Healthy Holiday Eating

By: Lilli Rozanski MS, RDN, LDN, Sports and Fitness Dietitian, Thibodaux Regional Health System

The holidays are around the corner and most of us are excited about spending time with family and friends, but endless options of food for the whole family can make it easy to overeat. Although this can be a busy time for most people with work parties, family gatherings, and Christmas shopping, we always have to remember to slow down and take our health into consideration. We know that these events will center around food so I have some tips to enjoy yourself in a balanced way this holiday season.

As a dietitian, vegetables are definitely my jam, so I try to plug them in wherever I can. It is also very tricky to make “half your plate” vegetables if there are no actual vegetables being served. Consider bringing a dish of non-starchy veggies to the holiday party. And while we are talking about veggies, try eating them first before you enjoy the turkey, ham, stuffing and sweet potato pie. This helps make sure you actually eat your vegetables before getting full. They are also packed with nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fiber for your overall good health.

Skipping meals is a popular strategy for holiday eating, but skipping breakfast and lunch to “save” all of your calories for dinner typically leads to overeating. Instead, have a balanced breakfast and enjoy a satisfying lunch the day of the event. Another tip to try is incorporating mindful eating. Mindful eating doesn't tell you what to eat and what not to eat. Being mindful is about eating the foods you enjoy in a new way. When you eat more mindfully, you are using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body. Try to become aware of your physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating. Eating mindfully will also help to not eat something just because it's there. Try to be picky at your holiday dinner. Focus on only eating the foods you absolutely love, and skip the foods you are "meh" about. Also, don't eat something just because it's a holiday food—if eggnog doesn't excite you, skip it. Personally, my absolute favorite part about the holidays is the dessert. Dessert really is a beautiful thing! There will likely be an endless assortment of cakes, cookies, pies, and ice cream at your holiday meal. Have some. Enjoy it. If you want to taste every dessert in attendance, consider having a small sampling of each.

When it comes to alcohol, try alternating between water and alcohol to decrease intake and also stay hydrated. Using seltzer water instead of regular soda can also help minimize the amount of liquid calories throughout the day. For holiday-themed beverages, use non-fat milk, flavored extracts and avoid the whipped cream on top.

I know that healthy holiday eating can make people anxious, but try not to get too worked up. This should be a time of celebration and also relaxation. If you do happen to eat more than you planned during this holiday season, don't beat yourself up. More importantly, don't let a slip become a fall. If you do go overboard, don't get stuck in a food rut. Try to get back to your healthy eating habits as soon as you possibly can.