There’s nothing sweeter than surrounding yourself with loved ones for the holidays—except maybe the copious amount of pie, cookies, brownies, and any other familiar homemade goodies you’ll be able to indulge in. When you know you’ll be tempted by endless desserts served after large, hearty meals, you may need to do some mental preparation to get ready for the holidays. Don’t fret: You’ll still be able to enjoy all your favorites, but as always, all things in moderation.
Healthy holiday eating may not be easy, but it certainly is possible. We tapped Lisa Davis, chief nutrition officer of Terra’s Kitchen, for some advice on how to maintain healthy habits throughout the holiday season. Of course, you’ll want to treat yourself to some comfort food and time spend lounging with family and friends, but Davis recommends going into the holidays with a strategy to help you keep up with your healthy lifestyle no matter what’s on the menu.
These are the healthy holiday eating tips you’ll want to review before you make the trip home for the holidays.
The key to enjoying the holidays without tossing your health goals to the wayside is to plan ahead. “Decide whether you are going to control your caloric intake on the front end of the holiday meal by making informed choices, or whether you plan to work them off at the back end through rigorous exercise,” Davis suggests. You can also always opt for a combination of the two, by making informed choices, but by allowing for indulgences, you know you’ll make up for later. For example, if you love pumpkin pie, don’t try to avoid it completely; just plan for a smaller portion size or challenge yourself to a workout the next day.
Make Time for Exercise
Davis suggests you aim to get 10,000 steps a day, even during the holidays. If your family traditions err on the side of long conversations over a meal followed by movies and dessert on the couch, you can still make time for a little activity. “Get the whole family involved, and take a walk early in the day and then after dinner,” she says. This is also a great opportunity to bring the family together and start new traditions.
Don't Arrive Hungry
“On the day of your holiday gathering, don’t skip meals and be sure to fill up on snacks that are filling,” says Davis, who recommends having snacks that contain protein and fiber before stepping out for a holiday fete. Try a hard-boiled egg, some nuts, Greek yogurt, or celery with nut butter before leaving for an event to avoid overindulging.
Know What You're Eating
Understanding the nutrition of each dish on the table will make it so much easier to enjoy a filling meal that you won’t have to feel guilty about later. Davis points out that there are major caloric differences between some common holiday foods and knowing which one to fill your plate with and which to try just a bite of will make all the difference. Go for skinless roasted turkey instead of pot roast, green bean casserole instead of bread stuffing, and mashed potatoes instead of glazed carrots.
Work on Your Table Manners
Though food tends to be the focus of most holiday gatherings, everyone knows it’s really about spending time with the people you love and enjoying the moment. “Instead of sitting down and gobbling up everything on your plate, spend more time talking to people at the table to slow down your eating,” Davis says. She also advises you to eat slowly and mindfully to “really savor the meal.”
Get Up From the Table
It sounds simple, but removing yourself from the table when you begin to feel full can be a major asset to healthy holiday eating. Instead of picking at food on your plate or serving yourself seconds even when you’re already full, get up and offer to clear the table. “You’ll eat fewer calories than if you continue to sit there and will make someone happy to boot,” Davis says.
Mind the Cocktails
No holiday affair would be complete without a few tasty cocktails to enhance the flavors of a meal (or help you get along with difficult family members). Davis suggests you focus on drinking plenty of water or make a mocktail with carbonated water and berries and herbs for antioxidants. However, if you must indulge in a cocktail, she says to go for a vodka soda or rum with Diet Coke to keep the extra calories to a minimum. Davis also suggests avoiding sugary drinks like piña coladas and daiquiris or anything that contains more than one type of alcohol—so no Long Island iced teas at the dinner table.