Stuff the Bird, Not Yourself: How to Deal with the 3,000 Calorie Holiday Meal

Originally published November 15, 2015 | Republished November 2, 2020 —
According to research from the Calorie Control Council, a typical holiday dinner can carry a load of 3,000 calories (chart). 

Many of us will figure that we’ve blown our diet and the holidays are to be enjoyed, so why worry about weight? But even if you start the holiday season off with gastronomical excess, you can quickly get back on the right track by watching your calories.

First, identify where the calories are coming from. Visit the Council’s list of the most common holiday foods with calorie counts. Secondly, make over your meal for health. You can enjoy many of the same dishes while still reducing calories by using lower calorie ingredients. (Some popular makeover recipes are here.) Reducing the amount of fat and calories in your snacking and main holiday meals can help prevent weight gain over the holidays (from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day)

Here are some helpful tips from the Calorie Control Council:

  1. Exercise: There are a number of ways to be active including keeping track of steps per day with holiday shopping, ice skating, playing active video games, decorating, lawn work, and house cleaning. Exercise not only burns calories but also releases endorphins that help reduce stress and keep people in good spirits.
  2. Fuel Up before Heading Out: Try to have a healthy snack before leaving the house – whether going shopping or to dinner. Never go anywhere famished – it can lead to overindulgence and diet derailing.
  3. Portion Control: Save calories by choosing a smaller plate and taking a tablespoon or less of each holiday dish. Think of it like free samples – try one of each without going overboard. Desserts can even be served sample sized.
  4. Classics with Fewer Calories: Find and fix lower-calorie versions of your favorite dishes, desserts and beverages. Create healthier versions of holiday favorites by using skim milk instead of whole milk, applesauce in place of oil, or a sugar substitute in place of the sugar in a recipe. To thicken a liquid without adding fat, use one of the following: flour, cornstarch, potato flakes, yogurt, non-fat evaporated milk. Just by using zero-calorie sweeteners and lower-calorie ingredients, you can enjoy delicious food without feeling guilty.
  5. Socialize Away from Food: So often people find themselves socially snacking before and after meals. Try to strike up a conversation where food is out of sight. If there is a bountiful buffet, take a survey first. Skip foods that can be had “anytime” and opt for small portions of favorite holiday foods.  Make the first trip to the buffet also the last.
  6. Lighten up Leftovers: Skip the turkey sandwich with bread and gravy and instead go for turkey with leftover veggies. There are even salads, soups and other dishes that can be made with leftovers that are lighter on calories and help avoid holiday food burnout.
  7. The Buddy System: Don’t wait until New Year’s to make resolutions with a buddy – find a friend or family member before the holidays to exercise with and compare healthy eating notes with every day. A little competition can help both stay focused on their goals.

For more sensible holiday eating tips, including an assortment of recipes for a lighter holiday menu, visit the recipe section.

faq2Do you have questions about low-calorie sweeteners? Want to learn more about maintaining a healthy lifestyle? You asked and we listened. Our resident Registered Dietitians answered the most popular questions about low-calorie sweeteners.

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