Cut calories this holiday season by making healthy food swaps

Several studies have suggested that there’s a link between the holiday season and overeating that leads to weight gain. A recent analysis of data found that the last week of November to the first or second week of January is a critical time when many consumers gain weight.

Researchers say that most adults are bound to pack on a few pounds around the holiday, even if they’re seeking to lose weight and are self-monitoring their eating habits. However, some health experts don’t necessarily agree.

In an interview with ConsumerAffairs, nutritionist Allison Bradfield said that it’s important to be careful about which holiday foods you allow yourself to enjoy, since certain staples can lead to unintended weight gain.

She points out that some classic holiday foods can be diet downfalls, but others can be healthy when enjoyed in moderation.

Healthier holiday foods

Bradfield says some of the least healthy holiday foods include creamy dips, casseroles, and pecan pie. But other traditional holiday foods — such as sweet potatoes, cranberries, pumpkin, and fresh green beans — can offer health benefits, especially when prepared via simple cooking methods such as roasting, baking, or steaming.

Here are a few healthy foods to seek out at your next holiday gathering:

  • Sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and have just 113 calories per half-cup. Since they’re naturally sweet when baked, you won’t need to add sugar, butter, or marshmallows. Instead, add a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg.

  • Pumpkin. Pumpkin pie is a better choice than pecan pie (which can have up to 800 calories per slice), says Bradfield. Pumpkin is lower in fat and calories and also provides a good dose of beta-carotene. Another way to cut calories? Avoid the crust.

  • White turkey meat. Lower-fat white turkey meat is healthier than dark meat smothered in gravy. Bradfield says the healthiest way to enjoy white turkey meat is without the skin and with just a drizzle of gravy made with defatted pan juices, dry white wine, and low-sodium chicken broth.

  • Hot cocoa. Instead of egg nog (which can have up to 500 calories a cup), Bradfield recommends warming up with a cup of low-fat dark chocolate hot cocoa.

  • Lower-calorie spirits. Wine spritzers and light beer have fewer calories than mixed, sweetened alcoholic beverages. Since alcohol is a high calorie drink, Bradfield recommends setting a limit on the number of alcoholic beverages you allow yourself to have. Drinking water between beverages can also help prevent overindulgence.

Everything in moderation

To avoid consuming excess calories this holiday season, take a mindful approach when eating. Listening to your body can help you avoid overindulgence.

“I’m all for enjoying fabulous food around the holidays; with that being said, I also want to be mindful and balance my diet with healthy foods,” Bradfield said. “I recommend savoring favorite foods in moderation and forgoing anything that is not amazing.”

“It is important to be mindful while choosing foods to eat. Pay attention to your body (hunger and feelings of fullness), slow down, and stay in the moment. Avoid skipping meals, since that strategy can backfire and cause overindulgence later.”

Dempsey Marks’ Strawberry Banana Crunch Smoothie Bowl


The most delicious post-workout snack your body needs to recover!

Strawberry Banana Crunch Smoothie Bowl Photo

Yield: serves 1



  • 1/2 sliced banana
  • 1/2 cup frozen strawberries
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/4 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 2 Tbsp. – 1/4 cup water, depending on the strength of your blender


1/2 banana, sliced 1 1/2 Tbsp. granola 1 tsp. chia seeds 1 tsp. flax seeds 1 Tbsp. unsweetened coconut Drizzle of Honey




  1. In a blender, combine banana, frozen strawberries and blueberries, Greek yogurt, almond milk, and water. Blend until smooth.
  2. Pour in a bowl and top with sliced banana, granola, chia seeds, flax seeds, coconut, and a drizzle of honey. Enjoy!

Recipe by Dempsey Marks ; Photos by Kacy Meinecke





Back to School Cookies



14 cookies


  • 3 mashed bananas (ripe)
  • 1/3 cup applesauce, unsweetened
  • 2 cups oats (gluten-free if necessary)
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup chopped nuts (we prefer almonds, walnuts are also good)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips or carob chips*, optional

*adds sugar to the recipe, but a great way to moderate the sweet tooth!


Click Here to see the rest of the instructions

TRY THIS Trader Joe’s DIY Bistro Salad


A fully loaded entree salad that’s better than TJ’s original.

Trader Joe's DIY Bistro Salad Photo

Yield: Serves 2




  • 3 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3/4 tsp. dried Italian herb blend
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt


  • 4 cups finely chopped tuscan kale
  • 1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 2/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup edamame beans, cooked and cooled
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped or shredded
  • fresh mint and/or basil, optional




  1. Add all dressing ingredients to a large salad bowl and whisk until well combined.
  2. Into that same bowl, first add the chopped kale, massaging the leaves with your hands until dressing has been distributed and leaves soften a bit. Throw in all remaining ingredients.
  3. Toss well to combine. Serve immediately.

Photos by Kacy Meinecke for






TRY THIS Chocolate Covered Pretzel Protein Balls


Treat your workout with an easy, indulgent homemade “Larabar.”

Chocolate Covered Pretzel Protein Balls Photo

Yield: Serves 12



  • 18 pitted dates
  • 1/2 cup unsalted almonds
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup unsalted mini pretzels
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate pieces




  1. Place the dates in a food processor and chop until broken in to small pieces. Then add the remaining ingredients and mix until a fine, crumbly mixture remains. If you can pinch the batter and it sticks between your fingers, you’re there.
  2. Measure 1 Tbsp. scoops and carefully form the balls with your hands.
  3. Optional Prep: A) Press into a cake pan to make bars. B) Drizzle melted chocolate over the tops.

Recipe by; Images by Kacy Meinecke for






Vegetarian Dinner with Garbanzo Beans


Garbanzo beans never tasted so good!

Chickpea Fritters Photo

Yield: serves 4



  • 1 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice + lemon zest
  • 1 Tbsp. oil, safflower or sunflower recommended
  • 1 Tbsp. + 1/2 tsp. fresh oregano, divided
  • 1 tsp. raw honey
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1, 15-oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 large egg, whisked
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat bread crumbs*


  • 4 cups baby arugula
  • 1/2 small fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced

*use almond flour for gluten-free option




  1. In a sealed jar, shake together shallot, lemon juice, 2 tsp. water, 2 tsp. oil, 2 tsp. oregano, honey, and 1/8 tsp. salt. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, mash chickpeas, egg, bread crumbs, remaining oregano and lemon zest. If you are adding greens into the fritters, use a food processor to blend all ingredients together.
  3. Stir in cheese. Mix well and shape into a large ball. Divide ball into four patties, flattening each into 1/2″ thickness.
  4. In a medium nonstick skilled, heat remaining 1/2 tsp. oil on medium, add patties and cook until both sides are lightly golden and cooked through. About 4 minutes per side.
  5. In a medium bowl, toss together arugula and fennel, then pour dressing over top and toss.
  6. Divide salad and fritters among plates and enjoy!

photos by Kacy Meinecke for






Kale and White Bean Stuffed Sweet Potatoes


A hearty vegetarian dinner that’s light, easy, and satisfying.

Kale and White Bean Stuffed Sweet Potatoes Photo

Yield: serves 4



  • 4 sweet potatoes
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1, 4″ sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 12 oz. cooked and drained white beans
  • 6 cups kale, trimmed and sliced into ribbons
  • 1/4 lemon, juiced
  • sea salt & pepper, to taste




  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Scrub the sweet potatoes and poke them in a few places with a fork. Place them on a baking sheet and bake until soft all the way through, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  3. Start the beans and greens about 15-20 minutes before potatoes are done. In a wide, deep saucepan with a cover, heat olive oil over low-med heat. Add shallots and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, and red pepper flakes, stirring for about 1 minute.
  4. Add the beans, cook for 5 minutes stirring occasionally. Add the kale, cover the pan, and cook until the kale is soft, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Remove the rosemary sprig, stir in the lemon juice, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. To serve, slice each sweet potato lengthwise and push on the ends to open up the middle. Spoon the beans and greens into the center. Enjoy!

Photos by Kacy Meinecke for






Cherry Vanilla Chia Protein Balls


Make your own protein bars and enjoy a classic flavor blast from the past!

Cherry Vanilla Chia Protein Balls Photo

Yield: yields 10-12 balls



  • 10 pitted dates
  • 1/4 cup dried cherries
  • 1/2 cup almonds (unsalted, plain, whole almonds)
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 vanilla bean (scoop out the flesh)
  • 1 Tbsp. chia seeds




  1. Place the dates in a food processor and chop until broken in to small pieces. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until it forms a fine, crumbly mixture. If you can pinch the crumbs and they sticks between your fingers, you’re there.
  2. Measure 1 Tbsp. scoops and carefully form the balls with your hands.
  3. Optional Prep: A) Press into a cake pan to make bars. B) Drizzle melted dark chocolate over the tops.

Photos by Kacy Meinecke for






MAKE THIS RECIPE: Pumpkin Cream Cheese Dip


This easy 5-ingredient dessert recipe offers a healthier pumpkin indulgence!

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Dip Photo

Yield: serves 6



  • 1 brick neufchatel cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup pure pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 Tbsp. vanilla
  • 1-2 Tbsp. honey
  • Dash of cinnamon and/or nutmeg

We served ours with homemade graham crackers!




  1. Add all ingredients to a large mixing bowl and combine using either a hand-mixer or by folding with a rubber spatula.
  2. Cover and chill for later, or serve immediately with crackers, cookies, or dippers of your choice.

Photos by Kacy Meinecke for






Turkey and Herb Stuffed Acorn Squash


  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees F and adjust rack to middle position. While it warms, brush the squash lightly with olive oil and dust with nutmeg. Place squash, cut-side up, on a baking sheet. Roast for 25 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Brown the ground turkey. Add the diced onion, garlic, and celery, stirring frequently for 5-7 minutes until soft.
  • Stir in herbs, spices, and raisins. Add spinach and wilt 2-3 minutes. Add in butter or coconut oil and combine over medium heat.
  • Spoon filling into acorn squash and roast for 20 minutes. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and serve.