Festive gatherings with family, friends or colleagues inevitably revolve around food and drink, making weight gain seem inevitable.

However, avoiding piling on the pounds is possible if you make the right choices and prepare foods with substitute ingredients that save on calories. When cooking from home, there are many healthier swaps you can make for traditional dishes, while portion control will be your friend when attending holiday parties and get-togethers.

Here are the best ways to keep your food and drink healthy over the holidays.



Choose leaner cuts of meat: turkey, ham, pork tenderloin and chicken boast fewer calories than roast beef.

Be sure to remove any excess skin or fat when preparing and use herbs and spices for flavoring instead of butter and oils. Avoid frying and save on unnecessary saturated fat. Instead, opt for baking, roasting or broiling.

If you’re having turkey, choose white meat over dark and save half the fat. When comparing a piece of dark meat with skin on and a piece of white meat with skin off you’re looking at a 70-calorie difference from just 3.5 ounces!



Mashed potatoes can add up in calories quickly after all the mix-ins even before the gravy. Save calories by making mashed cauliflower in place of real potatoes. It will have the same consistency and texture as regular mash and doesn’t taste too far off. Plus, it saves a ton of carbs.

Sweet potatoes are another staple during the holidays but unfortunately, candied yams and sweet potato casseroles tend to be loaded with heavy glazes. This year forgo the brown sugar, marshmallow and butter topping and try sprinkling cinnamon and chopped pecans on top instead to save on all the fat and sugar. You can also drizzle light olive oil over and oven roast the potatoes to give them a crisp and you’ll still save hundreds of calories.

A great alternative to pasta is using zucchini noodles. This swap will spare you the carbs while retaining all the same tasty tomato and garlic flavors.



Instead of using store-bought stuffing from a box, make your own healthier version at home with nutrient-rich whole-grain breadcrumbs rather than refined white bread.

Another alternative is taking out the bread entirely and using quinoa or couscous – a creative spin on a classic dish that will taste just as great. Use fat-free chicken broth as a binder instead of lard or butter to knock out all the extra fat.


Fruit and veg

When preparing greens beans, Brussels sprouts and other vegetables, skip the bacon and other fats by sautéing them with a little extra virgin olive oil and garnish with slivered almonds as a topping.

For fruit salad use fresh cut fruit rather than canned fruit with heavy syrups that add extra sugar.

Thirdly, NHS weight loss consultant surgeon, Dr. Sally Norton advises swapping sweets out for fruit and nuts: “Instead of filling the house with tins of sugar-laden confectionery, stock up on nuts, bowls of satsumas and dates,” she says. “Equally as festive but with much healthier nutrition.”



A surefire way to pile on the pounds – without a mince pie passing your lips – is to over-indulge at the drinks cabinet over Christmas. A large glass of red wine (250ml) has the same calories as a slice of sponge cake – around 195 kcal.

Dr. Norton recommends: “Try to stick to only drinking alcohol over a few special days and don’t overdo it. Alternate your alcohol drinks with water to space your drinks out and opt for clear spirits (vodka, gin etc.) with slimline mixers.”

If you and your loved ones are partial to eggnog at Christmas you might want to think twice as the tipple is roughly 350 calories per glass. Luckily, you can make your own healthier version by using fat-free milk, a sugar substitute instead of real sugar, vanilla, and all the same spices. Alternatively, you can swap out the eggnog for hot cider and save over half the calories.

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