No matter what medium you use most—Web, TV, radio or the printed word—it’s hard to ignore that ’tis the season of chestnuts roasting, geese-a-gettin’-fat, maids-a-milking and sugar plums dancing. Try as we might, during the holidays it’s challenging to stay mindful of the quantity and type of calories we are consuming; there are just so many overt promptings to indulge.

Whether the occasion is Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza or New Year’s Eve/Day, you can steer safely over the river and through the woods with the following commonsense tips:

  • The keys to navigating most celebratory groaning boards without the groan are portion control and optimized selection from a variety of food groups.
  • Drink a large glass of water just before a big holiday dinner. If you are hosting, serve a soup course first. The warm liquid gives a feeling of satiety and may help you and your guests eat less.
  • Use a smaller plate.
  • Cover most of your plate with vegetables and salad.
  • Keep your turkey portion to no more than 5–6½ ounces. A traditional dish at both Thanksgiving and Christmas, turkey is a great lean protein, but don’t go overboard.
  • Avoid candied yams. Instead, try yams baked with minimal
  • condiments or whipped with straightforward seasonings and chicken broth in lieu of butter and milk. Yams are a wonderful source of beta carotene and fiber.
  • Keep stuffing portions small. The family stuffing recipe is a favorite and not to be missed, but a small taste to take you down memory lane is probably plenty. Proceed with caution, as this dish often contains bacon drippings, butter, a lot of sodium and other self-defeating ingredients. Better bet: Offer to bring an alternative like a salad or a plate of crudités with a Greek yogurt-based dip.
  • Avoid mashed potatoes if you do not know what is in them; they often have cream, butter and salt lurking within. If you are making the dish yourself, try substituting chicken broth and low-fat or nonfat Greek yogurt as whipping agents.
  • Instead of watching football all day, start a tradition of having family and friends gather on the lawn before or after the big meal to toss the football around, or go for a long walk in the neighborhood. Kids of all ages will enjoy the activity.
  • Lighten your eggnog calorie load by getting low-fat or fat-free versions—and leave out the spirits.
  • Taste the home-baked goodness of your favorite candies, cookies, pies and sweets, but take just a taste and really savor the flavors.
  • Tone down alcohol consumption to cut calories, which can add up fast when you’re drinking them.
  • Set a good example for kids by leaving Santa a fresh plate of fruit instead of traditional cookies and milk.
  • Oy vey! Don’t underestimate the Hanukkah table, which is full of rich, heavy foods, including brisket, cheeses, latkes (fried potato pancakes), jelly-filled doughnuts and other sweet treats. Offer to make a lighter version of one of these dishes. Mostly, be careful and have a solid eating strategy before you get in too deep!

Susan Wuesthoff