12 tips for healthier holiday eating


by Ashley Kadlubar, RD

Nov 29, 2022

‘Tis the season for eating.

You start at Halloween, sneaking the little chocolate bars from your kids’ haul or munching on leftover candy someone brought to the office. Next comes Thanksgiving, with stuffing and rich casseroles and mountains of desserts. That snowballs through the winter holidays, with more parties, more food and more temptation.

It can be hard to stick to a sensible eating plan when everyone around you is chowing down, even if you’re trying to manage a chronic health condition like diabetes. But you can make good food choices while still savoring all the tastes of the season. Here are 12 tips that can help.  

Navigating the food at holiday parties

When you’re a guest at an office or family gathering, try the following strategies:

1. Stick to your regular eating schedule. For instance, don’t skip lunch to “save calories” for the office party later. You’ll be more likely to make poor food choices or overeat if you show up hungry.

2. Stay hydrated. Drinking between 60 and 100 ounces of water a day can help you manage your appetite and keep you from overeating, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It can also help reduce blood sugar levels and boost your energy and mood.

3. Plan your party eating like a dinner instead of wandering among the goodies and grabbing anything that looks good. Go for meats, cheeses and other proteins first. They’ll fill you up and help keep you from grazing. Then add vegetables and fruits to your plate. Hit the sweets last.

4. Don’t stand near the food. People tend to cluster near serving tables or in the kitchen to chat. When you’re close to the food, you tend to pick. And before you realize it, you’re stuffed.

Making your holiday menu healthier

If you’re the host, you’ll want to:

5. Put out lots of proteins. Trays of deli meats and cheeses are easy to prepare and can be garnished with fruits, vegetables and holiday decorations to make them an attractive focal point of a buffet table.

6. Start from scratch when you can. Even the most decadent recipes are usually lower in sugar and fat than what you buy in stores.

7. Substitute. Save some calories from sugar and fat in your holiday favorites by trying some smart substitutions. Sugar substitutes such as stevia, monk fruit, sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners can be used to reduce all or some of the sugar in recipes.  Flours with a lower carbohydrate content such as almond flour or coconut flour can be mixed or replace traditional flour for a lighter carb load. If a recipe calls for sour cream, use the light version or substitute Greek yogurt. If you serve punch, use diet soda or light fruit juice.

8. Think small, especially for sweets. Make mini desserts instead of full-sized pies, and even cookies. Your guests can sample several things without taking huge portions. Muffin tins are great for baking miniature treats.

9. Replace sugary toppings on cakes, cookies and other foods with berries and other fruits. Fresh is best, but you can also use frozen.

10. Offer mixed nuts in place of high-sugar trail mixes with candy and cereals. If you want, you can give the nuts a light glaze to make the mix a little sweeter. One year, I put out an old-fashioned nutcracker with a bowl of unshelled nuts. It was a little messy, but my guests had a great time cracking them open.

11. Make healthier foods fun. For instance, use strawberries, grapes and bananas to make kebobs that look like Santa or the Grinch. Or put several types of fruits on skewers and arrange them into a Christmas tree. This can encourage children at your party to eat the heathier foods, and adults like the whimsical approach, too.

12. Get holiday food out of your home so you won’t be tempted to have just a little more. Don’t stress over throwing out leftovers. It’s OK to prioritize your health. If you hate tossing food though, have to-go boxes at your gatherings and insist that everyone take a few bites home with them.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle

When you’re not in holiday mode, stick to your daily routine as much as you can. Eat balanced meals at your usual times. If you exercise regularly, don’t skip it. It can be easy for workouts to be put on hold during the holidays, but do your best to stay on track.

If you miss a run or have an extra slice of pie, don’t dwell on it. Give yourself some grace. No one’s perfect, and even the most disciplined people will pick a cookie over a carrot at times.

If you have a support person or accountability buddy who’s been helping you work on better eating or exercise habits, reach out after the holidays and get back on track.

You also could make an appointment with a dietitian. Many insurance plans cover this service, but relatively few people use the benefit. These comprehensive nutrition services can help you establish and maintain healthier eating habits.

Holidays are a time of gratitude—for family, friends, good life and good health. They aren’t a time to food shame anyone, including yourself. It’s OK to splurge. Just make the best choices you can for your health during the holidays and all year long.

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About the Author

Ashley is a registered dietitian at the weight loss surgery center at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Grapevine.

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