How to have a healthy holiday


By: Kendrin Sonneville, ScD, RD, LDN, Division of Adolescent Medicine, Children’s Hospital, Boston

With Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, and the new year here, the holidays are a time for fun and family togetherness. From eggnog to Santa-shaped sugar cookies, the holidays are full of sweetness and family traditions. We shop together, play together and, yes, eat together.

Sometimes it can be difficult to maintain your “normal” eating habits around the holidays. I tell my clients that they should stick to their routine and not feel they have to eat differently because it’s the holidays. It doesn’t have to be “all unhealthy or nothing.”

As a nutritionist, I have helped families to put a “healthy twist” on old holiday traditions. One family I know switched from baking huge batches of holiday cookies to smaller ones. That way instead of nibbling on them throughout the season, they have a reasonable amount to share between them. They even make Christmas cookie ornaments by poking a hole in the top of a decorated cookie and threading a ribbon through it while it is still warm!

With holiday parties plentiful, sometimes it can be a challenge to say “no” to some of that heavy food and maintain those regular eating habits. Here are some tips to help you have a healthy holiday season:

  • Make sure all the food groups are represented at each meal. For example, include fruit in a salad or as part of dessert. Stuffing gets a bad rap, but if eaten like any other grain (rice, bread, or potatoes) it can be part of a healthy meal. Just try not to double or triple up on the grains at meals – leave space for some protein and veggies!
  • Eat when you’re hungry and listen to your body when it tells you you’re full.
  • Put a healthy twist on an old favorite. Instead of creamed spinach, try a spinach salad. Try a cranberry spritzer, or healthier eggnog instead of traditional eggnog.
  • If your family is going to a holiday party, be the one to bring the healthy dish! Try a fruit salad, veggie plate with hummus, or deviled eggs made with light mayonnaise or Greek yogurt.
  • It’s dessert. We eat it for a reason. Savor that first delicious bite. Since nothing tastes as good as the first bite, serve yourself a small portion of your favorite treat and so you’ll be able to stop while you’re ahead.
  • Figure out which holiday food is your favorite and eat it! Don’t deny yourself. Feeling deprived or restricted takes away from your holiday experience. Just eat in moderation.
  • Use low-fat dairy in cream or milk-based sauces, such as eggnog or mashed potatoes. People won’t notice the difference and it cuts out a lot of unnecessary calories.
  • On the day of a holiday party, eat as you would on any other day. If you go to a holiday party feeling really hungry, you might not make the best food choices and are more likely to overeat. If the party is late in the evening, have a small snack, preferably a protein, like a small handful of nuts or yogurt, to keep you from overeating later on.
  • Make small, healthy changes when possible. Find places to use low-fat and low-calorie ingredients. Substitute apple sauce for some of the oil in baked goods, or use sugar substitute in place of sugar in recipes that don’t require cooking (like my mom’s delicious cranberry salad!). Make gravy in time to refrigerate it and skim the fat off the top.

In addition to eating, the holidays are also a time for spending time with family. Every Thanksgiving morning, my family does a 5 K “turkey trot.” We wear funny costumes and run around the city. It makes for good pictures and happy holiday memories. And it helps us get our holiday off to a healthy and fun start!

Create a healthy holiday tradition that involves doing something as a family. Try walking after a meal or sledding or ice skating. Build a snowman at a park in your neighborhood. Even post-holiday shopping counts. Walk around the perimeter of the mall a few times to identify key shops you want to hit up when you’re ready!

What’s your favorite holiday tradition? Do you have any tips for putting a healthy twist on the holidays? Tell us your story and you might inspire another family to start a new tradition!

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