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When it comes to giving diet advice, there is one thing I never say: You can’t eat x, y or z. I am all about what you can eat.
By believing you can’t eat the chocolate cake, it only makes you want the chocolate cake even more, increases your stress hormones, ruins whatever fun you may have been having at the meal and usually leads to not only eating it, but overeating it.
Have you ever tried saying, “I can eat the chocolate cake”? I promise, you’ll be more likely to eat a portion, not waste time stressing about it and be able to move on. That’s not to say that you should be giving yourself permission to run wild during the holidays and eat whatever comes your way. I am just saying that you should think about what you can have, not what you can’t. When it comes to indulging, use the same philosophy to help maintain portion control of what you’re truly craving.
Here are a few of the most delicious and healthiest holiday foods you should and can have this season:
1. Choose healthy, appetizing apps.
A charcuterie board is a classic at most holiday fetes, but also a recipe for overindulgence when the salty meats and cheeses are within arm's reach. Thanksgiving is not the time to be counting calories (there is never a time to count calories actually), but an endless flow of Parmesan and salami will be sure to put you overboard before the roast comes out of the oven.
While a couple of pieces of cheese is OK, it's better to skip that whole meat platter situation and go for the crudité platter filled with raw veggies with a portion of the dip or hummus.
Or you could go for the shrimp cocktail instead. One shrimp has less than 10 calories. No one is counting, but it is just for a frame of reference. The lean protein found in shrimp will help satisfy you at no cost to your waistline. Other protein options such as prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and grilled chicken skewers (with a drop of dipping sauce) are good options as well.
2. Opt for soup.
If you’re serving up a full dinner menu, a super-food soup is the perfect option to warm up and fill up prior to the main course. Research has shown that eating soup before a meal will help you eat less calories overall.
3. Remember not all veggie dishes are created equal.
When it comes to the traditional sides, just because something is green or grows from the earth, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. If it’s smothered in a layer of cheese or heavy cream, say a polite, “no thank you.” I’m looking at you green bean casserole. Instead, go for the honey-glazed carrots. While yes, they still have a lot of sugar, you can eat less because they are so sweet (and also skip out on all of the fried onions and canned cream soup in the casserole).
Though you might not be able to get your hands on any perfectly “clean” dishes, roasted veggies are usually a safe bet. Roasted Brussels sprouts are a dependable go-to. Bring them, if you’re going potluck.
4. Stick with lean protein.
Your best bet? Stick to the leanest protein being served. Whether it’s turkey, lamb, ham or a vegetarian option, going for the protein available will be satisfying and keep you from the carb-heavy sides. Remember, white beats dark and ham beats lamb. Leave the skin for your little brother and use one tablespoon of gravy.
5. Choose your sides wisely.
How about that stuffing? Choose your sides wisely: sweet potato pie, mac and cheese, stuffing or mashed. Choose the one that matters most to you. Serve yourself a few tablespoons and enjoy them, slowly, while filling your plate with the roasted veggies you already scoped out.
If you’re making the feast yourself, a wild rice and bulgur stuffing is a healthier, more nutrient-dense alternative to any of the boxed stuff you can buy. Enjoy your meal even more by dressing it up with a spiced cranberry relish.
6. Indulge in dessert, consciously
If it’s not your all-time favorite dessert, skip it and save your sweet tooth for your grandma’s gingersnap cookie that you’ve been waiting for all year. When you’re staring at the dessert table, feast your eyes on the apple crisp. A half cup serving will be approximately half the calories of a traditional slice. Pumpkin pie also beats pecan.
If you’re in charge of bringing dessert, add a healthier spin on a festive classic like this pumpkin coconut custard. Serving in pre-portioned ramekins is an easy and subtle way to indulge in the right way.