Counting Calories, Holiday Overeating and Cooking Substitutes: Tips for Eating Healthy from the Experts

Category: Features

By Jane Hudson

Let’s face it, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be hard. With so many dining options available, maintaining a proper diet is a difficult task. On top of that, the holidays come with their own set of challenges—seasonal foods that only appear once a year are too tempting to pass up.

Two UT nutritionists, Janie Burney from UT Extension and Charlene Schmidt from UT Chattanooga, have some tips for sustaining a healthy diet, both during and after the holidays.

1. Is it effective to count calories or should I be tracking other aspects of my diet? 

Burney: I suggest that you start tracking everything you eat. Set a number of calories for yourself, depending on your size and physical activity, and try to stay near that number. Write it down on a daily basis. Weighing yourself once a week also will help you keep track of your progress toward losing or maintaining your weight. 

Schmidt: The number of calories needed in a person’s diet differs according to a variety of factors including gender and genetics. The type and amount of foods consumed are key. For example, there are about 150 calories in 3 cups of carrots as opposed to 150 calories in 2 teaspoons of ranch dressing. They are the same amount of calories but have big differences in quantity, so make sure you’re paying attention to the serving size when consuming your food. The type of fat being consumed is also important. A mix of both saturated fats (lard, butter and bacon) and monounsaturated fats (olive oils, canola oils and plant stanols) is desirable rather than just all of one type. 

2. With the football season underway and the holiday season approaching, how can I avoid overeating at tailgates and holiday parties? 

Burney: When you are at these types of parties, search for the fruits, vegetables and low-calorie options. If you fill yourself up on these kinds of foods, you will not overeat on the other unhealthy choices at the party. 

Schmidt: I know that the holiday season is filled with delicious and high calorie/high fat appetizers. Not to mention all the alcohol, which adds even more calories and can increase your hunger. I suggest trying to stay away from the buffet table and avoiding the deep-fried, heavily breaded appetizers that have high fat dressings/dips served with them. Make a conscious effort to plan out what you may be consuming ahead of time so you have a strategy to make it through the event. Eating a small nutritious snack of fruits and veggies prior to attending the event can cause hunger to subside. Consuming fluids like sparkling water with your meals or hot beverages like coffee or tea also will help reduce hunger. 

3. What are some tips for conquering cravings? 

Burney: Cravings are harder to break if they are consumed for a long period of time. I know that we all usually cave into our cravings on Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays and that’s okay. It’s only a few days a year, so allow yourself to eat your favorite foods. Try not to take these unhealthy foods, especially those you crave, home from a holiday gathering or party. Instead, keep fruits and vegetables cut and ready-to-eat at home. Having these options will make you reach for healthy alternatives while also keeping you fuller longer. 

Schmidt: If you are craving chocolate or a cookie, my advice is to eat it in a small amount. Take a small portion and place it in a bowl away from the entire bag of treats. If you’re unable to avoid eating the entire bag, try not purchasing it. Eating protein will also help curb the hunger. Items such as cheeses made with low fat/skim milk, Greek yogurt with fruit, cottage cheese, lean meat, garbanzo beans or black beans can all be healthy options to keep you fuller longer. However, try to find yogurts that have 16 grams of sugar or less on the label, or choose the one with zero added sugar. You also will want to add your own honey, fruit and nuts. 

4. What are some of your favorite healthy cooking/baking substitutes? 

Burney: In baking, it’s harder to find substitutes. You almost always have to find those recipes that are specifically written with healthy eating in mind. However, with flour, you can substitute up to half of what the recipe called for with whole grains, adding more fiber to the recipe. You also can substitute sugar with non-caloric sweeteners like Truvia or Splenda. Fruit is also a good option for added sweetness because of their natural sugars. 

Schmidt: Many recipes with substitutes call for black beans in burgers, avocado in brownies or applesauce in cakes to replace the fat. Keep in mind that the end result might not taste the same or have the same texture or fluffiness, but sometimes people find that the flavor is surprisingly excellent or even better. 

5. Here’s a healthy holiday recipe for you to try! This recipe is from Melissa Powell, a UT Chattanooga dietetics clinical instructor. The original is found on


2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

Kosher salt and black pepper

2 small sweet potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 cup Arborio rice

1 cup of dry white wine

½ cup of grated Parmesan

2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano

How to Make It

• Heat up oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, ½ teaspoon of salt, and ½ teaspoon of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 3-5 minutes.

• Add sweet potatoes and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, 1 minute.

• Add rice and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring frequently, until absorbed.

• Measure 3 ½ cups on water. Add ¾ cup at a time and cook, stirring occasionally and waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding the next. It should take about 25 to 30 minutes for all of the water to absorb.

• Stir in Parmesan and oregano.

Nutritional Info

Calories: 375 / Fat: 11g o / Saturated Fat: 3g / Calories from Fat: 27%  / Cholesterol: 10mg / Sodium: 527g / Protein: 12g / Carbohydrates: 54g / Fiber: 5g / Sugar: 5g


Tags: ,