No-Regret Holiday Treats

Written by: Elsie Velazquez cert. personal trainer at Prescription Fitness (Cleveland, Ohio)

The holiday season is here and with it comes time spent with family and friends eating delicious food – lots of it! While indulging in these seasonal treats is fun, it is not much fun to see the number of the scale creeping up.  It is so easy to get caught up in the spirit of the season and lose track of what, and how much, you’ve eaten throughout the day. Overeating during the holidays can lead to weight gain in even the healthiest people.  I truly believe that it is possible to participate in all the wonderful celebrations (and enjoy yourself) without causing significant damage.

There are several reliable ways to avoid packing on extra pounds this holiday season and, fortunately, none of them require depriving yourself completely.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is portion sizes.  Choosing small portions over large ones allows you to enjoy the “treats” while leaving room for more nutritious dishes. Remember, choosing vegetables, fruits, and protein over starchy, refined grains, and sugar is always a good thing.  If you fill up on nutritious foods first, you won’t be as likely to over-indulge in the holiday “treats” as you would otherwise.

If you have dinner parties to attend and you are worried about what healthy options will be available, why not take a healthy dish of your own to share?  Chances are someone else at that party will appreciate your healthy contribution.

Below are a few recipes I have tried in the past.  They are fairly easy to make and are less detrimental that the usual party foods provided.  I’ve provided one appetizer recipe, one side dish recipe, and two desert recipes.

Artichoke Dip

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Makes: 6 servings


1 15-ounce can artichoke hearts in water, rinsed and drained

3/4 cup cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1/4 cup chopped frozen spinach, thawed and drained well

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream

2 tablespoons part-skim ricotta

1/2 teaspoon olive oil

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

Directions :

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to a rough puree (the texture of bean dip). Spread the dip in a shallow 8-inch ovenproof serving dish and bake until bubbling, about 30 minutes. Serve warm with pita chips.

Nutrition facts per serving:
68 calories, 5g protein, 9g carbohydrate, 2g fat (1g saturated), 4g fiber


Sweet Potato and Apple Casserole

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour 45 minutes

Makes: 6 servings


2 medium sweet potatoes

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch rings

2 tablespoons maple syrup


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the sweet potatoes on a piece of aluminum foil and roast until they can be easily pierced with a fork, about 1 hour. Let cool slightly. Trim the ends and pull off the peels; slice into 1/2-inch rounds. Butter a small (3-1/2-quart) casserole dish with half the butter. In a bowl, stir together the cinnamon, ginger, and allspice. Arrange half the apple rings and sweet-potato rounds in alternating layers in the dish; sprinkle with half the spice mixture and half the maple syrup. Layer in the rest of the apples and sweet potatoes, ending with the apples. Sprinkle with the remaining spices, drizzle with the remaining syrup; dot with the rest of the butter. Cover and bake until the apples are very tender, about 45 minutes.

Nutrition facts per serving:
111 calories, 1g protein, 22g carbohydrate, 3g fat (1.9g saturated), 2g fiber


Red-Wine-Poached Pears with Red-Wine Drizzle

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 50 minutes

Makes: 6 servings


2 cups dry red wine

1 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves

3 large, firm pears, peeled and halved, cores scooped out

1 1/2 cups low-fat vanilla ice cream


In a large saucepan, combine the wine, water, sugar, cinnamon stick, and cloves. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Simmer 10 minutes. Add the pear halves to the pan cut sides down. Cover and simmer gently until the pears are completely tender, about 10 minutes. Gently transfer the pears to a plate. Raise the heat and boil the poaching liquid until it’s reduced to a syrup (you’ll have about 1/2 cup), about 30 minutes. Serve each pear half with a scoop of ice cream and a drizzle of the syrup.

Nutrition facts per serving: 247 calories, 1g protein, 45g carbohydrate, 1g fat (0.5g saturated), 4g fiber


Chocolate-Covered Strawberries:


18 strawberries

2 cups (12 oz) almond bark

½ cup (2-3 oz) semisweet chocolate


Melt almond bark in a double boiler, or slowly in the microwave – do not overcook or it will harden. Wash strawberries and dip them into almond bark until sufficiently covered, then place on wax paper. Once all strawberries have been dipped and placed on wax paper, melt semisweet chocolate and use a spoon to drizzle over all the strawberries. Let cool until chocolate has hardened and keep refrigerated until serving time. These are beautiful and delicious healthy holiday treats!

If you have any questions or want other holiday treat ideas, contact one of our personal trainers at