While we love spending time with family and friends, we don't love the constant temptations that surround us at every meal. Holiday get-togethers can turn into a nutritional minefield as we struggle to identify which foods will do the least amount of damage to our waistlines.
Research shows that the average person will gain a little over a pound during the holidays, and while that doesn't sound like much, it typically takes over five months to lose (nope, we're not kidding).
But there's no need to banish it all with a "Bah Humbug!" From breakfast to dessert, there are plenty of good-for-you foods hiding in between those holiday calorie bombs.
Gingerbread Pancakes1 of 16
Pancakes are a holiday breakfast staple, but traditional versions are full of refined flour, sugar and fats. Lighten up your morning meal with a healthy whole grain recipe that uses 100 percent whole wheat flour, pumpkin pie spice, applesauce and molasses for a delicious gingerbread flavor.
For an additional fiber boost, you can replace up to half a cup of the whole wheat flour with ground oats, cornmeal or buckwheat flour. And to make this recipe pack even more of a nutritional punch, increase the amount of omega-3s by adding up to three tablespoons of ground flaxseed or chia seeds.
Potato Pancakes2 of 16
This Hanukkah favorite uses quite a bit of oil and flour to get that crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside consistency that we know and love. You can restore the nutritional value of this dish by baking the pancakes instead of frying them, and lightened-up recipes such as this one will save you even more calories. Each pancake serves up two grams of heart healthy fiber and contains only 75 calories and three grams of fat.
Veggie Appetizer & Dip3 of 16
Your appetizer doesn't have to be a calorie and fat-laden centerpiece to look and taste great. A colorful veggie plate with low-fat dip can elevate your appetizer game to the next level.
Lay out a seasonal array of red tomatoes, green broccoli, white cauliflower, green beans, snap peas, kale and Brussels sprouts to get in plenty of nutrients before diving into the main course. Plus, loading up on healthy, low calorie veggies before the meal helps with weight control by leaving less room for the "heavier" dishes.
Red Wine4 of 16
While wine, beer and cocktails can add empty calories to an already indulgent holiday meal, red wine redeems itself by delivering heart-healthy flavonoids, an antioxidant that's long been associated with heart health.
Each 5-ounce glass of red wine contains 100 calories, and to make the most out of your holiday beverage, choose a red wine on the dry side: the dryer the wine, the higher the concentration of those beneficial antioxidants. If you are watching your calories but still want to raise a glass for a toast, try a spritzer made with half wine, half calorie-free seltzer.
Turkey5 of 16
Turkey is definitely one of the healthier holiday foods you can add to your plate, as long as you don't deep fry your bird or smother it in gravy. Turkey is a great source of folic acid and vitamin B, and a three-ounce serving of skinless turkey breast has only 120 calories and one gram of fat.
To make this food an even healthier option, opt for white meat and trim off the skin before eating—that's where the majority of calories and fat can be found. And as an added perk, that three-ounce portion of turkey can also help trigger feelings of satiety, making you less likely to over-indulge in less nutritious foods on the table.
Sweet Potato Casserole6 of 16
Sweet potatoes check off quite a few boxes on the "healthy foods" list. They're a powerful antioxidant, an excellent source of both beta-carotene and fiber and they contain vitamin C and potassium. But the traditional preparation of a sweet potato casserole (complete with marshmallows on top) turns this nutritional powerhouse into a fat and calorie-laden dessert.
To keep this side dish healthy, take advantage of the tuber's natural sweetness and cut back on the amount of added sugar. To reduce the amount of butter in the dish, try livening up the flavors using orange zest or a dash of vanilla. And save those marshmallows for hot chocolate or s'mores. For a healthier topping, try toasted pecans.
Cranberries7 of 16
Whether you love it or hate it, most Thanksgiving tables would look strange without a dish of cranberry sauce. But while the gelatinous cylinder's imprinted lines may make us nostalgic for Thanksgivings gone by, the canned version is not exactly a health food. That processed stuff smothers the tart, antioxidant-rich berries in high fructose corn syrup.
Taking this dish back to basics can restore its place on our healthy foods list. Cranberries in their natural state are low in calories and rich in fiber and potassium. Making your own cranberry sauce—with a much smaller amount of sugar—can help you keep the calorie count down and the nutrition factor high.
Green Beans8 of 16
Small but mighty, green beans are one of the healthiest foods you can eat during the holidays—or any time of year. Containing an abundance of vitamins (A, C and K) as well as manganese, fiber, folate, iron and potassium, these veggies definitely deserve a place on your plate.
The key to keeping them healthy is preparation. Smothering green beans in butter or creamy sauce is an easy way to negate all of their health benefits. Your best bet is to steam or boil them, and use butter and salt in moderation.
Stuffing9 of 16
This healthy food is in desperate need of a name change. Known for being carb-loaded, fattening and making you feel, well, stuffed, with a few adjustments, stuffing can actually morph into a healthy dish.
For starters, using whole grain bread and increasing the amount of veggies will add vitamins and fiber. Also, utilizing low sodium chicken broth instead of butter will keep the dish moist and lower in fat.
Collard Greens10 of 16
Another ultra-healthy green veggie, collards are great for both your health and your waistline—unless they're sabotaged by copious amounts fat in the form of pork or butter. Steaming the greens will help them retain their vitamins and antioxidants, while leaving off the unnecessary calories. And if you simply must flavor your greens, try using lower fat turkey bacon or sautéing them in a bit of olive oil.
Roasted Carrots11 of 16
Carrots are a wonderful source of several vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A (thanks to beta-carotene), biotin, potassium and vitamin B6. But much like sweet potatoes, the natural sweetness of carrots is often buried under loads of sugar and fat during the holidays.
Keep this side dish on the healthy side by roasting the carrots in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkling the veggies with spices such as rosemary and thyme is another way to increase flavor without adding unnecessary calories.
Dark Chocolate12 of 16
Dark chocolate, like red wine, is another source of those coveted antioxidants. While chocolate may never be classified as a true "health food," dark chocolate (in moderation) can provide us with health benefits while satisfying our sweet tooth.
The higher the cacao content, the greater the level of flavanols, those lovely antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory properties. So, choose a dark chocolate with a cacao content of 70 percent or greater to reap the benefits.
Pumpkin Pie13 of 16
If your Thanksgiving wouldn't be complete without a slice of pumpkin pie, we have good news for you: Pumpkin is loaded with vitamin A and fiber. And while no one is calling pie a health food, pumpkin certainly makes the list, and pumpkin pie is one of the better dessert choices around the holidays.
Because pumpkin puree is very moist, you don't have to add as many unhealthy ingredients like butter and cream to make it flavorful, keeping the calorie and fat count low. Compared to pecan pie, which typically clocks in at over 500 calories per slice, choosing pumpkin pie for dessert seems like a no-brainer.
Candy Canes14 of 16
While we realize this iconic sweet is definitely not a health food, the classic candy cane does have a few things working in its favor. For starters, it features built-in portion control. Plus, it takes time to eat your way through an entire stick, which means you finish up feeling more satisfied than if you were to munch on other quickly-disappearing desserts.
Peppermint flavor can also be a mild appetite suppressant. Research has found that by just smelling peppermint, participants experienced less hunger and reduced cravings. But even if you decide to indulge in this treat, versus simply smelling it, you won't totally blow your diet. A typical candy cane has only 50 calories.
Hot Cocoa15 of 16
More good news about chocolate? It's true—this sweet drink actually has some healthy benefits. Choosing dark chocolate cocoa (again, aim for at least 70 percent) means you get to enjoy the higher levels of antioxidants responsible for dark chocolate's health benefits.
Several studies have also shown that consuming this type of dark chocolate may help lower LDL (the bad cholesterol) and increase HDL (good cholesterol). Making your own hot chocolate can also help you control the amount of sugar in this treat, but make sure to watch your portion size regardless. Though dark chocolate does have health benefits, hot cocoa is definitely not a low-calorie food.