A 2016 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that the average American gains 0.6% of their total body weight over the course of the Thanksgiving and New Year holidays. Being around family and friends usually means large meals and making poor food choices.
The average American male aged 20+ weighs roughly 200 pounds, which amounts to a yearly weight gain of roughly 1.2 pounds through the last 5 weeks of the year.
For females, the average weight in the U.S. is 170 pounds, which amounts to roughly 1 pound gained through the end-of-year holidays.
Interestingly, the study found that individuals gain the largest bulk of their weight in the 10 days following Christmas. This could suggest that one’s internal caloric regulation becomes skewed when given an overabundance of food choices.
None the less, we know that this is going to occur nearly every year. When you talk about the holidays with family or friends, someone always jokes, “The meal isn’t over when I’m full … it’s over when I’m miserable.”
While there’s nothing wrong with celebrating special occasions, this can bring anxiety to the inexperienced dieter because they’re overwhelmed with food choices and eventually give up any dietary restraint.
So, you need a plan for the holidays. This article isn’t going to talk about the nutritional structure and principles needed to succeed. Instead, it takes a much simpler approach – removing the need for active processing and decision-making.
These healthy recipes for traditional holiday dishes allow you to enjoy the day with family and friends, while taking an active role in your long-term goals. It’s a win-win for everyone involved. You’ll have solid staples to fill up your plate, and others can enjoy them as well.
Prep to Win, Cook to Succeed
After working out hard for an hour or two, most lifters don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen. While they can get by with some simple scrambled eggs and baked chicken, they aren’t going to whip up a 4-course meal served at a Michelin restaurant.
Needless to say, these recipes are going to be simple, easy, and painless when it comes to cleaning up. Best of all, they don’t take hours to prepare, and they won’t leave you washing dishes for weeks. Here’s how it all breaks down…
4 Healthy Food Choices for the Holidays
1. Main Dish – Shrimp Skewers
While shrimp may be thought of as a summer dish, it is typically eaten year-round in pasta dishes and even cold in shrimp cocktail.
However, grilled shrimp skewers are a great food choice for holiday parties. They’re exceptionally easy-to-fix and light to snack on, both pre and post-meal. And, they are hefty contenders in the protein department.
But best of all, they’re ready in less than 30 minutes, and they’re super-easy to transport. Here’s what you’ll need:
- 1 pound fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 large squash
- 1 large zucchini
- 16 ounces cherry tomatoes
- 8 ounces mushrooms of your choice
- 1 medium red onion
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 yellow bell pepper
- 1 packet Italian seasoning
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 10-20 wooden skewers
- Preheat your grill to medium-high heat for 3-5 minutes to burn off any excess residue from prior grill sessions. Scrape the grate and remove any debris.
- Slice your veggies into bite-sized pieces and assemble your skewers by adding 1 vegetable piece at a time.
Note: I highly recommend placing the shrimp on separate skewers from the veggies. Similarly, I also suggest placing the tomatoes on their own skewer. Both these foods cook faster than the other skewers, so they need to be removed sooner.
- Once all the skewers are prepared, brush them (or spritz if you have a spray bottle) with olive oil and season liberally with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning.
- Add the skewers to the grill and cook over medium-high heat. The shrimp and cherry tomatoes only need 2-4 minutes per side. Depending on the heat of your grill, the other veggies will likely need 10-15 minutes of cooking time.
- Once the vegetables are soft, remove the skewers from the grill, and enjoy immediately.
2. Side Dish – Air-Fried Brussels Sprouts With Balsamic Reduction
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 16 ounces Brussels sprouts
- 2-3 tablespoon avocado oil
- 1 cup balsamic vinegar
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- Pour your balsamic vinegar into a medium-sized saucepan and heat over medium-high heat.
- Slice your Brussels sprouts lengthwise before adding to a large bowl and drizzling with avocado oil.
Note: I prefer to place my avocado oil in a small spray bottle and spritz vegetables for a more even coating. You could even brush the vegetables to ensure total coverage with oil or simply drizzle and toss in a bowl to save time.
- Season the sprouts generously with salt and pepper and toss again in the bowl to mix.
- Reduce the heat under the vinegar to medium-low and allow it to continue reducing, stirring occasionally.
- Add your Brussels sprouts to an air fryer and cook at 400° for 10-12 minutes. Shake the tray and return it to the air fryer for another 10-12 minutes, depending on how cooked you like them.
- Once your Brussels sprouts are cooked, your reduction should be quite thick. Remove it from the heat, add your Brussels sprouts, and mix to ensure they’re evenly coated. Enjoy while they are still hot!
Optional: For extra crunch, add crispy chopped bacon, craisins, or sesame seeds.
Note: If you don’t have access to an air fryer, spread the Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet with the cut side down. Bake at 425° for 20-25 minutes until they are crisp and golden brown.
3. Snack – Chocolate-Covered Assortment
When it comes to snacks during the holidays, this is where things can easily add up. But with a few simple tweaks and creative confectionery skills, you can easily bump up the protein content of your snacks and still make a healthy food choice. The trick is to use whey protein and coconut oil as your “melted chocolate.”
You see … coconut oil is solid below 76º, but it melts when subjected to even slightly higher temperatures. So, it’s very easy to melt. Add whey to it and then coat something with it before it rehardens. This is where your creativity comes in.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 scoop chocolate whey isolate
- 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Any assorted snack foods: pretzels, fruit (strawberries, cherries, bananas), nuts, seeds, marshmallows
- In a medium-sized, microwave-safe bowl, add your coconut oil and melt it for 15-20 seconds in the microwave.
- Gradually add your chocolate whey to the oil and whisk it until everything is smoothly incorporated. Add your cinnamon and cocoa powder while continuing to mix.
- Dip your snack foods in the chocolate mixture and place them on a baking sheet lined with waxed or parchment paper.
- Place in the fridge for 2-6 hours so that the chocolate mixture rehardens. Enjoy!
Note: When dipping a large number of items, use the following ratio to increase the volume of your chocolate coating: 1 tablespoon of oil / 1 scoop of whey / 1 tablespoon of cocoa.
4. Dessert – Pumpkin Pie
Pumpkin pie is pretty much a holiday staple. You’ll find it on nearly every table across the United States. Despite the presence of a vegetable in the baked treat, it can be extremely calorically dense. I’ve seen a few recipes that boasted over 500 calories per slice. That’s more than 4,000 calories for a single pie!
Ditch the store-bought pie crust because most are loaded with hydrogenated vegetable oils, offering little taste and an abundance of empty calories. So, this version is crustless to save on calories while maintaining flavor. Here’s what you’ll need:
- 1 15-ounce can of pumpkin
- 2 whole eggs
- 4 egg whites
- 8 ounces fat-free cream cheese
- 30-40 drops of liquid Stevia
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ scoop vanilla whey isolate
- ½ tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- Preheat your oven to 350°.
- Prep your ingredients.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the pumpkin, eggs, egg whites, cream cheese, Stevia, and vanilla extract. Hand mix or use a low setting on your mixer.
- While the batter is mixing, add your whey isolate, pumpkin pie spice, and cinnamon. Ensure your batter is thoroughly mixed before adding to a greased pie pan.
- Bake at 350° for 45-55 minutes or until a fork/toothpick comes out clean after being inserted into the center.
What about macros?
I could certainly put together and share macronutrient breakdowns and calorie counts for all these healthy food choices. But I’ll be honest – it won’t really matter.
Sure, macros definitely matter because they are the basis for weight loss. That is … eat more than you burn, and you’ll gain weight. Eat less than you burn, and you’ll lose weight. But when it comes to holiday meals, you most definitely will not be counting calories.
Well at least, you shouldn’t be. No one needs to know how many calories were in their Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. Just make good food choices.
You could do it. But the entire point of the holidays isn’t for you to crunch the numbers, while worrying about the micronutrient and macronutrient composition of your diet. The focus should be on enjoying time with family and friends, making memories, and relaxing during your vacation.
These recipes are designed to use whole food ingredients with minimal excess calories so that you can enjoy them without worrying about overeating. When you eat minimally processed food in adequate amounts, the body can efficiently regulate hunger on its own. For more on making better food choices, read this article on swapping foods. You don’t have to rely on numbers, calculators, or magic equations!
So, don’t sweat the calories. Whip up some great dishes that impress your family, and enjoy the holidays!