Pecan pie aside, here's what's best left on the buffet table and what's just fine to add to your plate.
The Passed-Apps Party
Daniel Sheehan Photographers
What You Already Know to Avoid - Pigs in a blanket: Just one can have 100 calories, and we envy your willpower if you can stop at just one.
- Crab cakes: Preparation makes the difference here, and it can range from baked (OK to snack on sparingly) to fried (avoid).
- Fried cheese balls: The name says all you need to know about how nutritious they are.
- Cheese straws: Delicious and addictive. The puff pastry alone can be upwards of 100 calories per straw -- plus, the cheese.
But Be Careful With These Too - Buffalo chicken bites: Buffalo-everything is big right now, so you'll probably see some creative takes on the trend come holiday time. The chicken and hot sauce that make these classic bites "buffalo" are fine -- it's the breading and frying that are the problem. Baked versions are a healthier choice. Skip the blue cheese dip either way.
- Potato pancakes: They're high-calorie because they're fried in oil. Same goes for other veggie-fied takes on pancakes, like zucchini fritters.
Fair Game - Caprese bites: Fresh mozzarella is one of your best cheese options, says Jackie Topol, RD, MS, clinical dietician at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell and a culinary nutritionist, because it's lower in fat than other cheeses (just over 6 grams for 1 ounce of whole-milk mozzarella, compared with almost 9.5 grams for the same amount of cheddar) and has a high water content.
- Deviled eggs: Don't be put off by the mayonnaise. "Eggs are high in protein, so half of a deviled egg can help fill you up a bit," says Stephanie Middleberg, RD, MS, founder of Middleberg Nutrition in New York.
- Bruschetta: You're unlikely to binge on these bread bites because the crustiness gives you a sense of fullness, says Middleberg. Plus, they're topped with fresh herbs and fresh tomatoes, an excellent source of the antioxidant lycopene.
- Sliders: Each one will run you about 110 calories, says Middleberg, but they're heartier than a pig in a blanket so you'll feel more satisfied with just one. A 3-ounce patty will also give you almost 13 percent of your recommended daily intake of iron. Remove the top bun for a lower-calorie open-faced option.
The Overstuffed-Buffet Table Get Together
What You Already Know to Avoid - Candied nuts: A half-cup can cost you 450 calories, says Middleberg.
- Cheese logs: Sure, they can be made with low-fat cheeses, but don't count on a calorie-conscious host. Plus, they're usually rolled in nuts or even bacon for added crunch.
- Rich, creamy dips like spinach artichoke and, of course, buffalo chicken.
- Baked Brie wrapped in puff pastry: Brie on its own isn't terrible, at 57 calories per inch-size cube. But puff pastry makes the calorie count climb, and it'll go even higher if there's a layer of jam or jelly between the two.
But Be Careful With These Too - Pull-apart breads: They're popping up on food blogs, and they tend to come in two categories: extra cheesy and extra sugary. And no one is using whole grain bread for the base.
- Charcuterie plate: Per ounce, salami has 106 calories and nearly 9 grams of fat, including more than 3 grams of saturated fat. You don't have to walk away empty-handed: The same amount of prosciutto has 60 calories, and only 1 of its 3.5 grams of fat is saturated.
Fair Game - Mixed olives: Full of healthy fats and relatively low-calorie, at 5 for a large one.
- Fruit and cheese, as long as you watch the cheese portion. Parmesan is a good choice here, with 40 calories for an inch cube. It's also at the top of the cheese list for calcium content—a cube has more than 12 percent of your calcium RDA. (Beware dried fruits, though, as they're much higher in calories than the un-dried versions.)
- Veggies and dips that aren't cream-based, like hummus or Greek-yogurt dips. Put a portion on your plate to avoid mindless dipping.
The Sit Down Dinner
What You Already Know to Avoid - Vegetable side dishes where the veggies are second fiddle: The green beans in that casserole are real, as in a real small part of the dish. The bulk of the flavor and calories come from the cream-of-mushroom soup they're swimming in and the crispy fried onions on top. Be wary of candied yams and creamed spinach, too, where you're eating more sugar and fat, respectively, than vegetables.
- Mac and cheese: "It somehow finds its way onto every holiday menu," says Middleberg. If it's made with full-fat cheese and a lot of butter, it could be several hundred calories per serving.
But Be Careful With These Too - Cauliflower sides: There's a lot of love for cauliflower dishes these days. Some recipes are healthier than the originals (like this whipped-cauliflower recipe that's lower in fat and calories than the potato version), but many dishes use cream, buttermilk or cheese (case in point: cauliflower gratin), which can be very high-calorie.
- Popovers: Sure, they're hollow, but they're made with nearly the same amount of butter as a standard white dinner roll.
Fair Game - The main meat course: Prime rib and honey-glazed ham aren't necessarily the healthiest main courses in the world, but you're probably not eating them very often, which makes a holiday indulgence (with a palm-sized portion) just fine, says Middleberg.
- Vegetable side dishes where the main ingredient is actually vegetables.
- Winter-squash soups made with minimal cream. Though people often add cream to butternut squash soup to get velvety texture, it doesn't need the cream if the squash is pureed well, says Topol.