The beginning of December marks the start of the holiday season for many, which can sometimes pose a challenge to maintaining a healthy diet. When there are cookies to taste, party snacks to munch and holiday beverages to sip, it is easy to get caught up in the spirit and overindulge.

However, maintaining normal, healthy eating at a holiday soiree might be easier than it seems. Read on for some helpful tips and tricks to for this holiday season.

Tip #1: Be a social butterfly

It is easy to approach the food table when there isn’t a recognizable soul in the party room, but the temptation must be resisted. All those little nibbles from the bowls of nuts and crackers add up.

The latest issue of Cooking Light magazine listed the average size and calorie content for a “handful” or “bite” of popular holiday snacks. Here’s what they found: A stack of crackers ranged from 32-160 calories, a handful of nuts 85-305 calories, a handful of M&M’s 49-320 calories. The average “heavy hander” at a party averaged 1,477 calories and 41 grams of saturated fat.

These numbers are significant, as most adults need about 1800-2200 calories a day, and the United States Department of Agriculture recommends keeping daily saturated fat intake to less than seven grams.

Avoid over-snacking by simply working the party. Not only does this strategy eliminate mindless snack consumption, it also increases exercise by encouraging walking around and socializing.

Tip #2: Reach for the smaller plate

A 2012 study by Cornell University found plate size can influence how much someone eats. When using large dinnerware, people are more likely to over-serve, while just the opposite occurs with smaller dishware. The idea that objects appear smaller when surrounded by a larger border is known as the “Delboeuf illusion.”

To avoid being tricked by this illusion, pick the smallest plate possible and fill it just once – doing this will keep that cup of mashed potatoes from appearing like a spoonful.

Tip #3: Resist the temptation to taste

It is easy to think of tastes as calorie-free bites, but just like snacking, the numbers can really add up.

When approaching the holiday buffet, be a little picky, and choose the most tantalizing items. Don’t repeat the dishes you have already tasted before. Empty calories can be eliminated by just sampling new items and passing on those classics that are available at every party.

Tip #4: Sip smartly

Cookies, cakes and pies may be simple avoidances when nibbling at a party, but it is easy to forget about what you’re sipping.

Be mindful of beverage indulgences, as many holiday drinks contain more fat and sugar than beverages served at other times of the year.

The holiday season is often perceived as a “limited time only.” Yet seasonal treats like the high-calorie holiday drinks at Starbucks are offered for weeks at a time. Otherwise, a one-time indulgence can grow into a routine.

To avoid making a habit of consuming these treats, remember they are offered every single year. Try making a healthy twist to your daily routine instead. Add cinnamon to your regular cup of coffee, or try making a lighter version of eggnog at home (see the recipe of the week).

Tip #5: Be the giver

What better way to control holiday intake at a party than to be the cook instead? There are lots of easy holiday recipes that cut out calories from fat and sugar and lower the salt content for healthier holiday eating.

Hosting a party doesn’t sound appealing? Volunteer as the designated driver. Sipping cocktails is not calorie free, and eliminating those drinks from the night can significantly decrease empty calorie consumption. Partygoers will likely be thankful for the safe ride home!

Keeping these tips in mind while donning that ugly Christmas sweater can help keep this holiday season safe and healthy.

This week’s recipe is a lightened-up holiday favorite and can easily be made non-alcoholic by eliminating the brandy and bourbon.


Homemade Light Eggnog

Yield: 8 servings (1/2 cup)

Ingredients 

3 1/2 cups 

1 percent low-fat milk 

1/2 cup fat-free sweetened condensed milk 

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour 

1/4 teaspoon grated whole nutmeg 

1/8 teaspoon salt 

2 large egg yolks 

1/4 cup bourbon 

2 tablespoons brandy 

1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

Grated whole nutmeg (optional)

Preparation 

1. Combine first 5 ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk. Place egg yolks in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk one third of hot milk mixture into egg yolks. Add yolk mixture to remaining hot milk mixture, stirring with a whisk. Cook over medium heat 1 minute or until slightly thickened. Pour into a pitcher; stir in bourbon, brandy (eliminate for non-alcoholic) and vanilla. 

2. Cover surface of eggnog with wax paper; refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight. Garnish with additional nutmeg, if desired.

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