Have your cake and eat it, too — literally! According to Bravo‘s Top Chef judge Nilou Motamed, you can still indulge this holiday season without packing on the pounds. Yes, really. The 47-year-old dished to Life & Style exclusively that it’s all about moderation when it comes to your favorite eats and treats.

Snack Smart. 

“My main tip isn’t glam but it works: eat some protein (nuts, yogurt, a little chicken breast) before you go out. If you’re starving, you’re more likely to make ALL the wrong choices,” Nilou told us. “Also, if you’re going to parties several nights in one week, drink in moderation. You’ll feel better the next day and you’ll be more likely to make smart (a.k.a. not hungover) food decisions.”

She added, “Be smart about your sides and opt for healthy alternatives — swap sweet potato casserole for roasted sweet potatoes with a sesame-honey glaze. Topping your sweet potato casserole with marshmallows turns a side dish into dessert.” Nilou’s go-to trick? “Drizzle baked sweet potatoes with a sweet-savory combo of Lee Kum Kee Pure Sesame Oil, honey and rice vinegar.” Yum!

“And don’t forget snacks pre-feast. I like to serve hummus with loads of heirloom carrots and other colorful veggies instead of a straight-up meat-and-cheese board. Edamame hummus is a great (bright green) spin on the old-standby. I make mine with organic edamame, tahini, garlic, Lee Kum Kee Pure Sesame Oil, salt and pepper and a little bit of fresh lemon juice to finish.”

Top Chef Nilou Motamed Roasted Sweet Potatoes Recipe
Courtesy of Havas Formula

Moderation Is Key.

Although it’s wise to load up on veggies and protein ahead of time, that doesn’t mean you should deprive yourself altogether. In fact, Nilou — who is one of AdWeek’s 30 Most Influential People in Food — said, “I’m a big believer in moderation all year long and feel better doing the same at Thanksgiving. I’ll have a bit of everything, but I won’t go back for seconds. That said, the turkey (minus the stuffing) is your best friend at the Thanksgiving table, especially if you opt for the lean white meat. I LOVE baked yams — skip the candied ones — they’re full of vitamins and will give you loads of energy, too.”

No, You Don’t Need to Avoid Alcohol!

Luckily, alcohol isn’t totally off-limits, and the brunette beauty’s go-to drink sounds pretty darn delicious and (more importantly) guilt-free. “Mixed drinks tend to be loaded with sugar, which tends to make me crash,” she said. “My go-to holiday cocktail is blanco tequila, mixed with fresh (unsweetened) pomegranate juice with a splash of seltzer and a tiny bit of lime. I serve it on a big ice cube. It’s fresh and festive all at once.”

Swap Out Unhealthy Ingredients.

Fear not! You can still eat your family’s favorite desserts, with a few tweaks. “Holiday baking isn’t exactly the moment to be cutting corners, but you can often reduce the butter in a holiday cookie recipe without impacting the texture. Play with adding in apple sauce or an extra egg yolk. I also love adding sesame oil to my chocolatey cookies or brownies. It adds a great (and unexpected) depth of flavor.” She continued, “My go-to brand is Lee Kum Kee Pure Sesame Oil because of its authentic roasted sesame taste and clean flavor; all you need is a few drops to add a nutty dimension to any recipe. I promise that your guests will come back for seconds and thirds.”

Top Chef Nilou Motame Cookie Recipe
Courtesy of Havas Formula

Calories Don’t Count. (Heck Yeah).

We like the sound of this, folks. “I really don’t think about calories when I cook for the holidays,” Nilou admitted. “It’s all about using the best ingredients available to you to make a celebratory meal.”

Don’t Deprive Yourself.

“For me, healthy eating is really about cooking as much of my family’s food as possible and relying on the fewest processed ingredients. The biggest mistake people make is trying to deprive themselves. Eating well is the secret to eating healthfully.”

Go Ahead, Indulge Every Now and Then!

The former Editor-in-Chief of Food & Wine magazine concluded with a friendly little reminder. “I eat for a living, so I’ve had to learn to eat smartly and healthfully when I can and to appreciate indulgence when I must. Healthy eating is all about joy and balance and flexibility.” Well, what are you waiting for? Pass the blanco tequila, and get eating!

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