The holidays are known to be the hardest season of the year in terms of the age-old battle of the bulge. It’s not even a wonder why. With a constant cycling of holiday parties, meals, cocktails and cookie exchanges – you’re bound to be faced with the ultimate feast of temptations. Instead of just over-indulging on everything and giving your body more to work off come all the New Year’s resolutions and health kicks of January, why not tackle the holidays informed and prepared to make decisions that won’t negatively impact your health and waistline? Let’s take a look at foods to avoid, and some great recipe alternatives to them – to keep you satisfied and enjoying yourself throughout the holidays!

1. WORST: Mashed Potatoes

Yes, with the holiday comes potatoes. Scalloped, roasted, mashed, fried, baked, and drowned in gravy. It’s a staple at feasts, and it can be hard to avoid.

The worst part about potatoes is that they don’t have a ton of nutritional benefits to them. Packed with starch and carbs, this dish will just fill you up instead of nourishing your body.

Mashed Potatoes Average: 214 calories per cup

2. BEST: Mashed Cauliflower

If you try to substitute potatoes for cauliflower, you will save yourself on carbs, calories and enjoy it all the same! If mashed cauliflower isn’t on the menu, try opting for another holiday dinner classic with sweet potatoes.

One way to make your mashed cauliflower extra tasty is by adding some roasted garlic and a little bit of milk to it. It will add dimension to the flavor without packing on calories and fat.

Mashed Cauliflower Average: 94 calories per cup

3.  WORST: Turkey Leg

A turkey leg is often a fought over an asset of the turkey dinner (there are only two after all) but keep yourself out of that battle.  Let your family dig in to the extra calories and fat while you enjoy something a little lighter.

The important thing to remember with a holiday meal is that you don’t want to have too many high calorie and fatty foods if you can help it. Leave room so you can get seconds of the foods you love and that love your body.

Turkey Leg Average: 192 calories per 4oz edible portion

4. BEST: Turkey Breast

There’s way more turkey breast than there are turkey legs, making it easier for everyone to pick a healthier option when it comes to your favorite holiday meal.

Turkey breast is leaner than a dark meat turkey leg and is not covered in the layer of skin on top. While the skin may taste the best, it really offers no nutritional value and adds unneeded fat, sodium, and calories to your meal.

Turkey Breast Average: 153 calories per 4oz, skinless

5. WORST: Bread Stuffing

Stuffing is rather delicious, it’s just…well…it’s empty carbs. The flavors themselves are what makes that turkey stuffing/dressing so warm and inviting to your plate.

A lot of stuffing is made with white bread that offers very few nutritional benefits. Meanwhile, stuffing can also have a large amount of butter or margarine which makes this side dish not only carb heavy, but fat heavy as well.

Bread Stuffing Average: 352 calories per cup

6. BEST: Quinoa Stuffing

Good News: you can replicate those same amazing gravy flavors with a healthier, nutrient dense version using quinoa! There are tons of recipes all over the internet to help you achieve the perfect healthy stuffing, so you can eat it with no regrets.

The best part is, even though it’s a carb, quinoa is a complex carb that is also packed with protein. Not only will you be eating the stuffing you have so looked forward to, but you will also reap the benefits of your healthy choice.

Quinoa Average: 222 calories per cup

7. WORST: Canned Cranberry Sauce

Sometimes the healthy substitutions just mean you don’t opt for the easy way out. While it can be tempting to head to the grocery store and grab a few cans of cranberry sauce and be on your way, the lack of nutritional benefits should be enough to stop you in your tracks.

The average person definitely consumes more than just a quarter cup of cranberry sauce, which can be scary when you’re eating the canned stuff. With just a quarter cup, you are eating around 21 grams of sugar, along with 110 calories.

Canned Cranberry Sauce Average: 110 calories per 1/4 cup

8. BEST: Homemade Sugar-Free Cranberry Sauce

For a simple recipe like cranberry sauce which is most definitely a turkey dinner’s favorite side – try making your own version, free of sugar and preservatives, along with all those extra calories.

Cranberries are hugely beneficial to your health. They are very low calories with only around 25 calories per half cup and can contribute to preventing cancer, improve your immune system and lower your blood pressure. When you’re making your own homemade sauce, remember not to add too much sweetener to ensure your sauce is more healthy than not.

Homemade Sugar-Free Cranberry Sauce Average: 29 calories per 1/4 cup

9. WORST: Traditional Cornbread

Oh boy, yes, this is a hard holiday food to give up. When you are about to grab the biggest slice of cornbread you can find, pause and think about how you want to treat your body this holiday.

Cornbread, while delicious, is very high in calories and fat making it a poor choice for any meal. If you are having a cheat day, opt for a smaller slice and enjoy the flavor in a more reasonable portion.

Traditional Cornbread Average: 198 calories per piece

10. BEST: Skinny Cornbread

Wait! There’s a skinny cornbread option that is significantly better than the regular cornbread?! The answer is yes. In a recipe, there are always loopholes to make it a little healthier. Those little substitutions can really add up. In fact, it cuts the calories in less than half! Woah.

Instead of reaching for your mother’s cornbread recipe, go online and find a recipe that offers a more wholesome cornbread recipe that won’t have you regretting eating a big slice.

Skinny Cornbread Recipe Below: 85 calories per piece

11. WORST: Green Bean Casserole

Yes, casseroles are awesome, with that breaded crust and lots of cheese, it’s easy to forget it’s actually vegetables. But wait – aren’t we supposed to be eating our veggies? Not counteracting them with needless toppings that are mere distractions from a delicious and nutritious holiday side dish?

When you top your veggies with piles of extra ingredients, it makes each serving less about the good stuff and more about all the extras. You’ll be full before you even get a full serving of beans in!

Green Bean Casserole Average: 142 calories per cup

12. BEST: Roasted & Seasoned Green Beans

Amid all the traditional holiday dishes, if you show up to a holiday gathering with some deliciously cooked beans, topped with a few seasonings, people will thoroughly appreciate it!

A side dish like this is perfect to accompany heavier side dishes you will be digging into as they provide your body with much-needed nutrients, without taking up tons of space in your belly. A quick tip for eating a meal with a lot of side dishes is to eat the healthy food first so that when you get full, you’re just missing out on the nutritionally empty dishes on your plate.

Roasted/Steamed Green Bean Average: 75 calories per cup

13. WORST: Turkey Drippings Gravy

Do we need to even discuss why gravy is a bad idea? It’s just the juice and fat from the bird you are cooking with added empty carbs from flour. Does that sound as delicious as it did before?

If you’re dousing your meal in gravy, or even making your food swim in it, you’re probably consuming upwards of 200 calories, and that doesn’t even account for the many grams of fat.

Turkey Drippings Gravy Average: 200+ calories per cup

14. BEST:  Homemade Skinny Gravy

Skinny gravy, ha! Who’d of thunk it?! Swap out turkey drippings gravy for a skinnier version using broth instead of the high-fat turkey drippings version saves a ton of calories, and of course – fat.

While it’s still not completely healthy, it’s definitely a better option when it comes to controlling how much your body is consuming. You’ll also thank yourself when you don’t have to struggle to workout on Monday from eating too much junk.

Homemade Skinny Gravy: 100 calories per cup

15. WORST: Caesar Salad

All salads are not created equal. Salad can often be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, making many believe they are eating something healthy and low calorie, when in fact it is high-fat and calorie ridden. It’s all in the dressings and the toppings.

With a Caesar, you’re combining a high-fat creamy dressing, with croutons, bacon, and cheese. Not exactly health food. The iceberg lettuce that is the typical choice for a caesar salad offers next to no health benefits at all either.

Caesar Salad Average: 180 calories per cup

16. BEST: Balsamic Spinach Salad

Selecting an antioxidant-rich base for your holiday salad is the best choice you can make! Spinach, kale or mixed greens offer your body tons of nutrients which is a step up from the iceberg lettuce that is essentially water.

If you want to add some toppings, pick a nut for protein and healthy fats and then a low-fat cheese. You can also add a fruit such as apples to add a seasonal twist. Making your own homemade dressing using extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper also cuts down on calories and additives in your meal.

Balsamic Spinach Salad: 29 calories per cup (add more for toppings like goat cheese & nuts!)

17. WORST: Fruit Pie

We all love a strong finish at the end of a good meal. While that sugar craving kicks in, it can be hard to resist your Aunt’s best apple pie, or your Grandmother’s raspberry crumble. Over the holidays we are basically rolled in sugar, dipped in frosting, and toss some sprinkles on top.

These homemade treats may be simply irresistible, in which case you want to make sure you’re having a very small slice of pie. If you’re worried you will over-indulge, fill up on salad and veggies during supper so you don’t have room to go overboard with dessert.

Apple Pie Average: 277 calories per 1/8 pie slice

18. BEST: Fresh Fruit

It’s all fun and games until your body feels sluggish and tired due to the sugar highs & lows. You can easily clean up your act, and your eating by making a simple decision to go for fresh fruit, over the pie form of fruit.

Selecting in-season fruits is a great place to start, but if your part of the world doesn’t have anything that is ripe and fresh, try serving up fruit smoothies for dessert with frozen fruit.

Fresh Fruit Average: 133 calories per cup

19. Regular Latte

A warm drink is often accompanied by desserts at the end of the evening. Many forget that you can absolutely drink your calories, too! While you can avoid the sugar, a lot of café beverages are served with full fat or 2% milk which are very rich and delicious but extremely fattening.

If you’ve already eaten a big meal and enjoyed dessert, adding another 150 calories to your body may not be the smartest option – especially if you are adding flavored syrups!

Regular Latte Average: 150 calories per cup

20. Almond Milk Latte

This holiday, make a simple switch from a regular coffee or latte to a good-for-you almond milk version with a sugar substitute like stevia will help you cut back on calories and sugar without sacrificing the taste.

It is so much more satisfying selecting a drink that is not only adequate but also offers benefits for your body.  Almond milk can help maintain your heart health while reducing your blood pressure. It can also help you build up your muscles! With all those benefits, why not have an almond milk latte?

Almond Milk Latte: 30 calories per cup
Lindsay Duncan

Lindsay loves cooking fun and creative meals for friends and family. At home, you can find her trying out a new recipe found on Pinterest while trying to balance her husband's sweet tooth with her healthy eating habits. If she's not in the kitchen, you'll find Lindsay photographing people she loves and going out with friends to try the newest restaurant in her small town.

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