By Laura Kruskall, PhD, RD, CSSD, FACSM

With a New Year fast approaching, many of us will resolve to eat healthier once the holidays are over, but is it really necessary to wait until then?  To most, the thought of dieting while being deluged with fabulously delicious treats is unthinkable, but there are some simple techniques that can help you survive the holidays and beyond, without enlarging your waistline.

Tip #1: The Ideal Plate

A good rule of thumb is to fill half your plate with vegetables, one quarter starch, and one quarter lean protein. This ratio insures that majority of your meal comes from low-calorie, high-nutrient sources without having to think about too many details. Whereas a serving of starch (i.e. half cup pasta) contains 80-100 calories, a half cup of cooked vegetables contains only 25 calories and is nutrient-rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. The USDA has developed a wonderful tool called MyPlate that explains this concept in detail (http://www.choosemyplate.gov).

Tip #2: Beware of hidden calories

It’s easy to add unnecessary calories to your meals without even realizing it. Stir-frying vegetables in healthy olive or canola oils seems harmless, but did you know that these oils contain the same amount of calories (150 per tablespoon) as butterfat? It would be much healthier to steam those vegetables then top with balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.

Tip #3: Substitute ingredients wisely

You can often replace high-calorie ingredients in your favorite recipes with other lower-calorie ingredients, without sacrificing flavor or texture. Here are some traditional holiday dishes that can be modified and still taste fantastic:

Pasta with sauce:

Instead of your normal portion of pasta topped with sauce, replace half the amount of pasta with the same quantity of steamed vegetables. Top with a healthy marinara sauce and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. To make this even healthier, use fiber-rich whole grain pasta that keeps you feeling fuller longer.


Instead of layering noodles with fatty meats and thick layers of cheese, try using a thinner layer of reduced fat cheese and add shredded carrots, spinach, mushrooms, or vegetables of your choice. For meat lovers, substitute extra lean ground turkey for ground beef.

mashed potatoes

Substitute non-fat milk or non-fat evaporated milk for cream. Instead of butter, add roasted garlic or other herbs. To save even more calories mash cooked potatoes with cooked cauliflower or even substitute cauliflower for potatoes all together.

Macaroni and cheese

Instead of cream and high-fat cheese, use skim milk and reduced-fat cheese. Also, use whole grain pasta to add fiber and other nutrients not found in bleached pastas.

Cakes and Muffins

For recipes that call for canola or cooking oil, use applesauce instead. One cup applesauce has ~ 100 calories while one cup oil has 1900 calories.