual) lecture about avoiding cholesterol and making wiser food choices. Sigh....
  • I actually prefer sweet potatoes when they're treated like potatoes. I've never liked sweet potato pie, for instance or candied sweet potatoes. I just bake them.
  • These are pretty solid ideas, especially the wine spritzer one. I love seltzer, yet I always forget about it when the alcohol comes along, so I always get "Grinch-y" because I feel like it's all or nothing: blow calories on a glass of wine, or feel left out because I'm not having any!

    My strategy with these kinds of things is pretty much the same: fill up on the lean meat and veggies, and then for dessert eat one portion of whatever looks the best. I do have to stay away from chocolate chip cookies, though, because they're a gateway for me. If I eat one, I'll eat until I'm sick. But with anything else, if I'm really, truly, fully satiated from meat and veggies, I won't want more than a bite of the sugary stuff anyway.

    I do second the comment about a little bit of dark meat. Quite honestly, every full turkey I've ever eaten has had breast that leaves me dissatisfied unless it's covered in gravy or cranberry sauce because it's so dry and flavorless. The only truly delicious turkey breast I've ever had is from when people (my parents, relatives, and myself included) have worked with just a turkey breast. The brined organic turkey breast my dad made this year was the best I ever had, so when I found an organic turkey breast in the grocery store after Thanksgiving, I snagged it and did the same and had two weeks' worth of fabulous leftovers. I'd eat turkey breast like that all the time!
  • These are all great ideas. The only thing I would add is that while dark meat turkey may be higher in fat, it is also higher in flavor and juicier. Yes, the white meat is a healthier choice, but some dark meat is fine as well. And sweet potatoes - OH YUM. I totally agree, they are so good on their own they need nothing.
  • BETWEENUS
    Some of these ideas wil be quite helpful on my second holiday dinner at the in-laws. They aren't as "aware" of their holiday offerings as my household. But their hearts are in the right spot. So, I can make a couple of suggestions for their upcoming party/dinner.
  • I used to always provide a sweet potato casserole for the big meals. This year I found a great mashed sweet potato dish with thin apple slices on top & a few pecan pieces. I soaked the apples & nuts in maple syrup, add a little pumpkin pie spice & it turned out Great!!

    Thanks for the other ideas!
  • usefull ideas I mean to try them

About The Author

Sarah Haan Sarah Haan
Sarah is a registered dietitian with a bachelor's degree in dietetics. She helps individuals adopt healthy lifestyles and manage their weight. An avid exerciser and cook, Sarah likes to run, lift weights and eat good food. See all of Sarah's articles.

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