It can be easy to overindulge in treats during the holidays, but it is still possible to eat healthy during the season.
Path to improved health
Whether it’s sitting around the family dinner table or munching on endless snacks at a party, the holidays mean food. Lots of food. It can be hard to keep from overdoing it, but it is possible. If you’re hosting a meal or party, or attending one, try these tips to keep the holidays healthy.
If you’re the host:
- Shop smart. Grocery stores can be traps, both intentionally and unintentionally. Try shopping during off hours. Instead of rushing around and grabbing the first things you see to get out of the crowd, you can take your time to read labels and choose healthier foods. Also, try to pick items from the outside perimeter of the store. This is where the whole, more nutritious foods are located.
- Focus on produce. Whether you’re making appetizers or a full meal, amp up the fruits and veggies in your meals. Cook them in ways that celebrate their natural flavors instead of hiding them under heavy sauces or glazes. Healthy swap: Exchange the cream of mushroom soup and fried onions for a green bean casserole. Instead, toss fresh beans with olive oil, garlic, and sea salt, and roast them in the oven for a crisp, light, and healthy side dish.
- Lighten up your recipes. Reduce fat and calories without missing out on taste by making some of these substitutions:
- Replace 1 egg with 2 egg whites to cut cholesterol.
- Instead of oil, margarine, or butter in baked items, substitute applesauce to reduce fat.
- Always use fat-free versions of creamy ingredients such as yogurt, sour cream, or whipped topping.
- Use reduced-fat cheeses in casseroles and salads.
If you’re a guest at a dinner or party
- Eat regularly. Don’t eat less the day of a big party so that you’ll have “room” to eat a lot later. Eat regular, small meals throughout the day. This will keep you from getting too hungry and overeating at the event.
- Eat before you go. If you’re worried about resisting the delicious but unhealthy foods at the event, eat a nutritious snack before you go. It will take the edge off your appetite and keep you from overeating.
- Use a small plate. Research shows we tend to fill our plates, no matter what size they are. So choose a small plate and you won’t be able to fit as much on it.
- Start simple. Fill your plate with veggies, fruits, green salads, and lean meats. If you see a yummy looking side dish that is high in calories, take just a taste of it. You can go back for more later, if you’re still hungry. Chances are, after filling up on all that healthy food, you won’t be too hungry. You’ll be better able to resist the casseroles and gravies that looked so good at first.
- Wait 10 minutes. After you’ve eaten your small plate of healthy choices, wait 10 minutes. This will give your brain the time it needs to tell your stomach if it’s full. Often, after that amount of time, our hunger cravings will be satisfied.
- Limit alcohol. When you get to the party, start off with a low-calorie, non-alcoholic drink, such as sparkling water or a diet soda. This will help quench your thirst. Alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic ones throughout the evening.
- When you eat, eat mindfully. Savor each bite. Put your fork down between bites. Focus on the flavor and enjoy what you’re eating.
- Socialize away from the food. If you’re standing around talking at a party, do it away from the food. You’ll be less likely to spot something that you can’t resist.
- Find activities that don’t involve food. Take a walk. Grab a few family members and take a stroll around the neighborhood. Play football in the yard, or engage others in a board game. Take the focus off the food.
Things to consider
It can be easy to fall into the trap of overeating healthy foods. You might think that because the food is good for you, you can eat more of it. But be aware of portion sizes. Getting too much of a good thing can be just as bad as eating something unhealthy.
When to see a doctor
Your doctor can help you to determine whether you are at a healthy weight and what steps to take to achieve a healthy weight, even if the holidays are approaching.
Questions for your doctor
- What can I do before the holidays to help myself eat better when the time comes?
- What are good foods to eat during the holidays?
- How can I change my habits so that I don’t overeat?
- How can I modify my recipes to make them healthier?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.