Pumpkin pie, turkey, cranberries, stuffing, ham, mashed potatoes, casserole, eggnog, candy canes, dinner rolls, figgy pudding, mince pie, yule log, fruit cake, gingerbread, cheeses, gravy, and hot cocoa line the dinner table in preparation for a true feast for the holidays. Oh, and don’t forget the cookies! Food is a huge part of the holiday season. In fact, if asked what you like most about the upcoming holidays, your answer would probably include the three Fs: Family, Friends and Food. If asked what stressed you out most about the holidays, your answer would still probably be family, friends and food. Why is this though? Why is it so easy to get stressed thinking about the holidays? And perhaps more importantly, what are you eating?
As much as you may love dear Aunt Gladys' pecan pie and seeing Cousin Eddy, holidays can add extra obligation and responsibility on top of your normal daily activities. The extra stress along with the endless buffet of food options can cause you to make unhealthy food choices and eat more than usual. The good news is that with a little conscious planning and effort, this holiday season does not have to be like the rest.
Below is an Alphabet of Healthy Eating Tips to make sure you stay on track with your healthy eating goals and not stuffed like Grandma’s turkey.
Alphabet of Healthy Eating Tips
Always have a plan. Try to eat at your normal mealtimes. If dinner is going to be served later than you normally eat, simply eat a small snack to hold you over until then.
Bring a healthy dish. If you must bring a dish, choose a healthier option. Remember, just because it is “healthy” doesn’t mean it has to taste bad.
Check in with yourself. Sometimes your eyes are bigger than your stomach. When looking at the variety of foods at the holiday feast, you may be tempted to get some of everything. Before you fill up your plate, ask yourself how hungry are you? On a scale of 1-10, 1 = you are so hungry you could eat a horse and 10 = you are so full, you did eat a horse! You want to start eating when you feel you are a 3-6. You want to stop eating around 7-9. You can always go back for more. Remember, it takes 15-20 minutes for your brain to realize you are satiated.
Don’t ditch the vegetables. Aim to have half of your plate filled with non-starchy vegetables.
Eat the rainbow. Eating a variety of colorful foods at the holiday meal will ensure you are getting a variety of nutrients.
Focus on your water intake. Drink water before your big meal to feel full before cramming down more calories than you really need. Remember, half of your body weight in ounces of water each day is the goal, especially during the holidays.
Get moving. Go for a walk or jog to work off some of those holiday calories. You may also opt to find a fun activity for the whole family.
Healthy recipes. Find healthy seasonal food swaps. For example, instead of mashed potatoes, how about mashed cauliflower. Instead of white rice, how about brown rice or quinoa?
Include a low- to no-calorie beverage. Opt for water with a splash of cranberry and a side of rosemary, or how about a mocktail with sparkling water? These options beat the alternative high caloric alcoholic beverage that you may have typically chosen.
Just slow down. As Alabama sings, “I'm in a hurry to get things done, Oh I rush and rush until life's no fun.” No need to hurry! Slow down and savor each bite. And perhaps most importantly, have a little fun with family and friends this holiday season.
Keep your protein lean. Eat lean meat by avoiding dark meat, and removing the skin and any excess fat before eating.
Limit the carbs. Oftentimes high carbohydrate foods don't just mean high sugars, but also high calories. Limit your plate to only one high carb food like potatoes or that pumpkin pie that you have to try.
Mindful of alcohol. Avoid drinking alcohol on an empty stomach. Alcohol increases your appetite and decreases your ability to control what you eat. If you drink alcohol, have a glass of water or seltzer in between drinks.
Never arrive famished. Try not to skip meals so as not to be tempted to overeat at dinner. If it will be a little while before you are able to eat you may also try eating a small snack to hold you over.
Opt for a smaller plate. Have you ever heard that you eat with your eyes as much as your mouth? It’s true! The larger the plate, the more the brain thinks it needs more to fill up the plate in order to feel satisfied. The smaller the plate, the easier to fill it up, which communicates to your brain that you are perfectly satisfied!
Prevent overeating. Eat smaller portions of higher calorie food. Remember, half of your plate should be non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, salad, brussel sprouts, etc).
Quench your thirst. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water throughout the day.
Roasts up. Choose healthy cooking options like roasting, baking, or broiling your main dishes.
Socialize away from the food table. Once you have eaten, don’t stay near the food table where you might be tempted to eat more. Instead go play some football outside, start a new game night tradition or cozy up by the fire with a loved one.
Try having a cooking challenge. Not everyone is a chef, but have you ever challenged your family members to make their favorite dish with a healthier twist? Here is a healthy mashed potato recipe and even some delicious cookies to give a try this year!
Use the My Plate guide. Half of your plate should be non-starchy vegetables; ¼ should be grains; ¼ should be lean protein. LEARN MORE
Vary your foods. Though you want to be mindful of serving sizes, the holidays are a time to allow yourself to eat foods you wouldn’t eat every day.
Wait to eat, chef. Sampling the foods you are cooking up for your loved ones can be tempting, but it can also add up. So wait to eat just like your guests.
(e)Xamine your plate to see if you are eating a variety of food groups, the portion sizes are appropriate and you will be satiated enough to avoid going back for seconds.
Yes, you can have dessert. If you want dessert, consider decreasing the heavy carbohydrate foods (pasta, bread, rice, potatoes, etc.) you consume at mealtime so that you leave room for that tasty treat after dinner.
Zest lemon or limes. Use the whole fruit by zesting the skin over your dessert or flavoring your drink, which can add extra flavor to your plate with little caloric expense.
Everyone is different. So it is up to you to find the tips that help you get through your holidays with family, friends, and FOOD. Learn more HERE.
Need help customizing your cheat sheet for a healthy holiday season? We are here to support you. Click here to schedule with one of our registered dietitians today!
– Lauree Slingerland, MS, RDN, LD, CDCES