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By Amy Gorin, RDN
Indulgent meals are a given this season. But those of us trying to eat healthfully (and not enter the new year with a few extra pounds) don’t have to avoid the treats entirely.
Instead of depriving yourself (or throwing in the towel and going whole hog on the cookie tray), use these one-ingredient swaps to shave off hundreds of calories from your holiday favorites — without sacrificing any flavor.
Swap: Butter for roasted garlic on bread
Save: 70-plus calories
When the breadbasket comes around, opt for the smallest end piece, not the largest middle piece. Then spread it with a teaspoon or two of roasted garlic, instead of the same amount of butter. (To make it, just cut the top off a head of garlic, drizzle a little bit of olive oil on top and pop it in a 400-degree oven for a half hour!) You’ll cut calories and fat and add a lot more flavor.
Swap: Cream for pureed white beans in mashed potatoes
Save: 150 calories per ¾ cup serving
“We love replacing the cream in holiday recipes with pureed white beans,” say Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CFT and Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, co-founders of 21-Day Body Reboot. “By getting rid of the cream base in mashed potatoes, you cut the calories. Plus, white beans, have antioxidants and filling fiber — and studies show that people who eat them tend to weigh less and have smaller waistlines.”
Swap: Cream cheese for Greek yogurt in spinach dip
Save: 150-plus calories per ½-cup serving
Lower the calories in your favorite spinach dip recipe by swapping the cream cheese or sour cream for plain fat-free Greek yogurt. “You get more protein and some calcium — and save on calories and saturated fat,” says Christy Brissette, MS, RD, owner of 80 Twenty Nutrition in Chicago. Reduce calories even further by trading crackers and bread for sliced carrots, bell peppers and zucchini.
Swap: Sugar for spices in glazed ham
Save: 25-plus calories per serving
Rather than glazing your ham with a sugar-packed sauce, halve the sugar and add some low-calorie sweet spices like cinnamon.
Swap: Cheese sauce for pureed split peas in mac and cheese
Save: 100-plus calories per serving
Here’s a mac-and-cheese swap you likely don’t know about: Replace up to half the cheese sauce for pureed yellow split peas. In addition to lowering the calories, you’ll take in more fiber, helping to keep you fuller for longer.
Swap: Sugary cocktail mixers for Kombucha
Save: 100-plus calories per cocktail
Festive holiday cocktails tend to be loaded with sugar, but they don’t have to be. “Swaps are about more than just saving calories,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN author of “The Superfood Swap.” She recommends trading a Moscow Mule mixer (with up to 6 teaspoons or more added sugar per serving) for a gingerade Kombucha, typically with no added sugar. “This swap also gives you gut-friendly probiotics to boost immunity and aid digestion,” she says.
Swap: Butter for avocado in brownies
Save: 150 to 180 calories per 2 Tablespoons
“Delicious in recipes like red velvet cupcakes, brownies or gingerbread muffins, use a one-to-one ratio of avocado to butter,” advises Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, owner of Marisa Moore Nutrition in Atlanta, Georgia. “That means that for every 2 tablespoons of butter swapped, you’ll save 150 calories.” Make the same swap for shortening, and you’ll save 180 calories!
Swap: Butter for Greek yogurt in muffins
Save: 35-plus calories per muffin
Simply swap half the butter for low-fat or fat-free plain Greek yogurt in your favorite muffin or quick bread recipe — or whip up a muffin recipe already featuring Greek yogurt and less butter. Then reduce the sugar by a quarter and add ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract.
Swap: Syrup for a runny egg on a pancake stack
Save: 140 calories per pancake stack
Pancakes are a must for holiday breakfasts, but save some calories — and add filling protein to your meal — by topping your stack with a runny egg instead of a quarter cup of syrup.
Swap: Oil for vegetable broth in sautéed veggies
Save: 50-plus calories per serving
Even veggies can use a makeover: Skip the oil, instead sautéing veggies (think onions, mushrooms and more!) in low-sodium vegetable broth.