Appointment Icon

UnityPoint Clinic Urgent Care - Sunnybrook

5885 Sunnybrook Drive
Sioux City, IA 51106

Current Estimated Wait:
1 hr 15 min

"Working Off" Holiday Staples


With large holiday dinners, it can be difficult to balance portion size, especially when once-a-year treats are making their way around the table. UnityPoint Health dietitian, Allison Hueschen, RD, LD, breaks down what it takes to “work off” those holiday staples, as well as tips to make seasonal dishes better for your waistline.

Knowing whether or not you’re taking the appropriate portion of main dishes, sides and desserts starts with the plate in your hand.

“Try and use only one plate for your meal,” Hueschen says. “Follow MyPlate guidelines to control portions by filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables, 1/4 with protein and 1/4 with grains.”

In addition to breaking down your plate, Hueschen compares traditional holiday foods with what it would take to “work them off” through activity.

 Holiday Food Item
 Calories Per Serving
 "Working It Off"
 Turkey   155 calories for 3-ounces  Walk briskly for 35 minutes
 Mashed Potatoes
  100-130 calories for ½ cup
  (may depend on recipe)
 Bicycling for 20 minutes
 Green Bean Casserole
  84 calories for ½ cup
 Yoga for 30 minutes
 Cranberry Sauce
 200 calories for ½ cup
 Stair climber for 25 minutes
 Pumpkin Pie
 300 calories for 1 slice
  (1/8 piece)
 Spinning for 40 minutes
 Pecan Pie
 500 calories for 1 slice
  (1/8 piece)
 Cross-country hiking for
  75 minutes

*Calories burned are based on a 150-pound person.

While this chart might cause you to panic over holiday weight gain, Hueschen helps keep indulging in perspective.

“Pick your favorite holiday food(s) and indulge in moderation. If your grandma's sugar cookies are your absolute favorite, allow yourself to enjoy them, just not the whole container,” Hueschen says.

However, if you still have items left on your holiday dinner menu left to prepare, she offers these recipe swaps to lighten up traditional dishes.


  • Instead of oil, substitute equal parts no-sugar-added applesauce or other fruit puree in quick breads such as banana bread and muffins.
  • Cut the sugar by up to 1/3 to lighten the dish but not sacrifice taste.
  • Instead of whole or heavy cream, substitute low-fat or skim milk.
  • Instead of using only white flour, use half white and half whole-wheat flour.
  • Instead of adding chocolate chips or candies, use dried fruit, like cranberries or cherries.
  • Use extracts like vanilla, almond and peppermint to add flavor, instead of sugar or butter.


  • If your recipe calls for sour cream, use plain low-fat Greek yogurt instead. You'll cut the fat and calories and add some protein and calcium as a bonus.
  • Use fat-free or reduced fat cream cheese in dips and other dishes.

If the seemingly always-available snack items are your weakness, Hueschen also lists three tips to manage your trips to the kitchen in between meals.

  • Stay hydrated. Sometimes, we think we are hungry when we are actually thirsty.
  • Out-of-sight, out-of-mind. If you know a certain area at work is notorious for housing goodies, try and avoid that area if possible. At home, keep only enough goodies to enjoy a treat and share the rest with friends and neighbors, so you aren't tempted to eat them just because they are there.
  • Keep snacks such as nuts, fruit and yogurt on hand. These are great alternatives to have available, rather than sugary treats.

Lastly, Hueschen encourages you to celebrate without stress. With your normal exercise routine, a few treats here and there won’t ruin your health and fitness goals.

“Enjoy the holidays and festivities – don't deprive yourself. Pick a few of your favorites and indulge in moderation, and skip the guilt. Keep up with your activity/exercise routine to maintain a balance.”

For information on how your diet is affecting your overall health, contact your UnityPoint Health provider.