Quarantine pounds + holiday pounds = too much weight gain.
Being mindful of holiday healthy eating can ensure you enjoy the holidays without overdoing it and adding inches to your waistline.
This year, you’re probably looking forward to the holidays more than ever. It’s understandable to want to indulge in all of your favorite foods. Even a small, low-key Thanksgiving or Christmas event is going to have some temptation to enjoy all the good food. Because after a year like 2020, we all deserve some joy, right?
That’s why we’ve put this short holiday healthy eating guide together: To help you enjoy your food-centered holidays without getting too carried away.
Below you’ll find:
- Tips on how to avoid high-calorie fat traps
- How to make make your holiday meals healthier
- Advice for both hosts and guests on holiday healthy eating
Plus, you’ll get fun tips for “working off” that extra slice of pie if you do happen to go a little overboard.
Here’s to having a happy, healthy holiday with plenty of opportunities to enjoy delicious food and good company without guilt!
Holiday Healthy Eating: Where the Calories Sneak In
The holidays are known for making it easy to say yes to all the sweet treats and other delicious foods. If you have events or gatherings you’re planning to attend for the next several weeks, knowing which foods to eat less of can be helpful — especially if you have more than one party in a single day!
Here’s a look at ways the calories stack up faster than you can say, “Happy Holidays!”
Limit or skip these foods and drinks when you can:
There’s no doubt that calories add up quickly when you drink them. This is especially true for fancy holiday-inspired cocktails or the holiday booze punch bowl. Even a few drinks can total 500 calories or more, especially when poured with mixers or fruit juices that contain a lot of sugar.
Calorie-cutting tip: If you want to have a drink, opt for a smaller glass. Check out an alcohol calorie counter here!
These food pit stops before the main meal arrives can be deceiving. Before you fill up on deviled eggs, spinach artichoke dip, and crab-stuffed puff pastries, remember that there is usually a main course dish coming. Try your best to eat a small protein-filled snack prior to heading to a party where you know there will be food. It keeps you from going overboard when your stomach already has food in it!
Calorie-cutting tip: If you’re super hungry and can’t help yourself, stick to lighter options when possible like veggies sans ranch dressing, chips with salsa, or shrimp cocktail. Then, when mealtime comes around, take a smaller portion and go from there!
Is there anything better than warming up with a good cup of coffee? It’s no secret that during this time of year, the coffee shops get creative with festive holiday drinks that are oh-so-tempting and delicious-looking. With the added flavored syrup, whipped cream, and fancy toppings, it’s more of a sugar-laden dessert than a pick-me-up beverage. Whether you pick one up on the way to do holiday shopping or as a sugar rush before an evening party, opt for plain black coffee if you want the energy but not the sugar crash.
Calorie-cutting tip: If you love your after-dinner cup of caffeine, opt for black coffee. It has less than five calories but still gives you the health perks of coffee.
Decadent desserts make their appearance well known this time of year. From pumpkin pie piled high with whipped cream to dark chocolate brownies and more, you’re bound to run into some tempting treats. Not surprisingly, the average American consumes more than 150 pounds of sugar a year. A good portion of that can easily be consumed during the holidays, including hidden refined sugars that can make you feel bloated and add inches to your waistline.
Calorie-cutting tip: When there are too many tempting treats in one spot, you have two options: Move away from the dessert tray, table, display or survey the options and pick one or two small helpings of your favorites.
Create a Healthier Version of Your Favorite Holiday Recipes
There’s no need to skip your favorite holiday staples this season. You’ll just want to be mindful of high-calorie options and how to make them a bit healthier. There are always ways to make healthier versions of your favorites if you’re open to trying them!
Some swaps to consider to make healthier options:
If you love: Sweet potato casserole
Try: Baked sweet potatoes with coconut oil and cinnamon
If you love: Eggnog
Try: A low-fat or low-sugar option
If you love: Turkey
Try: Skipping the fried turkey and skin; go for white meat
If you love: Mashed potatoes
Try: Sweet mashed potatoes with skim milk
If you love: Baked spaghetti or pasta
Try: Spiralized zucchini or spaghetti squash
If you love: Creamy dips and chips
Try: Swapping the mayo in a recipe with mashed avocado or Greek yogurt
If you love: Mac and cheese
Try: Butternut squash mac and cheese
Holiday Healthy Eating Means Planning Ahead
Whether you’re the host or the guest, sticking to a holiday healthy eating plan means planning ahead. That includes planning ahead for shopping, meal planning, and party-going to ensure healthy options are available.
Here are a few tips for hosts and guests alike on keeping meal time healthy:
If You’re the Host:
- Shop calm - Do your best to plan ahead to shop when you’re not hungry. This will prevent you from grabbing extra snacks or “what looks good” because your stomach is grumbling. You’ll also want to have an organized shopping list so you don’t overshop. If you plan ahead to shop during off-hours, you’ll also avoid crowds and the urge to rush through and grab unnecessary items.
- Keep veggies visible - If you’re setting up a traditional buffet style, you can place the vegetables up front. This encourages guests to serve themselves veggies while there’s plenty of room on their plate. Think sweet potato mash, roasted asparagus, fresh garden salad, and roasted veggies.
- Have a flavored water station - Thirst and hunger can quite easily get mixed up. Have a beautiful water station set up with flavored water options. Display pitchers or water dispensers where guests can refuel and rehydrate. A variety of flavor options like lemon water, strawberry-mint lime water, and lemon-mint water offers a refreshing twist while staying hydrated.
- Ask guests what they plan to bring - This can make it easier to plan your menu and include healthier options — especially if Aunt Betsy instists she is bringing her coconut cream puffs, coconut cream pie, and coconut rum no matter what. Asking ahead allows you to fill in nutritional gaps like the need for more greens or protein.
- Go for lighter desserts - You may opt to have lighter dessert options available for guests, especially if you’re trying to not tempt yourself. Options to include on the menu: fresh fruit, diced and baked cinnamon apples or pears, or a two-ingredient vegan chocolate banana ice cream.
Ideas for Light & Healthy Hors d'oeuvres
When in doubt, add more greens to your menu. Or, get creative and blend veggies into a variety of tasty appetizers like the options below!
If You’re the Guest:
Don’t “save” calories - There’s no such thing as “saving your calories” for a holiday meal. If you show up starving, you’ve slowed your metabolism to burn off calories during the day and you’re more likely to consume far more calories than you typically would. Plus, you won’t have the energy required to meet and greet loved ones if you’re hungry.
Bring your own food - Your host will think of it as a nice gesture. And, worst-case scenario, if there’s nothing healthy for you to eat, you’ll have a fallback. A healthy appetizer with crudités and hummus or even a black bean salad or grilled chicken salad are great options to bring.
Go for the small plates - When possible, opt for a smaller plate. That means less room for extra food that you may not necessarily need or have room for! A smaller plate will also trick your brain into thinking you have more food than you do.
Eat slowly - You’ve probably heard it takes 20 minutes for your brain to register that you're full. Consider setting your utensils down in-between bites to better gauge your fullness level. Sip water as well. Once your plate is cleared, wait a bit to see if you still need that second helping. Savor each flavor and taste!
Don’t take it home - As tempting as it is to take a few extra slices of your best friend’s amazing chocolate cake home, don’t do it! Unless you’re at risk of hurting her feelings. Then, you might want to insist on a smaller piece. Or, you can plate it up and bring it to your favorite neighbor. No harm in sharing, right?
Tips to “Work Off” That Holiday Dinner
Whether you love to dance, decorate, or spend time outdoors, there are plenty of ways to burn off your meal in a fun, active way.
Consider trying to burn some calories by:
- Starting early in the day - Take an early morning neighborhood walk/run, do your annual “Turkey Trot” or Christmas run event, rake leaves before relatives arrive, etc. to get your blood flowing and your heart rate up. Burn some calories before you even sit down for dinner.
- Socializing away from the food - Get outside with the family. Sit around a bonfire if it’s cold enough. Play a game of tag. Anything that stops you from snacking and grazing too much throughout the day is a good activity!
- Putting up the holiday lights and decor - If you haven’t had a chance to do it yet, consider putting up your holiday decor a bit early. You can opt to do this after dinner to keep moving and burn some calories.
- Starting a snowball fight - If your area already has snow, start a playful snowball fight with your dinner guests. Not only does it burn calories, but it creates wonderful memories for years to come.
- Dancing - Put on your favorite holiday tunes and host a dance-off in your living room. It gets everyone into the holiday spirit and encourages movement — instead of sitting around — to better let your meal digest.
Holiday Healthy Eating Doesn’t Have to Be Hard
The holidays and its related festivities don’t have to put you in a tough spot with your health.
In fact, it’s an excellent opportunity to try new foods and discover some healthy new favorites!
With a little planning, some research, and willingness to explore new alternatives, you may find there are some holiday healthy foods you’ll make a part of your annual tradition from here on out. With the proper tweaks and open mind, you’ll probably find healthy eating during the holidays isn’t as hard as you think.
Whether you’re the host or the guest, we hope this guide helps you to make the best healthy eating choices that work well for you. Remember this year the safest way to celebrate the holidays is to celebrate with people in your household. If you do plan to spend time with people outside your household, take steps to make your celebration safer.
From all of us here at TotalWellness, we wish you a healthy and happy holiday season!
What are some of your favorite tips for ensuring holiday healthy eating goes as planned? Share your thoughts in the comments below!