Indulge Without Guilt Over the Holidays

Mature woman enjoys hot chocolate with friend
Holiday Calorie Swaps

Whirling through seasonal celebrations, family gatherings and office parties can mean many opportunities to indulge in various treats during the holidays. And with so many reasons to celebrate, it can leave you wondering if there’s any point in trying to make healthy choices during the holidays. But according to Bonnie Buckingham, a registered dietitian who counsels patients at Samaritan Weight Management Institute, you can enjoy the season and still eat healthy.   

“The most important trick of eating healthy during the holidays is to not deprive yourself of the enjoyment of eating,” said Buckingham. “If you sacrifice taste for calories, you may actually end up eating more calories in the long run trying to feel satisfied instead of a smaller portion of what you really wanted.”

Buckingham recommends prioritizing the foods that you enjoy the most and skipping the other things. This can help you feel like you’re participating in the decadence of the season without dropping a nutritional bomb on your diet.

“If you like pumpkin pie, then eat the pumpkin pie. But if you don’t like pecan as much, then give it a miss,” she said. “And when you like both, take a smaller slice of each.”

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that Americans gain about one pound during the holidays. It doesn’t sound like much but people often don’t lose the excess weight, which can lead to a significant gain over time.

Making sensible changes to holiday favorites can help tip the scales in your favor. Buckingham recommends trying these lightened up versions of seasonal delights.

Holiday Drinks


The easiest switch? Buy a non-dairy brand such as Silk, which at 90 calories a serving can cut calories by more than half. Traditional eggnog is about 190 calories per serving, and light is about 140. You can make your own from the recipe below and control what kind of milk you use and how much sugar you add. You’ll also avoid the preservatives and thickeners present in store-bought versions. As written, this eggnog contains 118 calories per serving.


  • 3 cups 1% milk or milk alternative.
  • 1 vanilla bean.
  • 2 large eggs.
  • 1/3 cup sugar.
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch.
  • Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish.


  1. Heat 2-1/2 cups milk in a medium saucepan.
  2. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds; add the seeds and pod to the saucepan and simmer over medium heat.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar and cornstarch until it turns light yellow.
  4. Temper the eggs by gradually pouring the hot milk mixture, about 1 cup at a time, into the egg mixture, whisking constantly (this is important, otherwise you’ll make scrambled eggs).
  5. Pour the mixture back into the pan.
  6. Place over medium heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the eggnog begins to thicken, about 6-7 minutes.
  7. Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the remaining 1/2 cup milk to stop the cooking.
  8. Remove the vanilla pod, let it cool and transfer to a pitcher, chill until ready to serve.
  9. Garnish with nutmeg. Serves 6.

Peppermint Hot Chocolate

Choosing skim or almond milk, or asking for less chocolate and peppermint syrup can mean fewer calories in your drink at the coffee shop. A tall peppermint hot chocolate at Starbucks with nonfat milk and no whipped cream is 260 calories. Or make your own at home with this easy recipe at 164 calories per serving, and make it as minty as you want without adding extra calories.

  • 3 cups skim milk or milk alternative.
  • 4 teaspoons sugar.
  • ¼ teaspoon peppermint extract.
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract.
  • ¼ cup semisweet chocolate chips.
  • Pinch kosher salt.

Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until the milk is hot and starting to steam. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in remaining ingredients. Continue to whisk until the chocolate is completely melted. Serves 3.


Pumpkin Pie

Pie crust can easily add more than 250 calories a slice. Try a crustless or thin-crust pie with this spicy filling, which uses skim milk to reduce fat and Stevia for calorie-free sweetness. If you pick up Stevia with your canned pumpkin, this crustless pie is only 68 calories per serving. Or substitute ¾ cup white sugar for Stevia, and each serving is 140 calories.

  • 15 oz canned pumpkin.
  • 12 oz evaporated skim milk.
  • ¾ cup egg substitute.
  • ½ teaspoon salt.
  • 1-2 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice.
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
  • 1 teaspoon liquid Stevia (or to taste).
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Combine all ingredients and beat until smooth.
  3. Pour into a 9-inch pie pan sprayed with cooking spray.
  4. Bake at 400°F for 15 minutes; reduce temperature to 325°F and bake for another 45 minutes.
  5. Pie is done with a knife inserted into the center come out clean. Serves 8. 


Tips for Cookies:

  • Replace vegetable oil with applesauce. When making gingerbread, replace 1 cup of oil or butter with ¾ cup applesauce. Butter and oil have between 1,600-1,900 calories in one cup. With just 100 calories in a cup, applesauce can seriously improve the calorie count of your cookies. Cooking time and oven temperature may need to be reduced.
  • Make cookies smaller as you drop them onto the cookie sheet, or use smaller cookie cutters.


Buckingham recommends setting a limit of one to two drinks and avoiding cocktails made from sugars and simple syrups. A holiday favorite such as hot buttered rum can have upwards of 450 calories. Even wine, at 160 calories can quickly add up, especially if the serving sizes are generous and exceed the 5 oz suggested serving. With 96 calories in 5 ounces, champagne is a low-calorie winner that can easily be mixed with other flavors.

Tips for Cocktails:

  • Make your own champagne cocktail — 215 calories
    • 8 oz champagne.
    • ¼ cup low sugar cranberry juice.
    • 1 lime wedge or ½ oz orange liqueur.
    • Orange or lime peel for garnish.
  • Try a mocktail — 250 calories
    • 8 oz kombucha.
    • ¼ cup low sugar cranberry juice.
    • 1 sprig rosemary, crushed.
    • Frozen cranberries and extra herbs for garnish.

“Holiday food should be seen as an occasional treat, not an everyday event,” said Buckingham. “Remember, eating a few cookies won’t cause you to gain weight; eating cookies throughout the whole holiday season will!”

If you’re interested in learning more about weight loss or weight loss surgery options, please contact the Samaritan Weight Management Institute at 541-768-4280 or sign up for a bariatric surgery information session. Or, visit Samaritan Diabetes Services for more healthy ideas.

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