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8 Healthy Holiday Food Swaps

Navigate the Holiday Buffet

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The holiday dinner table can be a minefield for those of us trying to watch what we eat. Most people rationalize a food binge, telling themselves "It's only once a year… "

"The problem is that most people aren't only eating this way once a year," says Center for Science in the Public Interest senior nutritionist Jayne Hurley. "Many people are eating as if it's a holiday when they go out to a restaurant or diner any time of the year."

If you're planning a holiday meal and you want a lavish spread without feeling like you're fattening up your guests, try these easy swaps that'll let you gorge without guilt.

Skip: Dinner RollsPick: Veggies and Dip

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Guests (and cooks!) will often turn a basket of dinner rolls into an unintentional appetizer as they wait for the main meal. Forget the rolls altogether and lay out a tray of low-calorie, high-nutrient veggies—think celery, carrots, peppers, and broccoli—with a light dip. The fiber in the veggies will help fill you up so you'll make better decisions when the main meal finally rolls around, whereas the rolls will actually spike, then drop your blood sugar, likely leading to overeating and more refined carbs on your plate.

Skip: Cranberry SaucePick: Cranberry Butternut Squash

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Whether canned or homemade, cranberry sauce brings refined sugars from the dessert plate into your side dishes. Keep antioxidant-rich cranberries on the menu by tossing them with butternut squash chunks, diced onion, sage, salt, and pepper and bake at 375 for 30 minutes or until squash is caramelized.

Skip: Sausage StuffingPick: Wild Rice Stuffing

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"If you don't want to down four or five slices of white bread with your meal, then you should probably pass on the traditional stuffing," Hurley says. If you're committed to stuffing on the menu, opt for a recipe based around wild or brown rice and vegetables rather than refined carbohydrates and saturated fat. And no matter which recipe you choose, don't drown it in high-sodium gravy.

Skip: White PotatoesPick: Sweet Potatoes

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While they do offer potassium and fiber, white potatoes can't match the nutrition-packed sweet potato. Whether you're cooking mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, or even oven fries, sweet potatoes are a super-easy swap that won't leave you wanting for flavor or nutrients.

Skip: Egg NogPick: Sugar-Free Hot Chocolate

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There's no easier way to cut out unnecessary calories than to cut caloric beverages, and it doesn't get any heavier than egg nog's 343 calories and 11 grams of saturated fat. Sugar-free hot chocolate is low in calories but still has the feel of a holiday hand-warmer. Can't live without that egg nog goodness? Try non-dairy varieties that will cut down on the saturated fat if not the calorie count.

Skip: Green Bean CasserolePick: Roasted Brussels Sprouts

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It's found its way onto nearly everyone's holiday table, thanks to its simple prep: mix beans, cream of mushroom soup, top with fried onions, and bake. Unfortunately, the beans aren't the most nutritious vegetable around, the soup adds a dehydrating amount of sodium, and the onions don't add much besides crunch and fat. Keep the crunch in your vegetable side dish by roasting halved Brussels sprouts and sliced almonds tossed together with olive oil. Don't like Brussels sprouts? Sub in broccoli or cauliflower.

Skip: Holiday HamPick: Turkey

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Maybe you had turkey for Thanksgiving and were thinking about changing it up with a holiday ham. Not so fast. While turkey is largely unprocessed, ham gets brined, jacking up the sodium content of your holiday spread. Roasted turkey provides a lean protein that you can load your plate with without fear of overdoing the salt, as long as you lay off the gravy.

Skip: Apple PiePick: Pumpkin Pie

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If you have your choices of pies, pumpkin is almost always the better option. "Pumpkin pie is lower in calories and saturated fat because it only has a bottom crust, and pumpkin is actually really high in Vitamin A and other nutrients," Hurley says. For an even lower-calorie option, make no-crust pumpkin pie in mugs or ramekins and top with toasted walnuts and a dab of cream.


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