Think you’re eating healthy this holiday season? Think again. Your favorite holiday foods are loaded with way more calories that you can imagine.
From the Christmas stuffing to Hanukkah’s latkes to New Year’s bubbly, read on to find out how many calories are lurking in your favorite trimmings . . . and how you can cut some calories here and there while still enjoying all of the holiday flavors you love.
Holiday Main Dishes
The Christmas bird. Though turkey is the most commonplace centerpiece of the Christmas table, the traditional bird was actually the goose. Good thing too, as while roast goose is quite moist and delicious, enjoying it with the skin on is 518 calories for six ounces. Without the skin? Still 405 calories. Then again, slathering butter on the turkey, brining it, or bathing it in gravy packs the pounds onto the healthy fowl. Don’t even think about deep frying it. Your waistline—and your house—will thank you later.
Better choice: Turkey. Six ounces of dark meat—skin on—is 350 calories. Six ounces of light meat without skin? 216 calories. Try this healthy recipe for a whole citrus and herb roasted turkey, or keep things simple and roast only a flavorful brined turkey breast.
Latkes. Pancakes—or latkes—are a traditional Hanukkah food because they commemorate the miracle that the Hanukkah oil lasted for eight nights. Traditionally, these pancakes were made from cheese and fried in oil, but about 400 years ago, potatoes replaced cheese as the main ingredient. This means latkes are marginally healthier than they used to be . . . but one medium potato pancake (3.5 inches in diameter) will still set you back about 100 calories (or more) each. Add some sour cream at 22 calories per tablespoon . . . and it’s not long until you’re not going to be happy with the scale in the morning.
Better choice: Oil is essential, but instead of deep-frying your latkes, spray or coat a cookie sheet lightly with olive oil, place the latkes on the cookie sheet, coat the tops of them lightly with olive oil, and bake at 450° F for 15 to 20 minutes. And consider trying a recipe for baked cauliflower latkes or sweet potato latkes.
Holiday ham. Ah, the holiday ham. It’s the second most popular Christmas dish. And while it might seem high in calories, six ounces is about 330 calories, roughly the same as turkey.
But be careful: The key here is not to go nuts with the glaze. That said, because ham is brined, it’s high in sodium, so if you’re watching your salt intake, stick with turkey.
Holiday Side Dishes
Cranberry sauce. Oh, hey! A fruit! This is healthy, right? Nope. Though cranberries on their own are healthy—and packed with vitamin C—cranberry sauce is loaded with sugar. Half a cup of the sweet side is about 209 calories and 52 grams of sugar . . . about the same as a peppermint mocha latte.
Better choice: Sweeten frozen cranberries with fruit juices instead. Yes, you’re still adding sugar, but at least you’re also adding some vitamins. Here’s a homemade cranberry sauce recipe you might want to try.
Stuffing. Whether boxed or homemade, it’s hard to make stuffing light since it has a bread base and it’s held together with butter. It rolls in around 180 calories for a half cup, and most of that is empty carbs.
Better choice: If you must have stuffing, try a quinoa-based recipe or this fruity bulgur stuffing. If you are set on a bread stuffing, at least use a whole-grain or sprouted-grain bread like those made by Ezekiel 4:9. Swap out fatty meats for turkey sausage and use olive oil instead of butter. And load it up with lots of veggies! It’ll be more filling and much better for you. Try our recipes for traditional apple and chestnut bread stuffing and this stuffing casserole made with lots of zucchini, mushrooms, and garlic.
Mashed potatoes. On their own, mashed potatoes aren’t so bad. A half-cup of plain mashed potatoes is about 200 calories, less if you make them with just potatoes and high-quality olive oil instead of with milk and butter!
Better choice: For a side with a richer, deeper flavor, try mashed sweet potatoes. They’re higher in vitamin C and other nutrients and their high fiber count goes easier on your blood sugar. Or, try this Irish Colcannon recipe that mixes in kale and olive oil instead of butter.
Noodle kugel. This casserole-based side dish is often made using egg noodles, potatoes, or a mix of vegetables such as broccoli or cabbage. Some recipes then call for the addition of sour cream, cottage cheese, and butter. The result is an average 2-inch square that’s 212 calories.
Better choice: For a lighter kugel, consider using olive oil in place of butter, egg whites only, and relying on dried fruits like raisins to add the sweetness.
Eggnog. I don’t imagine that you think a drink made from eggs, whole milk, sugar, heavy cream, and rum—oh, and some nutmeg—would be healthy. In fact, try 343 calories a glass. Yikes.
Better choice: Our nutritionist came up with a fantastic eggnog recipe that’s only 149 calories. Our version is alcohol-free, but if you want to add a splash of dark rum, well, it is Christmas and all…
Wine. As alcoholic drinks go, wine isn’t so bad. Red wine is higher in the antioxidant resveratrol but white wine is supposedly better at reducing free radicals and improving cardiovascular health. A glass of either is about 120 calories.
Even better: Select an organic wine. These don’t contain as many of the sulfites that some people are allergic to and that may prevent you from sleeping well.
Champagne. Want a great hangover? Go for the bubbly. The bubbles will actually get you tipsy faster, which can lead to one nasty headache in the AM. Plus, each flute contains about 133 calories, and they go down quickly . . . so it’s easy to ratchet up the calories quickly.
Better choice: Cocktail. Water.