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Healthy Holiday: 7 Feast-Worthy Sides Under 200 Calories

From cranberry sauce to roasted sweet potatoes, try these lighter versions of your seasonal favorites.

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By Taylor Lupo

Holiday parties and dinners are filled with family and friends, seasonal cocktails and diet-busting dishes. With all the flavorful food and drinks, it can be easy to pack on a few extra pounds by the season’s end.

But not all of your holiday dining has to be unhealthy, according to Auburn Fowler, a clinical dietitian with Grand Strand Medical Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. She shared some easy ways to whip up healthier versions of your holiday favorites.

Before you head to the grocery store, read on to find out just what you’ll need to recreate delectable holiday side dishes that taste indulgent, but aren’t.   

Lighter Green Bean Casserole

2 / 9 Lighter Green Bean Casserole

Some of the biggest offenders on the holiday table are casseroles. Typically made with cream or condensed soup, a single serving of traditional green bean casserole can contain more than 200 calories.

Fowler recommends lightening casseroles by adding more veggies, without altering the other ingredients. “Change the ratio of the recipe, so you fill up with the vegetables, but still get the same flavor that you remember from casseroles growing up,” she says.

She also shared her lower-calorie version of a classic green bean casserole:

  • Steam 1 pound of trimmed green beans until tender.
  • Season with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and pepper (each).
  • In a skillet over medium heat, combine 3 tablespoons of butter with two minced cloves of garlic. Add a 1/2 cup of whole wheat bread crumbs, and stir until crispy.
  • Toss your green beans with the heated mixture and top with 3 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese.

A serving of this guilt-free side, or about 3/4 of a cup, contains just 108 calories.

Better-Than-Canned Cranberry Sauce

3 / 9 Better-Than-Canned Cranberry Sauce

Canned cranberry sauce is a holiday staple, but despite its fruit content, it isn’t all that healthy. A thin slice, or about one-eighth of the can, contains 90 calories, but is loaded with almost 22 grams of sugar.

Making a no-sugar-added version is simple, and can be prepped the night before.

  • In a sauce pan, combine 12 ounces of fresh cranberries (about 3 1/2 cups), 1/4 of a cup of water, a 1/4 of a cup of unsweetened applesauce and 1/3 of a cup of unsweetened pineapple juice.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil before reducing the heat to medium. Let your sauce simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the berries begin to explode.
  • Grate in the zest of one orange and let simmer for another 15 minutes.
  • Store the dish in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.

One-fourth of the batch contains just 58 calories and fewer than 8 grams of natural sugar. If you desire additional sweetness, add a sprinkle of cinnamon and a touch of honey—just don’t overdo it.

Sautéed Garlic and Herb Mushrooms

4 / 9 Sautéed Garlic and Herb Mushrooms

Don’t be afraid to add more veggies to your holiday table scape. This nutritious dish is packed with flavor, but won’t cause unwanted belly bulge, like some side dishes.

  • Destem, wash and slice about 1 pound of mushrooms, like white button, shiitake, portabella or another favorite.
  • Add to a heated sauté pan with a tablespoon of olive oil, two cloves of chopped garlic and 1/4 cup of diced white onion.
  • Cook over medium heat, stirring all the while, before adding a tablespoon each of fresh rosemary, thyme and oregano, a healthy dash of salt and pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

This recipe makes four servings, with only 68 calories each and offers a healthy dose of potassium, a mineral that helps regulate blood pressure and promotes muscle health.

Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes

5 / 9 Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes

This recipe has all the candied flavor of a classic sweet potato casserole without the calories and unhealthy ingredients.

Skip the marshmallow topping you loved as a kid, and add some natural sweetness, instead.

  • Peel and slice 2 1/2 pounds of sweet potatoes.
  • Toss with 1/3 of a cup of all natural maple syrup, 2 tablespoons of melted butter, 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice and a dash of salt and pepper.   
  • Arrange coated potato pieces on a baking dish, cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until tender and golden. Total cook time should take about 45 minutes, but give your potatoes a toss every 15 minutes or so. 

A half-cup serving contains just 92 calories, but is rich with vitamin A, which helps regulate cell growth and division and plays an important role in the health of your bones and white blood cells. 

Creamy Cauliflower Mash

6 / 9 Creamy Cauliflower Mash

A cup of traditional, homemade mashed potatoes contains about 240 calories. And if your family recipe calls for whole milk and butter, calories aren’t the only concern—a single serving can contain 9 grams of fat, or more.

If traditional spuds are a must for you and your family, Fowler recommends lightening the recipe by replacing whole milk with 2 percent or even 1 percent milk. Swapping whole milk for skim saves even more—about 63 calories and more than 7 grams of fat per cup.

Or, try replacing your potato base for creamy mashed cauliflower, a swap that eliminates nearly three-fourths of the calories, before any flavorful add-ins.

  • Steam 3 pounds of cauliflower—roughly one medium head.
  • Mash with three cloves of garlic, a tablespoon of olive oil, a dash of salt and pepper and the herbs and spices of your choosing.

One cup of this smooth mixture contains just 40 calories. Cauliflower is also a great source of vitamin C, which helps boost your immune system, aids in collagen production and promotes faster wound healing. 

Skinny Cranberry Stuffing

7 / 9 Skinny Cranberry Stuffing

You don’t have to spoon a serving of each dish onto your plate. “Make sure you're making room for the things that you really want,” and skip the foods you’re not crazy about, Fowler recommends.

If you have healthier dishes, like Fowler’s sinless stuffing recipe, you can even go back for a second helping without undoing your dieting efforts. 

  • In a sauce pan over medium heat, simmer three medium stalks of chopped celery and one diced yellow onion with a tablespoon of canola oil until tender, about five minutes.
  • Add in a 1/2 of a cup of chopped cranberries, fresh or frozen and thawed, 8 ounces of bread crumbs and 4 to 6 ounces of low-sodium chicken broth, until you get the desired consistency.
  • Stir in a pinch of salt and pepper and spoon the mixture into an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray.
  • Bake in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 25 to 30 minutes.

Enjoy a half-cup serving for just 188 calories.

Roasted Brussels Sprout Salad

8 / 9 Roasted Brussels Sprout Salad

These cruciferous veggies are at their best during the fall and winter months, just in time for your holiday gatherings.

  • Slice 3 cups of sprouts in half, coat with a tablespoon of olive oil and your favorite herbs and spices.
  • Roast at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until tender, about 25 minutes.
  • Place your roasted veggies on a bed of fresh arugula and layer on some sweet seasonal produce, like seedless red grapes and crisp apple. Start with one chopped cup of each, but add more if you’d like. 
  • Add 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and garnish with an ounce of creamy goat cheese.

Dish up a half-cup serving of the green goodness for just 59 calories.

Stay Active during the Holidays

9 / 9 Stay Active during the Holidays

Cutting down on calories can help stave off weight gain, but so can burning them. Offset some of the calories you plan to consume by staying active.

“Most times, people are off from work and have some extra time. Use it to get in extra steps,” Fowler says. You can also take a walk or ride your bike before your event.

You can even burn calories at your gatherings. Lending a hand in the kitchen and horsing around with the kids can burn more calories than you might think.

In just 30 minutes, a 155-pound person can burn:

  • 149 calories on a leisurely walk
  • 298 calories bicycling at a moderate pace
  • 149 calories playing with kids
  • 93 calories cooking

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