How to Handle the Holidays

by Traci Kaufman, R.D.


Our holidays and special events are usually filled with tradition and food, lots of food. During the holidays the bathroom scale may become a sworn enemy. The holiday parties, special dinners, and the ever-present bowls of Christmas candies and cookies can overcome even the best of us. For all of us some restraint is suggested, but for those of us who have a cholesterol or a weight problem these constant parties appear to be fraught with dangers instead of the good tidings that the season is supposed to bring.

Handle the Holidays I would like to suggest three methods to help all of us enjoy the holidays more, and lessen the temptations the season brings. Simply put, we should 1) use moderation, 2) budget our treats, and 3) strategize.

The simplest method to lower our intake of fat and calories is portion control. Instead of loading our plates, I suggest smaller portions, and saying "No thank you" to seconds. Don't confuse simple moderation with dieting, what I'm suggesting is that you enjoy but don't pig out.

We all have to budget for the luxuries of life. The concept of budgeting money is so well accepted in the financial senses. However, we never think that food can be budgeted. While memories of Aunt Irma's Pecan Pie, Grandma's Candied Sweet Potatoes or Judy's Double Fudge Layer Cake, stimulate the appetite, we're reminded that these treats tend to be high in fat and calories. What do you do? The answer is simple, take a small piece, enjoy it and realize that you have to pay for this luxury by being extra careful with your eating habits for the next couple of days. Or even better, budget for Aunt Irma's pecan pie by eating less and exercising more than we normally do several days before she visits.

To reduce fat and calories, here are a few eating strategies for holiday and dinner parties:

  • Eat something (vegetable sticks, bread, or a glass of nonfat milk) before you attend a party. Believe it or not, you will eat less for the day than if you starve yourself all day and "pig out" at the party. (A classic study at Michigan State University by Dr. Olaf Mickleson showed that people lost weight by eating two slices of bread before meals. They effectively killed their appetites, as the bread resulted in a rise of blood sugar signaling "fullness" to the brain.)
  • Stay away from cheese, chips, dips, nuts, greasy hot appetizers and most crackers.
  • For snacks before dinner, choose a selection of raw vegetables, sliced fruits, high-fiber breads or low fat crackers (matzos, breadsticks, flat bread, rye crackers).
  • Mexican salsa is an excellent fat-free dip. Non-fat or low -fat plain yogurt or blended low-fat cottage cheese makes a good substitute for sour cream in dips.
  • Salty foods make you want to eat more and drink more, too. Seek out the less salty snacks.
  • Don't feel you have to consume high-calorie cocktails. If you drink, do so in moderation and ask for liquor mixed with water or soda instead of a sweet mixer (Collins or 7-Up). Try club soda with lime or a Spritzer of fruit juice and soda.
  • Refrain from eating the turkey skin, it contributes about one-third the fat in a typical serving of poultry. In addition, white meat has fewer calories and less fat than dark meat.
  • Serve sweet potatoes plain instead of candied, or mash them with orange juice and garnish with orange slices or pineapple. Acorn squash and rutabagas are lower—calorie substitutes for sweet potatoes.
  • When preparing stuffing-use one half the amount of margarine in the recipe—and always use diet, tub margarine.
  • Plain steamed green vegetables (string beans, broccoli, asparagus) and pearl onions without the cream sauce are an excellent addition to the richer fare.
  • Try a diet cranberry sauce or make your own with less amounts of sugar.
  • Crushed graham crackers moistened with fruit juice (then baked) make a low fat piecrust substitute.

Obviously, if there were low fat, low cholesterol treats available you would be less tempted to eat the more traditional and less healthy foods. With this in mind I offer the following recipes:


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Traci Kaufman, Registered Dietitian, received her bachelor's degree in dietetics and nutrition from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has worked as a clinical nutritionist at UCI Medical Center-Irvine in Orange California, and served as team nutritionist for the Los Angeles Rams. Traci is an active member of the American Dietetic Association and two Dietetic Practice Groups: Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutritionist (SCAN), and Dietitians in General Clinical Practice. Traci resides in Southern California.

This page created 1998

This page modified October 2006

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