Festive Starbucks Swaps

Confession time: I am a sucker for the Starbucks red cups.

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I anxiously await the rollout of the holiday cups every year, because they signify the return of my favorite indulgences – gingerbread and eggnog lattes. I love these coffee options, but I also know that they are so unspeakably bad for me. This year, I set out to find a way to enjoy the flavors of the season without completely destroying my healthy eating habits.

I always order my gingerbread latte with nonfat milk and request no whipped cream, but the gingerbread syrup still packs a wallop. A grande nonfat, no-whip gingerbread latte clocks in at 200 calories and an insane 36 grams of sugar. WHAT?! My Fitness Pal recommends no more than 50g  of sugar on a daily basis, and I try to avoid anything with added sugar – usually my sugar macros come from natural sources, like fruit.

The good news? The gingerbread syrup is so strongly flavored that you don’t need the full amount to get the flavor of the drink. If you’re at Starbucks, you can request one or two pumps of syrup instead of the full amount, which will dramatically reduce the sugar content. OR, you can ask about buying a bottle of the syrup to take home! The bottles retail for $12.95 and will last you all season. Stores aren’t always able to sell the syrup to customers, as it depends on how much they have in stock, but you can also order the bottles through Starbucks’ online store. I own a Verismo, the Starbucks-branded at-home latte machine, and I make my latte using half a tablespoon of gingerbread syrup. Along with the milk and espresso pods, my latte comes in at only 9 grams of sugar – 75% less than the in-store version, and just as satisfying.

I’m also a huge sucker for the eggnog latte. Starbucks tried to remove these from the menu this year, and the backlash was so strong that they re-added this drink to the holiday options after only a few days. Starbucks makes this drink with a ratio of 2/3 eggnog and 1/3 skim milk; this recipe results in a drink that clocks in at 460 calories and 48 grams of sugar for a grande. Ouch. When I order the drink in the store, I ask them for 1/3 eggnog and 2/3 skim milk, which helps, but the reality is that eggnog is such an unhealthy treat that the drink is still a calorie and sugar bomb. I limit myself to one a season, and enjoy it for all it’s worth.

To enjoy eggnog options at home with less guilt, I turn to So Delicious Vegan Eggnog. I love So Delicious products; their unsweetened coconut milk is a staple in my pantry. This eggnog is coconut milk based. It’s still in the treat category, with 14 grams of sugar in a 1/2 cup serving, but at 90 calories per serving and 3 grams of fat, it’s a significantly better choice than the average dairy-based eggnog. I like to use a splash of this in my coffee and top with a grating of fresh nutmeg to get that holiday vibe without the full indulgence of the Starbucks version.

What are some of your favorite holiday treats? Any other tips for enjoying a holiday indulgence with less guilt? 

Disclaimer: I did not receive payment for any of the products mentioned here – they’re things I love, but no one asked me to write about them!

Thanksgiving Strategy

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I love Thanksgiving. I didn’t get to this place by skipping the stuffing and mashed potatoes, folks. I love food, and Thanksgiving is filled with some of my favorite things to eat. I want to make sure I enjoy the holiday, but I also don’t want to overdo it. I have my #6W2C midway check in on Saturday and I would hate for lingering turkey belly to show up for measurements! I’m sure I’m not alone in this, so I wanted to share some of my ideas for staying on track this week.

surviving thanksgiving


Make smart swaps. Wherever possible, I’m looking at our planned menu and identifying ways that I can save calories without sacrificing flavor. Here are a few of the things I’ll be doing on Thursday:

  • We always make spinach dip to eat during the early football game. The traditional dip is loaded with calories – mayo AND sour cream! served in a bread bowl with more bread on the side! – but there are ways to lighten it up. I’ll double the amount of spinach so that more of the bulk comes from veggies than from dip, and I’ll be using greek yogurt in place of the sour cream. I’m also providing cut up veggies alongside the bread for a healthier option to dip.
  • My family’s stuffing recipe is built around Jimmy Dean sausage, because there’s no better way to stuff a turkey than with some dead pig (delicious, delicious dead pig). My father would disown me if I tried to mess with this recipe, so I had to look for other ways to lighten up our family gathering. I decided that rather than pan searing the brussel sprouts in bacon drippings, I would roast them with butternut squash and olive oil. No need to incorporate more unnecessary pork products (though delicious. so, so delicious) into an already caloric meal!
  • I’ll be cutting way back on drinking during the day. I love beer during football as much as any girl, and who doesn’t love a bloody mary when prepping the turkey to go in the oven? But at the end of the day, I don’t want to waste calories on alcohol. I picked out a delicious wine to savor with the meal, but otherwise I’ll be sipping soda water throughout the day.

Get out of the kitchen. It’s really tempting to spend the whole day hanging out in the kitchen. We have an open concept kitchen/family room, so it would be really easy to spend all day either sneaking bites of stuffing from the bird (salmonella? what’s that?) or hanging out on the couch watching football. Instead of giving in to this, I like to plan activities into the day. I will be meeting my cousins for coffee in Boston in the morning before we all head off for our holiday plans, and I’ll take advantage of the opportunity to park away from the coffee shop so I can enjoy a nice walk. I’ll also take the dog out for an extra-long walk midday. This will help both of us – he’ll need to let off his pent up energy, and I’ll walk off some of my football snacks before the big meal. (Let’s just hope Boston weather cooperates and doesn’t rain out these plans!)

Choose a smaller plate. This is my favorite trick, even though it drives my mom absolutely up a wall. Plates have gotten steadily larger over the years, and the average dinner plate is so big that it’s easy to overeat. I really do like to have a little bit of everything from the Thanksgiving table, so if I start with a smaller plate, I can fill it with my favorite foods while forcing myself to use smaller portions. It makes my mom crazy that my plate doesn’t match the rest of her table setting, but it’s a strategy that I use all the time in my regular life. Smaller plates = smaller portions!

Take time to enjoy the day. Yes, the meal is a highlight of the day – but it’s not the only thing to enjoy. Make sure you’re taking time to appreciate the people that you’re spending the day with. Share what you’re grateful for over dinner. Catch up with the family members you haven’t seen in a while, and reflect on the previous year. The more the conversation flows over dinner, the more time you’ll take to eat your meal. You spent all day cooking, so dinner shouldn’t be over in twenty minutes! By taking time to enjoy the company and the experience of the meal, you’ll naturally slow down the pace at which you’re eating, and that will give your body time to realize that you’re full. Wait to take seconds – chances are you don’t actually want the extra portions!

Stay active this week – No excuses!  I planned out my workouts for the week, and I will follow through on every commitment, no matter what. I’ve been battling a sinus infection and it’s really tempting to just drown myself in Sudafed and hide from the world, but this week it is especially important to follow through on my workout plans. I’ve got a good mix of cardio and strength training Monday through Wednesday. I’m kicking Thanksgiving day off with an early spin class, and I’m signed up for Turkey Bootcamp with a group of girlfriends for Friday morning. Staying active this week will help me to think about my long term goals and make the right choices elsewhere in life.

Most importantly, remember that this is only one day out of the year. Practice moderation and make good choices, and remember that this day should be about enjoying the time you get to spend with the people you love. Plan for success, but don’t get so caught up in making healthy choices that you forget to savor the day – and the meal.

How are you setting yourself up for success this holiday season?

Tackling tempation

I don’t know about the rest of you, but willpower and I don’t really get along all that well. More than anything, I really struggle with temptation. If there’s candy in my desk drawer, I’m going to eat it. If I open a bag of snacks, I’m not going to stop after the recommended serving size. At parties, I can’t just try a sampling of the appetizers; I park myself next to whatever is most delicious and munch away. With the holidays coming up, I know that temptation is going to be confronting me at every turn. I’ve committed to both #6W2C and #Fit4Fifteen to help myself stay on track through the end of the holiday season, but those challenges aren’t going to take me all the way on their own. I also need to employ some handy tricks to keep myself on track.

Tip #1: Pre-portion all snacks as soon as you get home from the grocery store. 

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I did my grocery shopping at the new Market Basket in my town last night, and I was super excited to find this Cedar’s Spinach Dip, made with Greek yogurt. Cedar’s is based in the Merrimack Valley, here in MA, and I’m a huge fan of their products. They’ve also been generous donors to the youth conference I volunteer with in the past, so I like to support them whenever I can. At only 50 calories per serving, this is a great thing to have on hand for an afternoon snack with pretzels or cut up vegetables. However, I know that if I were to just start dunking carrot sticks directly in that tub of dip, I’d exceed the recommended serving before I knew it. To ward off any temptation, I picked up small snack size dip containers and pre-portioned out the tub as soon as I got home. The tub contained twelve 50-calorie servings, so I portioned it into six small cups to have at work as an afternoon snack this week.

Tip #2: Stock your kitchen with healthy, nourishing snacks. 

You know the saying, “Monkey see, monkey do”? In my kitchen, it’s “Colleen see, Colleen eat.” If you keep your biggest temptations on hand, you’re more likely to eat them. Bypass those aisles at the grocery store and resist the urge to add tempting foods to your cart. You’ll tell yourself that you’ll only have those cookies once a week as a special treat, but we know that’s a lie. That ice cream will definitely not be for PMS emergencies only, and I don’t care how much you swear that you’re only buying those chocolate chips as an addition to protein pancakes, we both know those will end up getting eaten by the handful after a bad day at work. Try instead to make sure that you always have plenty of healthy foods on hand that still feel like you’re giving yourself a treat. Avocados are one of my favorite healthy treat foods – adding them to eggs or mashing them on toast feels so indulgent, but I’m getting the healthy fats that my body needs. I also always have apples, hard boiled eggs, and preportioned baggies of turkey or beef jerkey on hand. These are all snacks that are easy to grab and go if I’m in a rush, and they fill me up and satisfy me without destroying my healthy eating plan for the day.

Tip #3: The freezer is your friend. 

I could pretend that my kitchen is a place where you will find only healthy, nutritious food items. This would be a lie. Yes, I do try to avoid keeping tempting foods around, but I’m human, and sometimes a girl needs a Snickers. I keep a bag of fun sized Snickers bars in my freezer at all times. That way, if I decide I really do want a little chocolate treat, I can go for just one bar. The bar needs to thaw a bit before it’s edible (unless I want to break a tooth!) and that time helps me to limit myself to just the single serving, and to be mindful that I’m treating myself to this snack.

Tip #4: Don’t go to holiday parties on an empty stomach.

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I always have a snack before I go to a holiday party. It’s easier to resist all the tempting appetizers if you’ve already got something healthy in your stomach. I might make a half serving size of Shakeology, or I might grab a handful of almonds and an apple. It’s also a good idea to have a full glass of water before you leave for any holiday events, and to keep drinking water throughout the night. Hydrating will help you feel fuller, and it will also keep you from overindulging in the holiday punch! I know that my already weak willpower becomes completely nonexistent after a few glasses of festive sangria.

Tip #5: Plan ahead.

When I go out to eat, I like to read the menu online ahead of time and plan out what I’m going to eat. This gives me time to think about healthy substitutions so I won’t delay my dining companions when we’re all ready to order. It also lets me preview both appetizers and desserts so I can decide where I’d rather splurge. This type of planning can be harder if you’re attending a party hosted in someone’s home, but there are ways around this! Call the host and ask if there’s anything you can contribute to the event. Maybe you can bring a healthy appetizer option, or prepare a side dish that utilizes lots of delicious vegetables without drowning them in butter or cream.

Tip #6: Don’t forget to enjoy yourself! 

At the end of the day, the holidays should be about having a good time with the people you care most about. Don’t get so caught up in trying to make healthy decisions that you forget to have a good time. It’s okay if you slip up. No one is perfect! This is all about finding balance. Set yourself up to succeed by reducing temptation wherever possible, and you’ll find that your slip ups are few far between. And if you do overindulge on pumpkin pie come Thanksgiving, well, at least it’s only one day out of the year. Get up and go for a run the next day, and remember that every day is a new chance to start over and make healthier choices.

What are some of the ways you resist temptation?
Share your favorite tips in the comments!

Fitnasty for Life
This post is my contribution to this week’s #fit4fifteen link up, hosted by Carolyn over at Fitnasty for Life. Make sure to check out some of the other awesome bloggers in the link up – they’ve all got great stories to share!

What I Ate Wednesday

I’ve dedicated a lot of time to talking about fitness on this blog, but so far haven’t really touched on nutrition. The reality is, overall health and wellness requires revamping both your physical fitness and your diet. Even if you’re working out for two hours every day, if you continue to eat poorly, you won’t see the results you want.

I don’t follow any crazy strict diet. I like carbs. I like to indulge in a glass of wine when I’ve had a crazy day at the office. I think red meat is fantastic, and I can’t imagine a world without the rare ice cream treat. The key, for me, has been finding balance.

I strive for an 85/15 balance. If I eat clean 85% of the time, then I still have 15% of my diet for treats. This doesn’t mean demolishing a plate of nachos at the bar during a Sunday football game — but it does mean I can have that glass of wine with dinner or treat myself to an ice cream cone after an afternoon of kayaking.

I’ll talk more about clean eating in a later post – there’s a lot of information out there and it can definitely be taken to extremes. I’ll clarify the approach that I take, which has worked for me thus far.

Today, I wanted to share a typical day of meals. I work at a desk job from 9-5, so I’m fairly sedentary during the day. I do my T25 workout in the morning before I leave for the office, and I usually take a class or two after work as well. I usually aim for 1400-1700 calories/day.

I track my meals using My Fitness Pal. My diary is visible to friends on the site, so if you’re interested in getting a broader sense of my nutrition, you can view it here. If you wish to add me as a friend on MFP, please click here. Full disclosure, I actually documented everything I ate yesterday, but “What I Ate Tuesday” doesn’t have the same ring to it!

8am – Breakfast – Chocolate Vegan Shakeology – 350 calories

Chocolate Shakeology

I always have my Shakeology for breakfast. I will have a glass of water when I first wake up, before I do T25 for the morning, and then I make my shake before I leave for work and sip it during my commute and my morning email catch up. Today, I blended a banana, one cup of unsweetened coconut milk, and two scoops of PB2 to make a filling breakfast that came in at 350 calories. My recipes can vary but I always aim for 250-350 calories to make sure I’m starting my day with a filling meal.

11 am – Morning Snack – Iced green tea, green grapes, & hard boiled egg – 175 calories

Morning Snack

Every morning, as soon as I get to work, I brew a glass of green tea and stick it in the fridge. By 11am, it’s ready to drink over ice; I add a splash of lemon juice for flavor. I’ve stopped drinking coffee since I added Shakeology into my daily meal routine, but I like the small caffeine boost I get from the green tea. There’s a lot of debate over the health benefits of green tea, but I like the taste and the caffeine, so it’s a nice addition to my morning. I like grapes because they’re easy to snack on while I work, and the hard boiled egg has enough protein to fill me up until my lunch break. This snack comes in at 175 calories, which is just about right for a snack.

12:30 pm – Lunch – Apple, 2 slices sprouted grain bread, natural peanut butter – 400 calories


Not the most exciting lunch in the world, but one that is filling and will carry me through my day. I love Food for Life Cinnamon Raisin 7 Sprouted Grains bread – you can find it in the freezer section of your local grocery store (I know that Whole Foods, Hannaford’s, and Stop & Shop all stock it in my area). I love buying frozen bread because it’s more economical; when I buy fresh bread I end up tossing more than half the loaf because it goes stale before I can use it up. I toast the bread and then top it with all natural peanut butter – I like to buy the freshly ground variety available in the Whole Foods bulk section. Lately I’ve been going with the honey roasted variety, but the unsalted peanut and the almond butter varieties are also both great options! Lastly, I’m in love with this apple variety, also from Whole Foods – Envy Apples. They taste AMAZING! I prefer to buy local apples when I can but it’s not quite apple season yet, so I’m indulging in these until fall gets here. The meal comes in at about 400 calories, which is great for lunch.

3pm – Afternoon Snack – Iced green tea or water and Krave beef jerky – 80 calories

Krave jerky

Danielle, the amazing owner of Studio Poise, turned me on to Krave jerky. HOLY COW IS IT DELICIOUS. The company makes a variety of jerky flavors, and produces pork, beef, and turkey jerky varieties. I picked up the Five Peppercorn beef jerky when I was shopping at Whole Foods last night and I’m addicted. It is REALLY TEMPTING to just keep dipping into the bag, so the next time I buy this, I’ll portion it out at home into the appropriate sizes. One ounce of the jerky comes in at 80 calories and gives a nice protein boost to carry me through the end of the afternoon. The sodium content in this brand of jerky isn’t nearly as bad as some of the other brands on the market, but jerky is a salty food, so make sure to keep up with water intake alongside this snack.

7pm – Dinner – Skinny Huevos Rancheros – 500-550 calories

skinny huevos rancheros recipe

This is my FAVORITE go-to dinner after a workout! Confession time: when I was first starting out on my fitness journey, I would occasionally rationalize to myself that by going all-out in Zumba, I had earned the right to stop at Chipotle on my way home. I was sabotaging myself! I love Mexican food, and it is possible to make a meal at home that doesn’t destroy your diet, as long as you’re smart about your ingredients. This meal feels like a real indulgence, but it comes in at about 500 calories! I topped mine with two eggs tonight because I was hungry after taking two classes at the studio. I listen to my body — if I wasn’t as hungry, I’d probably only make one tortilla. This is also a great recipe to share with someone; just add a nice green salad to round out the meal.


What are some of your favorite healthy go-to meals? Where do you go to find healthy recipes? Let me know in the comments!