Christmas used to mean being able to stay up a little later to watch an old movie on television, or staying out a little later hustling and bustling to get shopping done. The holidays meant that all the kids would pile into the car with Mom to take baked things and other presents to friends and relatives. Cookies and coffeecakes were delivered in return, candy canes decked the tree (free for the taking) and dinners became lavish affairs.

Now Christmas means staying up later to do last-minute wrapping and assembling. Hustle and bustle translates these days into finding a parking space at Tysons Corner. The only prices that seem higher than store-bought gifts are the ones tacked to butter, cinnamon and chocolate. Cookies and coffeecakes are still delivered; parties abound and fellow workers begin to bring cakes and candy to the office.

Jaded wallets and palates might take the edge off the holidays, but if one knows the obstacles to the healthiest holiday, one might prevent overspending and overconsumption.

Hearty meals with small price tags are in order on those pre-Christmas days between parties. One looks for simplicity among the plum pudding, fruitcake and butter cookies. The following meal is virtually devoid of fat -- excluding the small amount that might cling to the chicken, and the mayonnaise on the sandwich, should it be included. Potato soup warms on a chilly day. Chicken sandwiches nourish in a clean, fresh-tasting way.

The express lane list allows for eight items or less. It is assumed that all kitchens are equipped with salt, pepper, flour, sugar and some kind of butter or oil. If you're allowed more items, include chives to sprinkle on top of your soup, and anything from mayonnaise to exceptional-looking tomatoes to make the sandwich more interesting.

EXPRESS LANE LIST: potatoes, onion, celery, skim milk, dill weed, chicken, pita bread, alfalfa sprouts. POTATO SOUP (2 to 4 servings) 4 potatoes (peeled or unpeeled, as preferred), diced 1 onion, diced 2 stalks celery, diced (save leaves) 3 cups water 2 cups skim milk 1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed Freshly ground pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in a saucepan. Simmer over 20 minutes or until potatoes are soft. Pure'e if preferred. Spoon into heated bowls and sprinkle with chopped celery leaves. CHICKEN POCKETS (2 to 4 servings) 2 chicken breast halves 2 large pita bread rounds or 4 small ones Salt and freshly ground pepper Butter Alfalfa sprouts

Put chicken breast halves in simmering water and cook about 20 minutes, or until just barely cooked (overcooking makes chicken breasts drier, which increases the need for mayonnaise or butter). Remove from liquid and set aside to cool (you may use this liquid to replace some of the water in your potato soup, if desired). Cut pita bread in half and spread pockets with butter, if desired. Remove skin from chicken and then meat from bones. Slice chicken meat and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Divide meat equally among pocket bread and then add sprouts.