Think you can’t stay on track with your macros and eat a hearty holiday meal, too? Not true! The entire premise behind counting macros is flexibility, right? We want you to enjoy all the festive goodies and still feel good about your daily count.
The great news about this time of year is there are typically more than enough options flooding the feast table. Many of these include high-quality proteins and loads of greens, vegetables, fruits and other potentially good-for-you-picks. Some strategies may involve “saving” up on carbs during the days surrounding the festive feast days, but you can also make smart swaps that fill your plate and don’t send you too far off on your daily numbers.
Skip the bread board and chip-and-dip bowls, two easy places to offset those macro numbers quickly before the main meal has even been served. Instead, snack on mixed nuts, olives, crudités with ranch, deviled eggs or even a piece or two of cheese or charcuterie. These are all good options to nibble before the start of the big meal.
Turkey takes center stage on most of our holiday spreads. Here’s the good news: Turkey is a lean, healthy protein that offers a great starting point when building a balanced holiday plate. Don’t pass over the dark meat — a 3-ounce serving of dark meat has only about 20 calories and 2 grams more fat than white meat. More importantly, it has a deeper flavor and more moisture than light meat, which tends to dry out in the oven. If choosing dark meat means you’re less likely to need an extra pour of gravy, go for the dark meat. Skip the skin, and you’ll save an extra 30 calories and 3 grams of fat per serving of turkey.
Try these bacon-wrapped green bean bundles in place of green bean casserole. Traditional green bean casserole is more about the cream and cheese-loaded base and the crunchy fried onion topping than it is about the actual bean. Green bean bundles are all about the vegetable — simply tied together in a flavor-packed piece of bacon.
The marshmallow or brown sugar-based topping on a classic scoop of sweet potato casserole has as much sugar as a slice of apple pie from the dessert table! Not to mention the additional cup of sugar that’s usually hiding inside the mash. Instead, try roasting a variety of winter squashes (kabocha, butternut and acorn) along with sweet potatoes on a giant sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with a spoonful of brown sugar and dash of salt. Sweet potatoes are naturally sweet and need far less prep work when it comes to the holiday spread. Sprinkle with toasted nuts for a delightful crunch.
Looking for something even more festive? Try these Hasselback sweet potatoes, lightly sweetened with a touch of maple syrup and made rich with a drizzle of butter and toasted pecans. The entire recipe uses only 2 tablespoons of maple syrup to highlight the natural sweetness of the potatoes; far less than what you’ll find in that marshmallow-covered casserole.
Sweet potatoes, cauliflower, turnips and parsnips have fewer carbohydrates than a potato, more fiber, and are packed with vitamins, minerals and flavor. You can even minimize prep by roasting the root vegetables whole, then peeling and mashing them all together with a bit of olive oil, milk, salt, pepper and herbs.
Not ready to give up the potatoes? Just lighten the load with cauliflower. A cup of mashed cauliflower has about 30 calories and only 5 grams of carbs, while a cup of mashed potato has 160 calories and 36 grams of carbohydrates. Try making your mash a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio of cauliflower to potato to lighten the macro load (and still taste like potatoes!).
The most interesting stuffing recipes are chock full of vegetables and even fruits, like apples or dried cherries. Choose recipes that have lots of greens, mushrooms and other veggies, and double up on the amount called for in the recipe. This recipe is delicious and stuffs the actual stuffing into a winter squash. The squash adds bulk with far fewer carbohydrates than a stuffing that calls for all bread and biscuits. The ratio of bread to veggies makes this a great (and delicious!) option when balancing a plate at Thanksgiving.
CLICK TO TWEET THIS ARTICLE > Have all your holiday favorites while meeting your macros with these creative ingredient swaps & tips from @myfitnesspal. #macros
Try cooked quinoa in place of the sourdough bread cubes or crumbled cornbread that traditionally serve as the base in your favorite dressing recipe. Not only is quinoa hearty and filling but it’s also lower in calories, higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than sourdough or cornbread cubes. A cup of cooked quinoa has 25% fewer calories, half the amount of carbohydrates and double the protein. The best part? It soaks up all those fresh herbs and savory broth beautifully, and it’s a great vessel for fillings like apples, celery, onion, sausage, chestnuts and mushrooms. Here’s a great quinoa-based dressing recipe that also adds in pecans, dried cranberries and goat cheese … all tucked into a festive acorn squash.
Cranberry sauce is sneaky. Just 1/4 cup of it has more than 25 grams of sugar — the equivalent of 2 tablespoons of sugar! Just a spoonful or two can offset the entire balance of the plate. If you’re not willing to give up that touch of cran on your holiday plate, try plumping a bowl of dried cranberries in a little warm orange juice. You’ll get that delightful hit of tart-sweet cranberry goodness at a fraction of the carbs. And what’s a holiday turkey without a little gravy? A little goes a long way here — so rather than dump the gravy over the entire plate use a sauce bowl. Dip instead of drizzle!
Some of the best, brightest and healthiest options during the holidays don’t involve an oven or stovetop. This raw kale salad is hearty, colorful and bright with pomegranate seeds, shredded cabbage and toasted walnuts. The kale is massaged with a bright citrus dressing that helps breakdown and tenderize the tougher leaves. Kale is loaded with vitamins and minerals and is super low in carbohydrates. Here’s a shaved Brussels sprouts salad that’s loaded with healthy holiday ingredients like blueberries, apples, avocado and walnuts. The best part? When you don’t have to cook something it comes together in the kitchen very quickly.
We all know desserts are mostly sugar and refined carbohydrates, but that’s not a reason to skip out on them entirely. It is, after all, the holiday season! Most desserts satisfy in just a few spoonfuls — eat slowly and savor each bite before diving in for more. It’s also important to remember that many of the “savory” dishes we find on the holiday buffet have as much sugar as a piece of that pumpkin pie. The sweet potato casserole, the cranberry sauce, the corn casserole and that glass of sangria are all much like dessert! Skip the overly sweet side dishes and save that little something sweet for dessert.
Alcohol can be a huge factor — and sometimes roadblock — in terms of staying on track. Those 7 calories per gram add up quickly. Sip on a seltzer or wine spritzer or splurge on that one really good cocktail, craft beer or glass of wine — and then move on to water.
At the end (and beginning!) of the day, it’s all about how you balance your plate. The good news is there are typically plenty of options to choose from. Fill the plate first with the turkey or ham, the mixed green salad, the roasted veggies and the green beans. The less room you leave on your plate for the carb-heavy casserole, the less tempted you will be to take too much.
Remember — the whole premise of counting macros is moderation and promoting good health. The holidays are no different! The holidays are about spending time with our friends and family. Don’t add too many extra layers of stress onto your holiday plate. Set yourself up as best as you can, but enjoy your holidays, too.
Ready to take the next step? Unlock MyFitnessPal Premium to access custom goal settings, quick-log recipes, and guided plans from a registered dietitian. Premium users are 65% more likely to reach their weight loss goals!