With large family meals, an abundance of delicious treats, and changes in routines–the holidays can be challenging when it comes to sticking with healthy habits. These 10 eating strategies can help you stay healthy during the holidays while still enjoying everything the season has to offer.
(This post is written by Cheerful Choices contributors, Corrin Coons and Sydney Coons.)
1. Try Simple Swaps
Typical holiday foods are higher in “empty” calories meaning they provide a lot of calories without much nutritional benefit. One way to bump up the nutrient content of these foods while still enjoying holiday classics is to make the same foods but with a healthy twist.
You can do this by swapping out less healthy ingredients for better-for you alternatives. This allows you to get creative and enjoy your favorite holiday foods while still getting the nutrients you need.
Here’s some simple swaps to try:
- Make lower sugar banana bread by using dates to naturally sweeten it. As a bonus, add collagen in the mix for extra protein!
- Swap traditional heavy cream for heart-healthy avocados in these 3-ingredient dark chocolate truffles.
- Swap heavy sides with lighter options like roasted fall vegetables or maple roasted squash. These veggie dishes are packed with fiber which slows digestion and can help you feel fuller longer.
2. Understand All Foods Fit
While swapping out some foods for alternatives is a great approach to creating balance during the holidays, it’s also important to understand that all foods fit. That means if you’re craving that piece of grandma’s pecan pie – don’t feel like you have to avoid it.
Research shows denying yourself certain foods often leads to a harmful cycle of under-eating followed by overeating. Giving yourself permission to eat and enjoy all foods during the holidays can help you avoid this pattern.
Eat what you are craving to a level that satisfies you and then move on without overthinking it.
3. Plan Meals Ahead
Don’t forget about meal prepping, even during the holidays. Life can get busy this time of year and having a nutritious meal ready to go can prevent you from choosing an unhealthy option just because it’s convenient.
Think about how many meals you want to make and what ingredients you’ll need, then block out time in your schedule for prepping. If this feels super overwhelming to you, this is something covered in-depth in this dietitian-led “Coaching + Cooking” program.
And forget about eating the same meal over and over. Try this mix and match method to keep things interesting.
Mix and match method:
- Cook different grains like rice, quinoa, or farro.
- Cook different vegetables like steamed broccoli, roasted carrots, or microwaved sweet potatoes.
- Cook different protein sources like salmon, roasted chickpeas, or baked tofu.
- You can then create several different meals by mixing and matching your cooked items into your own power bowl. Be sure to add over healthy fats like sliced avocado, nuts, or dressing too.
- Have extras? Freeze them to meal prep again later on.
4. Establish Routines
Schedules change over the holidays with kids home from school or days off of work, so it’s important to establish routines. Research shows incorporating healthful habits into a routine is the best way to ensure you stick to them.
Here’s some examples:
- Spend 30 minutes per day doing some kind of physical activity. This could be sledding, ice skating, or walking around to look at holiday lights!
- Try one new healthy holiday recipe per week. Inspiration here!
- Enjoy 3 different colored fruits or vegetables per day.
5. Eat Regular Meals
It’s common to skip breakfast and lunch during the holidays in order to “save up” for large meals or dessert later in the day. But did you know skipping breakfast may actually cause you to consume more food later in the day? This is especially true for habitual breakfast eaters.
It’s important to continue to eat balanced meals throughout the day regardless of what you’ll be eating later. Plus, eating these regular meals can help improve your mood so you can truly enjoy those special meals with friends and family.
Aim to eat the same amount of meals as you would on a regular day.
6. Make Healthy Appetizers
Bringing healthy appetizers to share is a great way to balance out a holiday spread.
It’s also an opportunity to try something new and unique that your guests will love. Getting creative and having fun with these appetizers will bring both joy and nutrition to family gatherings!
Here’s some recipes to try:
- Create a snack board with fresh vegetables and fruits, crackers, cheese, and dips like salsa, guacamole or hummus.
- Create fruit skewers with any fruit of your choice like apples, melon, grapes, and pears.
- Nut butter stuffed dates call for just 3 ingredients and are completely customizable! Add over any toppings of your choice like pomegranate seeds, coconut flakes, or chocolate chips.
- Top strawberries with a dollop of whip cream or greek yogurt to make cute santa hats.
- Decorate hard boiled eggs with peppercorns and chopped carrots to look like snowmen.
7. Start With Smaller Portions
Sometimes our eyes are bigger than our stomach, so it’s best to start off with smaller portions.
For example, when reaching for the pumpkin pie, start with a smaller slice knowing you can always go back for seconds. This will allow you to check in with yourself after eating the first slice and decide if you really want more. It’s possible that a smaller slice is all you need to feel satisfied without being uncomfortably full.
One study even found that eating smaller portions of food caused participants to eat slower and savor their food more which led to greater feelings of satiety.
Start small. If after eating a smaller portion you still haven’t fully satisfied your craving, grab another portion.
8. Tune Into Your Hunger Scale
If you find yourself mindlessly eating during this time of year, it may help to be more intentional and visualize a hunger scale. I like to tell my clients to think about hunger and fullness on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being starving and 10 being uncomfortably stuffed. The goal is to stay around the middle of this scale. This is where you’ll feel most satisfied and nourished.
During the middle of a meal or snacking, take some time to pause and tune into this scale. When you find yourself reaching a 5 or 6 on the scale, that’s your sign to stop eating. This tactic can be especially helpful at holiday parties or Thanksgiving dinner to help avoid overeating.
Print out this hunger scale for reference:
9. Skip the Diets
Going on a diet during the holidays isn’t something we recommend because it’s actually suggested that a less strict diet regimen is associated with long term weight management.
Don’t change what you’re eating just because it’s the holiday season. Like any other time of year–aim to make small, sustainable changes to your eating patterns
Steer clear of diets and focus instead on enjoying all foods in moderation, while keeping your fullness in mind.
10. Get Cooking Help from a Dietitian
It can be super easy to put off goals this time of year and tell yourself you’ll start fresh next year. But why not start now?
If you need more hands-on help during the holidays, check out this unique “Coaching + Cooking” program. In this program, you’ll meet virtually with a dietitian and break down your nutrition and cooking goals into doable weekly goals. You’ll also learn how to whip up easy and nutritious meals in the comfort of your own kitchen. Plus, having a registered dietitian on your side can help you stay accountable and achieve your goals.
While eating over the holidays can be stressful, it doesn’t have to be. These 10 tips can make it possible to enjoy family dinners, parties with friends, and baking with the kids all while staying healthy!
Plus, contrary to popular belief, engaging in these healthful practices doesn’t mean you have to take the fun out of the holidays. There are plenty of festive activities to keep you moving and better-for-you recipes that can support both a joyful season and a healthy body.
Bio: Corrin and Sydney are both Registered-Dietitians-to-be from Westminster, Colorado who are passionate about helping others through food and nutrition. They are both currently Food Science and Human Nutrition majors at Colorado State University looking to graduate in 2023 and pursue their Masters in Dietetics. In their free time, Sydney and Corrin enjoy backpacking in the Colorado mountains, doing yoga, and cooking new recipes. They love sharing their passion for food with others and providing food inspiration on their Instagram page. You can connect with them on Instagram @nutri.liciouseats!