'Tis the Season for Liquid Calories: Use These Tricks for Lighter Holiday Drinks

December 16, 2016

By Kay MacInnis, Registered Dietitian

We all look forward to the special events at this time of the year. There is generally lots of partying and visiting with good friends – mostly centered around food and beverages.

That means we’re taking in a few more Calories – not the mention all the other things that come along with those Calories, such as fat, sugar and salt.

I found these suggestions several years ago in a UPMC Health Beat publication and have shared them with others to help them make healthier beverage choices this time of the year. 

Here are some ways to make your sipping less sinful:


  • Mix it up. Fill half- to three-quarters of your glass with low-fat or skim milk and the rest eggnog. You’ll still get the flavor without all the Calories.
  • Act like a kid. Take out the alcohol. This simple step will significantly reduce the caloric content.
  • Cut the fluff. Pass on that big dollop of whipped cream to avoid the extra sugar and saturated fat.
  • Find an alternative, there are many low-fat or non-dairy versions.

Hot Chocolate

  • Skip the heavy stuff. If you order hot chocolate at a restaurant or coffee shop, ask that it be made with low-fat or skim milk, and without the whipped cream.
  • To make instant hot chocolate at home, look for product packets marked “low-fat/fat-free” or “low-sugar/sugar-free.” Be sure to add the mix to low-fat milk, skim milk or hot water.
  • Go easy on the toppings. Use five to eight mini-marshmallows instead of large ones. If using whipped cream, look for low-fat versions and stick to less than one tablespoon. If you have hot chocolate regularly, try to limit the toppings to once-in-a-while treats, since they can pack a lot of Calories and added sugars.

Apple Cider

  • Read the labels. When buying cider at the store, check its sugar content. Many products contain added sugars, which can increase your Calorie intake. Choose low-sugar and sugar-free options.
  • Do it yourself. When making cider at home, use low-sugar apple juice and a variety of spices (such as cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg and whole cranberries).

Cocktails and Other Alcoholic Beverages

  • If you enjoy cocktails, serve non-alcoholic versions of your favorites to lower the Calories. Be sure to check the nutrition label, because sometimes alcohol-free products have more added sugar.
  • Break it up. To reduce the amount of Calorie-laden drinks you consume during a holiday gathering, drink a glass of water or sparkling water between each beverage. This will help fill your stomach, leaving less room to overindulge.

Serve this recipe at your holiday gathering and you will be a hit. We recently served this at our holiday parties with our employees and couldn’t keep the bowl filled. You can substitute sparkling white grape juice as well. I love to freeze a fruit ring and float it in the punch bowl for extra pizzazz!

Dutch Apple Punch


  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 quarts unsweetened apple juice, chilled
  • 2 32-oz. bottles sparkling apple cider, chilled
  • 2 cups unsweetened orange juice, chilled
  • 1 cup pineapple juice, chilled


  • Combine cinnamon sticks and apple juice.
  • Chill for 2 hours.
  • Discard cinnamon sticks.
  • Combine apple juice and remaining ingredients in large punch bowl.

Nutrition information per 8 oz. serving: 79 Calories, 1 gram fat, 0 mg. cholesterol and 9.6 mg. sodium.


This is another in a weekly series of healthy recipes from Kay MacInnis, registered dietitian at Providence Health in Columbia, S.C.

Kay promotes health and wellness, helping cardiac and diabetes patients eat their way to healthier lives. She works in consultation with the trained chefs at Providence, combining her nutrition knowledge with their food prep know-how to create delicious, healthy dishes for patients and the public. She also conducts a number of health and wellness events for the public, including the monthly Providence Cooks! classes.

"She doesn't just give you the fish, she teaches you how to cook it."

 – a Kay MacInnis fan and Providence Cooks! regular.