5 Ways to Eat Healthy and Still Enjoy Holiday Dishes

Oct 26, 2023 | Eating Well

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As joyous as the holiday season can be, it also brings a variety of stressors and anxieties for many of us. If you are trying to watch what you eat, the family get-togethers, the Friendsgivings, the office parties and all those desserts could set you back on your goals.

But there are ways to enjoy yourself without feeling like you’ve fully negated any improvements you’ve made in 2023.

We talked to Louisa Whitmire, RDN, LDN, a health coach dietitian at St. Dominic’s, for some tips on how to do the holidays right and still give yourself a little grace.

Don’t Skip Breakfast

Sure, there may be a big lunch or even bigger dinner on the schedule, but you shouldn’t avoid breakfast (or lunch, either) to make room for what’s to come. It’s called the most important meal of the day for a reason, and that’s because it jumpstarts your metabolism and helps you control your appetite ahead of all those casseroles and carbs.

“Do not try to restrict your eating to save calories for the holiday meal,” Whitmire says. “That can lead to bingeing and taking in more calories than you normally would.”

Commit to Cooking at Home Often

Whether you’re having family over for holiday dinners or going to someone’s home for a big gathering, resist the urge to order takeout or pick up fast food for your other meals — the in-between meals. 

Even if you already have plans to use your kitchen throughout the holidays, keep that momentum going on the “off” days, too. You can control the ingredients (like butter and salt) and add lots of healthy, fresh vegetables and fruits that may not appear on a typical Thanksgiving spread.

We’ve got some ideas for healthy cold weather soups here.

Enjoy Your Meal

Rejoice! Whitmire says you can still eat your favorite holiday foods. Just aim for smaller portions.

“Maybe limit those favorite foods to three or four different dishes that you don’t normally eat any other time during the year,” she says. “Balance out those favorite foods with the healthiest choices at the gathering.”

Another way to truly enjoy the meal? Mindful eating. 

It isn’t some kooky new-age concept. It’s really just about slowing down and savoring the experience. Start off with a smaller portion and focus on how the food tastes and smells. After you’ve finished your plate, take a few minutes to sit back and talk with others at the table rather than jumping up for more. 

It usually takes your body about 10 minutes after eating to register that it’s full. You can always go back for seconds, but you may not need to or may find that just a small taste is enough. 

If you want to find healthy alternatives for some of your holiday dishes, we’ve got some ideas here, too.

Stay Hydrated

Drinking water before a meal (usually around two cups) can help you manage your appetite and avoid overeating. It’s also a powerful tool to keep you from getting dehydrated by all the salty foods and alcohol that are so prevalent during holiday parties. A glass of water between cocktails will also help you feel better in the morning.

Whitmire suggests staying hydrated throughout the day to combat all that food and celebratory drink. Try to drink at least half your weight in ounces of water per day.

Stay Active

“Take a walk or participate in some sort of activity before or after your holiday meal,” Whitmire says. 

This is the time of year that finds us staying inside more. If the weather allows, get outside as often as you can and encourage family members and friends to join you. Even exercise in smaller increments throughout the day can be beneficial. 

Plus, it will help you get a head start on your New Year’s resolutions to be more active.

Need help making a plan to improve your healthy eating habits throughout the year? Connect with one of our primary care providers to get you on the right track.

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