Eating Healthy During the Holidays


Nutrition and the holidays seem to go together as well as water and oil. With so many indulgent treats, it may seem as though only two options for people focused on healthy eating exist this time of year: give in and pig out on all the holiday foods, or sip water and munch on saltines while the rest of the party has fun.


Fortunately for all those who love the holidays but don’t want to undo all their hard work, little tricks and helpful hints can help you enjoy a holiday party without feeling bloated afterward.

“Following a healthy lifestyle is a 365-days-a-year [commitment] and already includes consuming the foods you love to eat, especially during the holidays,” Brooke Schantz, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, Registered Dietitian, Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics and CEO of Bitchin’ Nutrition said in an email. “I encourage my clients to plan and prepare for eating around the holidays using the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of the time my clients consume meals that contain vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats and quality protein choices, while 20 percent of the time they consume their favorite holiday foods in moderation.”

Mentally preparing for and practicing moderation during a holiday party both play important roles in maintaining a healthy diet. Athletes used to having game plans for workouts or competitions can use the same mindset towards eating at a holiday party. If Aunt Mary’s apple pie is too hard to pass up, enjoy it while avoiding your sister’s iced cookies, Schantz said. Additionally, try to cover half your plate with vegetables so unhealthy food doesn’t take over.

Extras cause the most damage, dietetic technician and registered nutritionist Valerie Bannos said. Doubling up on a dessert or having two kinds of one dish quickly adds up. She also said to avoid “grazing” on appetizers and snacks left out before a meal. These mindless calories can cause more of a problem than the big dishes.

Part of preparing for a big meal comes in planning what to eat. Instead of stuffing, have a salad. Avoid putting extra butters or gravy over foods. However, like Schantz, Bannos said to make sure to still enjoy the meal. “It’s the holidays. You don’t want to not enjoy them,” Bannos said.

Both Bannos and Schantz said suggest bringing a healthy dish to a holiday party. Not only will it give you a nutritious option, but will also earn you bonus points with the host, Schantz said. Bannos said when deciding what to bring, try to find one of the more unhealthy aspects of the meal and replace it with a better option. If asked to bring a dessert, bring something full of fruit. If bringing an appetizer, find something with plenty of vegetables.

Preparation for a big meal can start weeks in advance. Having healthy eating habits can help give you the willpower to stay strong through holiday meals, Bannos said. That same thought goes into the morning of the holiday. Bannos recommends getting up early and enjoying a healthy breakfast followed by a workout. Schantz also suggests a morning workout and not arriving at the party hungry.

Water can be the secret ally for the healthy eater. Schantz said she advises everyone to drink plenty of water to increase feelings of fullness and prevent overeating. Bannos said using a glass of water to separate alcoholic drinks can also prevent overeating.

Eating right around the holidays can seem a daunting task. However, as with any race or athletic endeavor, the proper planning and desire to stay healthy can do wonders.