Go into those tempting party buffets without a plan and you'll find yourself loading up on extra calories. A plate filled with chips, cheese, dark meat, and a luscious dessert or two not only packs on the pounds, it's also a surefire overload of sodium, cholesterol, and fat. But never fear! We've got swaps that allow you to enjoy the drinks, appetizers, entrees, and even desserts of a typical holiday spread while still maintaining your waistline.
Eat Nuts, Not Chips
Enjoy a handful of unsalted nuts; skip the potato chips.
An ounce of salted potato chips -- that's only about 10-15 chips -- has 150 calories, 10 grams of fat, and 170 mg of sodium. Because the chips are often paired with a high-fat creamy dip, your total calorie and sodium intake can end up being much higher. A small handful of nuts is similar in calories but contains mostly unsaturated fats that can improve HDL (good) cholesterol. Walnuts, in particular, are high in heart-healthy polyunsaturated fat.
Eat Vegetables, Not Cheese
Enjoy the vegetable platter; skip the cheese platter.
Four cheddar cheese cubes have more than 100 calories and 5 grams of saturated fat (an ounce of Brie on a hunk of French bread does, too). Snack from the veggie platter (even tasting the low-fat dip), and you'll be able to fill your plate and go back for seconds.
Eat Shrimp Cocktail, Not Crab Cakes
Enjoy the fresh shrimp and cocktail sauce; skip the crab cakes.
Any type of seafood may seem like a winner, with plenty of omega-3s and other heart-healthy fatty acids. But when it's covered with mayonnaise, rolled in breadcrumbs, and fried in artery-clogging fat, its health benefits are severely compromised. In fact, a single crab cake weighs in at 400 calories and 19 grams of fat -- whereas 10 medium-size shrimp please the taste buds and waistline at a more reasonable 80 calories and 1 gram of fat. Just remember to go easy on the cocktail sauce -- it's often loaded with sodium.
Eat Broth-Based Soups, Not Creamy Soups
Enjoy broth-base soups; skip the creamy soups and bisques.
Consider this: A bowl of clam chowder contains 220 calories and 6 grams of saturated fat, while a homemade vegetable soup can provide a tasty serving of vegetables for less than half the calories and very little saturated fat. The cream or milk in chowders and bisques may make them taste good, but they're not good for your heart or your waistline. Also, ask your host if he or she used a low-sodium broth to make the soup to ensure that you're watching your sodium consumption, too.
Eat a Sweet Potato, Not Sweet Potato Casserole
Enjoy a baked sweet potato with fat-free sour cream; skip the sweet potato casserole.
Why mess with a good thing? Packed with vitamins A and C, sweet potatoes offer a scrumptious way to sneak beneficial vitamins and minerals into your diet. Unfortunately, the sweet potato casserole that often graces the holiday table is also filled with brown sugar, butter, and marshmallows. A 4-ounce sweet potato with 2 tablespoons fat-free sour cream has 150 calories. Sweet potato casserole has 400 calories per 3/4 cup.
Drink Cider, Not Rum
Enjoy sparkling cider; skip the hot buttered rum.
Hot buttered rum -- a mix of butter, brown sugar, spices, whipped cream, and rum -- packs more than 400 calories per drink. Instead, pick sparkling cider at 140 calories per 8-ounce serving and top with a strawberry. A warm cup of tea could help take the chill off, too, for zero calories.
Eat White Meat, Not Dark Meat
Enjoy white-meat turkey without skin; skip the dark turkey meat with skin.
There's a reason the dark meat is so moist and the skin offers such an intense flavor -- it's full of fat. Consider that 4 ounces of dark-meat turkey with skin contains 250 calories and 13 grams of fat, while 4 ounces of white-meat turkey without skin has just 150 calories and 1 gram of fat.
Eat Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries, Not Fudge
Enjoy chocolate-dipped strawberries; skip the fudge.
Need a sweet end to the holiday meal? Instead of reaching for a piece of fudge that's high in sugar, opt for a chocolate-dipped strawberry (preferably dark chocolate to get heart-healthy flavonoids). Strawberries are one of the best sources of disease-fighting antioxidants.