“Healthy” holiday calorie bombs to avoid–and what to eat instead

By: Nicci Micco  |  Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The holidays are here and with them come a multitude of parties—some that we're psyched about, some that we're obligated to attend. All of them, no doubt, will have a buffet table packed with delicious holiday treats: mini quiches, Swedish meatballs, the dozens of clever ways people devise to stuff cream cheese into pastry puffs, elaborate chocolate confections and spiced buttery baked goods.
Discover dozens of delicious holiday recipes that won't pack on the pounds here.
Irresistible 100-Calorie Holiday Cookies
Your tactic for avoiding temptation may be to steer clear of all the special treats and divert yourself with only healthy foods. Great in theory, but not so perfect in practice. Lots of foods that are packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals are also full of calories. And when you're mindlessly munching as you're mingling, those calories can add up fast.
In short, knowledge is power. Don't assume that just because something is healthy it is also low-cal. If you like the healthy treats that sometimes show up at holiday parties, that's great! Have them—in moderation. If you'd rather sample some of the special seasonal treats, just put two or three of the most delicious-looking hors d'oeuvres on your plate and enjoy.
So before you head out to party, check out these surprisingly unhealthy holiday calorie bombs and better bets to choose instead.
Surprising Calorie Bomb: Mixed nuts. Yes, nuts of all kinds are full of heart-healthy fats and the various types provide good amounts of other nutrients too (e.g., calcium, folate, selenium, vitamin E). But grab a couple of small handfuls and you're easily getting a half cup—nearly 450 calories and 40 grams of fat!
Better bet: Go ahead and have one small serving of a spiced-nut mix that feels more like a treat.
Find our super-easy recipe for Spiced Spanish Almonds and more delicious spiced-nut recipes here.
Surprising Calorie Bomb: Veggies with ranch dressing.
Hanging near the crudité tray is a great way to keep calories in check—so long as you stay away from the ranch (or blue cheese) dressing, which delivers a devastating 150 calories and 16 grams of fat per two tablespoons. Yes, I said two tablespoons.
Better bet: If you're just eating to eat (not that I advocate that... but it happens), go for the vegetables, unadorned. Or put a small scoop of hummus on your plate. It has a more reasonable 50 calories and 3 grams of fat.
Related: Party-Perfect 100-Calorie Appetizer Recipes
Surprising Calorie Bomb: Cheese and crackers. On any ordinary day, you'd know that cheese is a high-fat, high-cal choice—but when those simple little cubes are sitting there amid all the holiday treats, they start to look like a good choice. Beware: If you grab five of those little 1-inch cubes, you've just housed 345 calories. Add a small handful of crackers to that and you're easily at 500 calories.
Better bet: If you truly want cheese and crackers, limit yourself to a few—say five crackers (about 80 calories) and top each with a very thin layer of a cheese spread (think: goat cheese or even cheese ball).
Surprising Calorie Bomb: Spiced cider. It's an office party and you're staying away from the spiked punch for various reasons. But if you're trying to be festive with a couple cups of spiced cider (240 calories), you're doing just as much damage as you would if you were having a glass of wine—from a calorie perspective anyway.
Better bet: Stick to 1 cup of cider, then switch to seltzer with lime.
Related: Looking to serve something special at your party? Try one of these healthy, warm winter drinks!