Marla Withey

Marla Withey

The holiday season is underway. Dinners, parties, after-work events, family gatherings and treats at work are just a few of the ways that people indulge during this special season. It is a wonderful time of the year, but the days also can be anxiety-provoking, especially when trying to maintain a healthful eating plan. Luckily, there are ways to put a healthful spin on many holiday favorites that can help to eliminate some of the anxiety.

When hosting a holiday gathering reduce fat and calories without sacrificing taste by adjusting a few ingredients in your favorite recipes:

  • Use two egg whites in place of one whole egg to eliminate some of the fat while maintaining taste.
  • Try using low-sodium and fat-free chicken broth in mashed potatoes to add flavor and decrease the added butter or margarine.
  • Substitute applesauce for oil, margarine or butter in muffins and quick breads. Experiment with a small amount at first, as the more you substitute the more the texture of the finished product changes.
  • When preparing dips, sauces and pie toppings, use fat-free yogurt, fat-free sour cream and fat-free whipped toppings.
  • Rather than fried onion rings, use sliced almonds as a delicious, crunchy topping.
  • Select reduced-fat or low-fat cheeses for salads
  • and casseroles.

When shopping, pack your cart with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits. Try sweet potatoes, winter squash, broccoli, carrots, Brussels sprouts and green beans. Apples, cranberries and pears are a nice combination for a tasty salad, fruit crisp or for topping the turkey or ham.

If you will be attending a holiday gathering, these ideas may help keep you healthy, happy and safe:

  • Don’t skip meals during the day leading up to a holiday celebration, as this often leads to overdoing it later. Start your day with a small meal that includes whole grains, fruit, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and protein such as eggs, ham or peanut butter. Have small meals and snacks throughout the day that include all five food groups.
  • When at the holiday gathering, do indulge. The fastest way to “blowing it” is deprivation — so go ahead, indulge a little. But …
  • Don’t eat everything. Choose carefully between foods you definitely will eat, those you will sample and those you will skip. Be picky. Select the items that appeal most to you. If something doesn’t live up to your standards, throw it away. You are not obligated to finish your plate or eat what does not satisfy you.
  • Relax and don’t rush to eat. Socialize and settle into the holiday festivities before you eat. Remember, conversation is calorie-free. You may eat less if you settle in to the event rather than heading right to the buffet table.
  • Move your socializing away from the buffet table or appetizer trays. This will help you minimize mindless nibbling.
  • When you’re hungry and it’s time to eat, choose the foods that you really want to eat. Try filling your plate with vegetables, salad and fruits before going to the entrees and desserts. Sometimes, just a taste will satisfy a craving or curiosity, so keep portions small.
  • Use a smaller plate. This will allow you to put less food on your plate. It also encourages proper portion sizes.
  • Eat slowly and savor every bite. Truly taste the food.
  • Before you go back for seconds, wait about 10 minutes to see if you really are hungry.
  • Remember, all foods are good in moderation.
  • When it comes to drinking alcohol, it is best to start with a calorie-free, non-alcoholic beverage. A sparkling water with lime is a refreshing option. Satisfy your thirst before having an alcoholic beverage. Don’t overdo on alcohol. Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. Keep in mind that a single drink will affect your reflexes for several hours. Do stay safe. Use a designated driver, call a cab or ask a friend for a lift home if you have been drinking.

Remember the importance of activity as well. Even though it may be cold outside, these activities can take only 10 minutes at a time and will help you get moving during the holidays. Activity helps you not only physically but mentally as well. Why not try the following:

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.
  • Play actively with your kids, grandkids or pets.
  • After the evening meal, take a walk with your family, even if it is just around the block.
  • Catch up with housework: wash windows, vacuum or sweep.

The holidays are a great time for celebrating with family and friends. With just a little preparation, planning and mindfulness, you can enjoy all that the season has to offer and be healthy and guilt-free.

Enjoy the season and why not try these tasty recipes.

Crowd-pleasing cocktail meatballs

Makes: 32 meatballs


2 pounds 90/10 lean ground beef

½ cup bread crumbs

1 egg

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons onion powder

½ teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon salt


In large bowl, combine all ingredients, using hands to mix until well-combined. Using cookie scoop, portion into one inch meatballs and place into large skillet. Fry until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Divide meatballs evenly between two prepared crockpots. Prepare one sauce for each crockpot, using desired flavors.

Italian-Style Meatballs


1 (15-ounce) jar marinara sauce


Heat meatballs and sauce in crockpot on low for three to four hours. Serve meatballs with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

Nutrition information: Per serving (2 meatballs): 70 calories, 3.5 g fat, 3 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 7 g protein, 190 mg sodium

Sweet & tangy meatballs


½ cup grape jelly

½-¾ (12-ounce) jar chili sauce


Heat meatballs and sauce in crockpot on low for 3 to 4 hours.

Recipes can easily be doubled or tripled depending on servings needed.

Nutrition information: Per serving (2 meatballs): 100 calories, 3 g fat, 11 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber, 7 g protein, 390 mg sodium

Pear-pecan cheese ball


24 servings


Thyme, honey and goat cheese spread

Makes: 10 servings (3 tablespoons each)


2 (4-ounce) packages goat cheese

1 (8-ounce) package reduced fat cream cheese

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

¼ cup honey

¼ cup toasted walnuts, chopped


In a bowl, combine goat cheese, cream cheese and thyme. Beat with a mixer until soft and well combined. Scrape mixture into a flat serving dish with a 1-inch edge (a pie plate works well). Refrigerate until ready to serve, no longer than four hours. Just before serving, top with honey and sprinkle with walnuts. Serve with crackers or toast.

Nutrition information: Per serving: 130 calories, 8 g fat, 9 g carbohydrate, 6 g protein, 0 g fiber, 190 mg sodium.

Marla Withey is a Gundersen Health System registered dietitian.


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