The holidays are a time for getting together with family and friends, finding fun activities to keep the kids entertained and, of course, food. Who can resist the smell of freshly baked cookies or a homemade holiday meal?
With a little planning and a positive mindset, you can maintain healthy eating habits throughout the celebratory season and avoid overindulging.
“Worrying about what you can or can’t eat shouldn’t take away the joy you feel when you’re celebrating and spending time with family and friends,” says Caren Sachs, RD, LDN, an integrative functional nutritional approach practitioner in Newcastle. “It’s important to remember that it’s not just about the food; it’s about sharing and spending time with those you care about. If you’re going to indulge, don’t beat yourself up about it. Just eat in moderation, stay hydrated, don’t forget to exercise and try to stick to a regular sleep schedule,” she stresses.
The following tips can help you eat smart and stay healthy during the holidays:
Eat before heading out
If you know you’re going to a holiday dinner or party, eat something before you go so you don’t arrive starving and overindulge. Have a salad for lunch or a pre-party snack that includes carbohydrates with protein like apple slices with peanut butter, a handful of nuts or some cheese and crackers. Be sure to drink plenty of water, which will help you stay hydrated and make you feel full.
Bring a healthy dish to the occasion so you know there will be something available for you to eat that may be healthier than other options being offered.
Grab a smaller plate to reduce the amount of food you consume. Avoid eating sugary and starchy foods first, opting instead for vegetables and protein, which will help fill you up and make you less likely to overdo it with the mac and cheese or pecan pie.
Stay away from the buffet
Don’t stand too close to the food table when you’re at a party. “People often find themselves grazing when they’re next to the snack table,” says Brooke Jacob, MS, RD, CDE, a program manager and registered dietitian at ChristianaCare. Rather than mindlessly grabbing food while you talk, “standing in a different room or farther than an arm’s reach from the table may be helpful to curb continuous grazing.”
Focus on healthy hydration
If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation, and have a glass of water or seltzer in between drinks to stay hydrated. Alcohol intake can increase your appetite and diminish your ability to control what you eat. In addition, beer, wine and mixed drinks, as well as eggnog and other holiday spirits, can add excess calories. Try mocktail recipes to enjoy a festive, booze-free beverage.
Bring your own food
“Bring a healthy dish to the occasion so you know there will be something available for you to eat that may be healthier than other options being offered,” Jacob suggests. If you’re preparing a meal to entertain your own guests, “Focus on leafy green vegetables as the side dish. A salad with a cornucopia of vegetables will offer a rainbow of color and assorted vitamins to pair with a lean protein.” In addition, she says, “Limit added fat and sugar in recipes. Try cutting the sugar content of dressings or choosing a low-fat version of a recipe.”
Modify recipes using healthy alternatives
Rather than serving starchy appetizers, Sachs recommends opting for roasted or grilled vegetables, pickles and olives, dips like guacamole or hummus, or roasted nuts. Substitute yogurt or cottage cheese for sour cream in dips and sauces and use roasted green beans with slivered almonds in place of the traditional green bean casserole.
“If you’re baking, it’s easy to reduce sugar or fat by one-third, leave out salt or cut it in half, replace one-fourth to one-half of refined flour with whole grain flour, substitute skim milk for whole milk, or use evaporated milk or whipped, nonfat dry milk in place of whipped cream in some recipes,” Jacob says.
Stay active and get enough sleep
Try to take a walk after dinner and continue with regular exercise during the hectic holiday season. And be sure to get enough sleep to manage your weight and stress levels.
“Exercise, sleep and hydration go hand in hand to keep you healthy during the holidays,” says Sachs. “Regular exercise promotes better sleep and reduces cravings for fatty or sugary foods. A healthy diet provides you with energy so you’re able to exercise, and getting the appropriate amount of sleep each night allows your body and mind to recharge.”
No matter where you spend the holidays, don’t forget to take some time for yourself, and appreciate the joys of the season while celebrating with family and friends.