According to the National Institutes of Health, the average American gains one to two pounds during the holiday season. In addition, those extra pounds tend to become permanent baggage. But this year can be different! Remember, it takes 500 calories per day (or 3,500 calories per week) extra to gain one pound. It’s all about creating a balance of food, activity, and fun.

An easy way to save some calories on your favorite holiday dishes is with simple swaps to healthier ingredients. Most of the time you can’t even taste a difference.

Switch out the usual ingredients for low-sodium broth, fat-free yogurt, light cream cheese, low-fat milk, or low-fat cheeses. Or try substituting applesauce for oil or butter in muffins and breads.

To reduce the fat in gravy, refrigerate it to harden fat and then skim off the excess. Eating turkey without the skin can cut down on the saturated fat. Using two egg whites in place of one egg reduces the cholesterol without changing the taste.

For dressings, use less bread and more vegetables and moisten it with low-fat or low-sodium broth or applesauce. Top the green bean casserole with almonds instead of fried onion rings. Opt for skim milk, garlic powder, and Parmesan cheese instead of whole milk and butter in the mashed potatoes.

For desserts, try making a crustless pumpkin pie or replace heavy cream with evaporated skim milk in cheesecakes and cream pies.

Another trick is to take the focus off of food at get-togethers.

Turn cookie making time into non-edible projects like making wreaths, art decorations, or a gingerbread house. Try serving a holiday meal to the community, playing games, or going on a walking tour of decorated homes.

Make sure you move away from the food at events to socialize so you won't be tempted to eat while you talk. Conversation is calorie-free, and the holidays are a great time to catch up with family and friends.

Activity is an important part of the balance to avoid the bulge during the holidays. Make exercise a priority. Set a personal goal to squeeze in at least one workout a week, no matter how busy you get.

If you don’t have 30 minutes at one time, you can break it up into 10-minute bursts of exercise throughout the day to reach the recommended 30 minutes a day. This can be just as effective at maintaining overall fitness as one continuous workout. For everyday errands and activities, parking farther away in parking lots or taking the stairs instead of elevator can also make a big difference.

Larry Jones, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.