Illustrations by Shelly Tan

Some traditional foods are essential to our personal holiday experiences, connecting us to loved ones past and present and fulfilling us in ways beyond what any nutritional analysis could measure. These should be savored and enjoyed for what they are. Personally, two butter cookies made from my grandmother’s recipe would give me more satisfaction than 10 of any other treat.

But most of the edibles at holiday parties don’t have nearly that status, and there is more than one option that will hit the spot no matter the craving. In those cases, choosing smartly means you get to enjoy bigger portions that are better for you. These party swaps illustrate just how much more bang for your calorie buck you can get, without sacrificing a drop of holiday spirit.

7 potato chips vs. 17 pistachios

75 calories


Both bring a salty crunch by the handful, but you can have more than twice as many pistachios as potato chips for the same calories, and the nuts also have a wealth of nutrients. Plus, getting them shell-on means built-in portion control, because cracking them slows you down and the shells pile up, so you can track how many you have eaten.

1 tablespoon sour-cream-and-onion dip vs. 6 tablespoons salsa

30 calories


Besides the huge portion difference per calorie, tomato-based salsas are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, which might help you fight off the colds that tend to get passed around at parties this time of year.

3 tortilla chips vs. 20 pieces crudités

60 calories


Taking advantage of the cut-
vegetable platter means exponentially more crunchy dipping power than you get with chips. Health-wise, the more vegetables the better, so dipping them in salsa is a doubly smart move.

2 mini pigs in blankets vs. 9 jumbo cocktail shrimp

116 calories


For the same calories, you get more than four times as many shrimp, and that volume alone will leave you feeling more satisfied. Plus, the shrimp provide more protein and essential minerals, without any of the unhealthy fat or nitrates.

1 mug eggnog with rum vs. 4 flutes champagne

380 calories


I’m not saying you should drink four glasses of champagne; I’m saying you could for the same number of calories as a mug of spiked eggnog. But even one or two flutes of those tiny bubbles makes a gathering feel like a real celebration.

1 small square gingerbread cake vs. 8 small gingerbread men

260 calories


Get your annual gingerbread fix strategically by going for the cookies rather than the cake. They are much lower in calories and also cuter.

1 cup spiced cider vs. 4 cups spiced tea with 1 teaspoon honey

80 calories


There is nothing like a warm, fragrant beverage to take the chill off and bring you into the cozy zone. If you have the choice, go for an apple-cinnamon or chai spiced tea for the same effect as cider but with zero calories (without sweetener) and only 20 calories a cup with a touch of honey.

3/4 cup mini pretzel twists vs. 3 cups popcorn

110 calories


Popcorn is not just a fun party food but also a whole grain, and it is voluminous, so the portion size is bountiful. The equivalent in pretzels is skimpy by comparison.

1 chocolate truffle vs. 9 mini candy canes

105 calories


Besides the fact that nine slow-dissolving candies will last much longer than one chocolate morsel, you can have a chocolate truffle anytime. It’s candy-cane season — make the most of it.