After the holidays, it can feel as if you just finished a marathon of eating and drinking. The rich meals, treats, sweets and festive beverages were epic, but you might have packed on a little more insulation than you want to carry into spring.

It was all worth it, but now it might be time to lighten up a bit.

There's no need to go on a Spartan diet to course-correct. In fact, a "diet" that makes you feel hungry and deprived is usually counterproductive. When making food choices, instead of embarking on a major shift that you can't maintain, try these three easy tips from nutritionists for being healthier and eating a little lighter in the new year.

Eat more plants

Joyce Hendley is all in on filling up with plants.

"Pump up the volume, not the calories," said Hendley, a food and nutrition writer formerly from Minneapolis. "If you're looking to cut calories but aren't into deprivation, foods and dishes with a high water content, like vegetables and fruits, salads and brothy soups, are a great way to fill up and feel satisfied without bulking up on calories."

Hendley suggests building your meals around those foods — or at least eating them first, so by the time you get to the calorie-heavy part of the meal, like pizza or pork chops, you're already fairly satisfied and won't need as much.

It's a concept pioneered more than 20 years ago by author and Penn State researcher Barbara J. Rolls, who wrote "Volumetrics: Feel Full on Fewer Calories."

"It's strongly backed by science as one of the healthiest weight management strategies, and you're not stuck with depressingly measly portions," Hendley said. "What's not to love?"

Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian and author of "Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies," also suggests piling on the veggies.

"Vegetables are lowest in calories out of all the major food groups, low in fat, as long as you don't fry your veggies, while being high in vitamins and minerals [such as vitamins A and C, iron, fiber]," she said.

With such a large variety of vegetables, they can be eaten at every meal and as snacks and cooked in a variety of ways: steamed, raw, roasted, baked or grilled. Need examples?

For breakfast, add vegetables to an omelet or quiche (think broccoli, spinach, mushrooms) or eat them raw sliced (tomato) or juiced (tomato or carrot).

At lunchtime, add cubed beets to your salad for double the veggies, or add sliced cucumbers and leafy greens to sandwiches.

For an evening meal, start with vegetables as the "entree" on your plate. You can serve roasted Brussels sprouts, steamed carrots topped with fresh herbs and lemon juice, or grilled zucchini.

Learn to love legumes

Hendley also leans into more plant proteins. You don't have to go vegetarian, but adding beans to lean proteins is a smart way to lighten up while also saving a few bucks at the grocery store.

"Eat beans several times a week, if not every day, as many people in the world do," she said. "There are so many reasons to love them: They're packed with plant-based protein, making them an easy swap for meat, and are a great source of filling, gut-friendly fiber. They're tasty on their own, but also absorb flavors beautifully from any broth or sauce. And there seems to be new, yummy varieties to try every time I go to the supermarket."

Canned beans, Hendley says, are the ultimate healthy fast food. "I've always got at least three or four different types in my pantry to add to a soup or salad, or whirl into a hummus or bean dip."

Stop drinking calories

One of the easiest ways to cut calories and feel better is to cut the "liquid calories," like sugary drinks and, yes, alcohol. Dry January is a popular way to give yourself a rest, if you've been indulging in alcohol and feel less than 100%.

Or, you can take the advice of Carolyn O'Neil, a registered dietitian and author, and cut the calories in the drinks you choose.

"Dry January sounds so dreary to me," she said. "I'd rather perk my fitness goals up with a fresh new look at lightening up my favorite cocktails."

To keep the delightfully bitter taste of tonic but to lighten up the recipe, O'Neil subs in half sparkling soda water. "So it's a gin and 'sonic'— half tonic and half soda water, with a garnish of fresh lime or cucumber."

O'Neil's gin and sonics are a better solution for taste and health than using a diet tonic with nonnutritive sweeteners, many of which may have an aftertaste, she said. The catchy name has caught on, too.

"Even bartenders like the term and when I order it they usually say, 'I like that! I'm going to use that!'" she said.

Champagne or other brut sparkling wines — brut indicates your choice will be more dry than sweet because it contains less residual sugar — also are good choices to control calories because some of the volume in the glass is displaced by the bubbles, O'Neil said. For example, a 5-ounce flute of brut Champagne contains about 95 calories.

Raise a sparkling glass and start 2024 with fewer liquid calories — but more veggies and beans — and you're certain to feel a little lighter soon.

Chickpea Fries with Pea Pesto

Serves 4.

This recipe must be prepared in advance. From Robin Asbell.

For the fries:

• 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided

• 2 c. water

• 1 1/4 c. chickpea flour

• 2 tbsp. tahini

• 1/2 tsp. salt

For the pesto:

• 1 c. frozen peas, thawed

• 1/2 c. fresh basil or arugula

• 1 clove garlic, chopped

• 1 tsp. lemon juice

• 1/2 tsp. salt

• 1 tbsp. water


Spread 2 teaspoons of the olive oil in an 8-inch square pan and reserve.

Prepare the fries: At least three hours before serving, place the chickpea flour in a medium saucepan, and whisk in the water a little at a time to make a smooth paste. Whisk in the tahini and salt. Place over medium heat and cook, whisking frequently. When the mixture starts to come to a boil it will thicken suddenly, so keep an eye on it. Once it thickens, turn it down to low and switch to a wooden spoon to stir for about a minute to cook the flour.

Spread in the oiled pan and let cool briefly, then place waxed paper on top and pat to smooth the top.

Refrigerate until completely cold.

Prepare the pesto: Place the thawed peas in the food processor bowl, add the basil and garlic and process. Scrape down and process as many times as needed to make a smooth paste. Drizzle in the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, the lemon juice and salt. To thin to dipping consistency, drizzle in the water with the machine running. Scrape into a bowl for dipping.

To bake the fries: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a cutting board on top of the pan of chickpea mixture and invert to release. Use a chefs' knife to slice chickpea mixture into four even rectangles, then slice each of those into 3 slim slices. Cut the slices in half to make 4-inch fries.

Spread the remaining teaspoon of oil on a sheet pan and place the fries on the pan, smooth side up. Bake for 15 minutes, then use a metal spatula to carefully turn and bake for 15 minutes longer.

Serve fries hot with pesto. An individual serving is about 6 fries with about 2 tablespoons pesto.

Red Lentil Veggie Soup with Spiced Yogurt

Makes 10 cups.

From Robin Asbell.

• 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

• 1 medium onion, chopped

• 1 medium carrot, chopped

• 1 medium parsnip, chopped

• 1 tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped

• 1 c. red lentils, rinsed

• 1/4 c. white wine

• 5 c. water

• 3 c. (1/2 bunch) kale, packed

• 1/2 tsp. salt

• 1/2 tsp. cracked black pepper

• 1 1/2 c. plain low-fat yogurt

• 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

• 2 tbsp. honey


In a soup pot over medium-high heat, drizzle olive oil, then add onion and stir. When starting to sizzle, lower the heat to low and stir occasionally for about 10 minutes. Add carrot, parsnip and rosemary and stir for a minute. Add red lentils, wine and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover tightly. Simmer for 30 minutes, checking and stirring halfway.

When the lentils are tender and falling apart, stir in the kale, salt and pepper and simmer for 5 minutes, longer if you prefer softer kale.

For garnish, stir the yogurt in a bowl until smooth. Stir in the cinnamon and honey.

Serve about 1½ cups of soup in each bowl, topped with a 1/4-cup dollop of the yogurt mixture.

Pumpkin Apple Muesli

Serves 4.

From Robin Asbell.

• 1 1/2 c. almond milk

• 3 tbsp. (1 scoop) protein powder

• 1 tsp. cinnamon

• 2 tbsp. maple syrup

• 3/4 c. canned pumpkin purée (about 1/2 can)

• 2 tbsp. chia seed

• 1 tsp. vanilla

• 1 c. rolled oats

• 2 large apples, divided


In a 6-cup bowl, combine the almond milk, protein powder, cinnamon, maple syrup and pumpkin and whisk to mix well. Stir in the chia, vanilla and oats to mix.

Grate one of the apples into the mixture and stir to mix.

Cover and refrigerate overnight, and up to 4 days.

Serve topped with sliced apples. If desired, drizzle with syrup or add a scoop of yogurt.

Robin Asbell is a local chef, cooking instructor and author of "Big Vegan" and "Plant-Based Meats." Find her at