From holiday parties to cookie swaps, it’s easy to lose track of your healthy-eating goals in December. And if you suspect that you usually gain a few pounds this time of year, you’re probably right: Recent research from Cornell University tracked the year-round weight patterns of nearly 3,000 people and found that their weight began to rise in October, then increased by about 1.3 pounds during the Christmas-New Year’s season. What’s more, it took about five months for participants to get back to their pre-holiday weights.
The good news, though, is that it is possible to indulge in your favorite seasonal treats and comfort foods without adding inches to your waistline. By making these diet-friendly swaps, you can cut back on calories and load up on good-for-you nutrients.
Here’s how the challenge works: We came up with three weeks’ worth of simple food substitutions that boost nourishment without sacrificing flavor. Since we know you’ll need all your energy for the busy month ahead, we’re kicking off the challenge with clever swaps that trim calories in everyday meals. And because it’s the holiday season, there are also smart tricks to help you indulge in baked goods and party fare guilt-free by replacing fattening ingredients with healthier (but equally delicious) alternatives.
We’re ready. Are you? Show us how you’re using these healthy swaps and connect with others taking the Challenge on Instagram and Twitter with #HealthySwapsChallenge.
Theme: Fuel Up on Healthy Basics
Oatmeal is a tried-and-true breakfast staple. Zucchini? Not so much—yet. But once you swap regular oats for zucchini oats (or “zoats” as they’re called), you may never go back. When grated, zucchini mimics the consistency of oats and gives you a serving of nutrient-packed greens first thing in the day. The diet-friendly veggie also contains just 19 calories per cup and is a great source of potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin A.
For a low-calorie, low-carb alternative to white rice, try cauliflower rice. In a few simple steps, you can transform this superfood veggie into a grain-like shape and size. Cauliflower rice has a mild flavor that pairs easily with your favorite meat and fish dishes and can be used in any recipe that calls for rice. As an added bonus, you’ll benefit from 51 milligrams of vitamin C in every cup, or 85% of your RDA—which is important during cold and flu season.
Whip up this healthier version of chicken salad for nights when you’re rushing from work to gift shopping to holiday parties. By combining a lean protein with avocado instead of mayonnaise, you’ll load up on healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The best part? This dish is incredibly quick and easy to make: all you need is one cooked chicken breast, a mashed avocado, and salt and pepper to taste.
Craving a heartier breakfast? Eggs Benedict is a classic brunch order, but with the English muffin, ham, and buttery hollandaise sauce, it can be rich and not exactly low in calories. For a healthier option, try this version which uses creamy avocado instead of hollandaise. Thanks to avocado sauce and a Portobello mushroom “muffin,” our upgraded dish is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and B vitamins.
Love avocados? Then you need to try this tangy sauce, which is made with avocado, cucumber, garlic, anchovy, lemon juice, and plenty of fresh herbs, making it a healthier alternative to the cold-weather comfort food you’re probably craving right about now. Make one big batch and use it in a variety of different dishes throughout the week. It’s delicious drizzled on top of fish, folded into a pasta dish, or used to dress a salad (just thin with a few spoonfuls of water first).
Instead of spaghetti—another comfort food fave—try spaghetti squash. By making this simple (and gluten-free!) swap, you can cut nearly 180 calories and load up on vitamins A and C, folate, potassium, and fiber. To add flavor, try tossing it with asparagus, rosemary, and pine nuts, or serve with a dollop of whole-milk ricotta and fresh herbs.
By using chopped white button mushrooms instead of ground beef, pork, or turkey, you can eliminate as much as 200 calories from your meal. In one study,…