8 Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating

Medically reviewed by Natalie Butler, RD, LD on April 4, 2016Written by Juliann Schaeffer on April 4, 2016

The thirty or so days between Thanksgiving and the New Year are filled with opportunities to overindulge in food. Unfortunately, the foods you’re likely to encounter are often high in calories and fat.

It’s possible to enjoy your favorite holiday treats without packing on the pounds. By focusing on realistic goals and new traditions, you can make sure this holiday season has you feeling healthy and happy.

1. Set realistic goals

It’s almost inevitable that you will be presented with many food temptations between mid-November and the New Year. Instead of starting off the holiday season determined to avoid all temptation, set realistic goals. Have one slice of pie at Thanksgiving or try one cookie at your office cookie swap, but balance those indulgences with sensible portions and healthy choices the rest of the day.

Instead of trying to lose weight during the holidays, focus on maintaining your weight. You can still eat your favorite holiday treats. Just remember to keep your portions in check and to be active.

2. Make simple substitutions

Instead of avoiding your favorite holiday foods, look for ways to make those favorites healthier. This is a lot easier than it sounds. For example, if you’re baking something that calls for oil or butter, you can replace up to half of that ingredient with applesauce. If the recipe calls for ½ cup of oil, use ¼ cup applesauce and ¼ cup oil instead. This will yield an identical product in terms of taste, texture, and appearance. Plus no one will know except you!

Another easy substitution is to replace all-purpose flour with whole-wheat flour. Or sweeten your recipe with honey instead of granulated sugar. If a recipe calls for full-fat sour cream or whole milk, try using a low-fat version instead. You can also substitute Greek yogurt for sour cream or mayo in many recipes.

There are many online resources that can help you determine the appropriate substitute and the correct ration.  

3. Drink wisely

Beverages can add a lot of empty calories. Alcoholic beverages aren’t the only ones to blame for holiday weight gain. Hot chocolate, peppermint mochas, or eggnog are also packed with calories and fat.

You don’t have to avoid your favorite holiday beverages. Instead, drink them in moderation.

If you want to enjoy a festive drink that’s low in calories, try squeezing a lemon or lime into club soda. Or brew a cup of mint tea instead of drinking another peppermint coffee drink.

4. Savor your favorites

Starving yourself of all your holiday favorites is a recipe for disaster. Instead, decide which foods really bring you joy or make your holiday season feel complete. Continue to enjoy those foods in moderation.

5. Shift the focus away from food

Food tends to play a big role in many holiday parties and traditions, but it doesn’t have to. You can still enjoy your holiday meal, but look for other ways to enjoy the holidays. Here are some food-free ideas you can try:

  • Play a game of flag football with your friends and family on Thanksgiving.
  • Sign your family up to volunteer for a charity.
  • Host a giftwrapping party.
  • Walk or drive around your neighborhood to see everyone’s holiday decorations.
  • Sign up for a fun run or a turkey trot.

Creating new traditions is as easy as finding something that is meaningful to you and your family, and deciding to do it every year. There’s no reason to stop all of your food traditions, but you can celebrate by doing other things as well.

6. Plan ahead for parties

Instead of saying no to parties so that you can avoid food temptations, just plan ahead to keep your healthy habits in tact. For example, you could bring a fruit and vegetable platter to a party so that you’re guaranteed to have a healthy option.

7. Snack healthy and often

Some people might get ready for a big night of festivities by fasting during the day to save the calories. Restricting yourself will only make it more likely for you to overeat.
Instead, snack on small bites throughout the day, which can be especially helpful if you have diabetes. This will help keep your blood sugar from spiking. Try some of these healthy snacks:

  • raw vegetables with a yogurt-based dip or hummus
  • roasted nuts
  • whole grain cereal
  • fresh fruit are also healthy snack options

Just remember to watch your serving sizes. Healthy snacks still have calories.

8. Practice mindful eating

Before reaching for the second helping of chicken wings or a slice of pie, take a moment to ask yourself if you’re actually hungry. It’s easy to overeat while watching a football game or hanging out near the snack table at a party. By accessing your hunger level, you can keep yourself from eating just for the sake of having something to do.

If you’re watching a football game, try keeping the snacks away from the sofa. You will be more likely to avoid overeating if you have to get up to grab another handful of chips. When you’re at a party, consider holding a glass of water. This will keep your hands busy and keep you hydrated. Avoid hanging out near the snacks, where you will be tempted to eat.

More tips for success

In addition to making smarter food choices, you can also try to incorporate healthy lifestyle choices into your holiday season.

Exercise

Getting outside during the holidays can be difficult if you live in a cold climate. Physical activity can help you to keep your energy up, though, which may help you to make healthier food choices. There are many ways you can incorporate exercise into your winter routine. Try taking a walk during your lunch break, or consider taking up a winter sport, like skiing or snowshoeing. Take your family ice-skating or, for a warmer option, try speed walking around an indoor mall.

What you can do now

You don’t have to lock yourself away from holiday celebrations to stick to your healthy eating goals. Instead, remember to:

  • Enjoy sweets in moderation.
  • Plan ahead.
  • Stock up on healthy snacks.
  • Start new, food-free traditions.
  • Remain physically active.

If you’re still having a hard time sticking to your holiday healthy goals, don’t be afraid to speak openly with your friends and family. Let them know that you’re trying to find healthier ways to enjoy the holidays. Having a support group in place can help you successfully reach your goals. 

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