COVID Updates: Find out the latest on visitor restrictions and ongoing vaccinations at St. Joseph’s/Candler.  Learn more

10 Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating

Dec 16, 2016

It’s the most wonderful time of the year with potlucks, parties, pastries and more.

Sounds delightful – unless you are trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It may be hard to eat right from Halloween to New Year’s, but it’s not impossible.

“It is hard (to eat healthy and watch portion control) because this time of the year is a constant party,” says Jillian Clinton, Clinical Dietitian at St. Joseph’s Hospital. “You are celebrating. People don’t always think it’s fun to celebrate with healthier options. Holidays tend to be buffet style and pot luck approaches, and you are starting with a big plate, and you want to try everything that’s on the line, so yes, it is hard. It’s even hard for dietitians.”

You can still enjoy holiday food and maintain your weight with balance, portion control and a little bit of will power, Clinton says. Don’t restrict yourself so much that you don’t enjoy the holidays. Instead, she offers these 10 healthy holiday eating tips.

1. Eat on smaller plates to help encourage appropriate portion sizes

Using a smaller plate means you are less likely to grab as much food, which will help with portion control.  “I think that’s really important,” Clinton says. “I’ve made my family do that on Thanksgiving.”

2. Start your holiday get together with a salad or put vegetables on your plate first

Starting with a salad gets your vegetables in first. Studies have shown that fills you up faster. Thus, you are less to grab as much of the casseroles or rolls or sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top, Clinton says.

Keep this in mind at your next work or church potluck. If there is one, review the list of what people plan to bring. If no one is bringing a salad or roasted vegetable, plan to bring one. “If there’s no salad or vegetables without all the extra stuff, then you are setting yourself up for failure,” says Clinton.

3. Incorporate high fiber foods into your meals

Adding fibrous foods to your meal – fruits, vegetables and whole grains – are proven to satisfy your hunger, Clinton states. Consider making a fruit salad for dessert. Instead of a huge piece of cake or pie, go for a smaller portion and add fruit.

4. Skip the skin

Clinton recommends meat portions of three to four ounces, or the size of a deck of cards. She said that white vs. dark meat is mostly preference. Dark meat has a higher calorie count; however, it has more iron than white meat. Three ounces of dark meat supplies 15 percent of the recommended daily intake of iron. White meat has only about eight percent. Clinton adds to be sure to avoid the skin of the turkey or chicken because that’s where the fat and sodium come in. “You can shed a lot of fat you would be consuming if you avoid the skin.”

5. Don’t make everything a casserole; balance out your side dishes

Traditional holiday dishes tend to be casseroles – green bean, broccoli, sweet potato, squash. And while the cheesy, crunchy goodness is a staple at many holiday tables, adding fat, sugar and sodium decreases the nutritional value of vegetables and adds to your calorie count. Clinton suggests a healthy balance. Instead of the green bean casserole with fried onions, try a simpler approach of green beans and almonds. Add roasted potatoes, carrots and broccoli to your menu. “Keep a good balance between casserole vegetable items and non-casserole vegetable items rather than all casserole,” she says. “That will cut a lot of calories without really resisting yourself. We are supposed to enjoy the holidays.”

6. Spice your foods with herbs rather than extra salt and butter

Want to add flavor to the turkey or stuffing or mashed potatoes and save on calories? Try incorporating more herbs instead of salt or butter, Clinton suggests. Herbs add a vivacious touch and save on calories as opposed to butter, heavy cream and processed soups, such as cream of mushroom.

7. Healthy swaps

As you think ahead to Christmas potlucks, consider some healthy swaps. One that Clinton suggests is whole grain bread instead of crescent rolls. Add a green, vegetable heavy salad instead of potato salad. Clinton also recommends healthy versions of green beans and sweet potatoes rather than casseroles.

8. Wait 10 to 20 minutes for seconds to let your food digest to determine if you really are still hungry

Want to save on calories during the holidays? Try to avoid a second plateful. Clinton suggests waiting at least 10 minutes after your first plate before returning to the buffet line. This allows your body to digest what you just ate and if it’s still hungry. If you decide to go back for more, Clinton says to grab vegetables over carbs or protein choices.

9. Wait 30 minutes to an hour before you eat dessert

If you are eating and eating, you are not giving your body time to realize it’s full, says Clinton. Therefore, when you grab that big piece of pumpkin pie or red velvet cake right after a big meal, you will most likely eat the whole thing, but also are more likely to feel miserable a short time later. Clinton says to wait before hitting the dessert bar. You’ll be more inclined to grab a smaller portion, and you are more likely to enjoy it. If you are worried about the mounds of sugary goodness that tend to show up at your office this time of the year, Clinton suggests bringing a healthy snack with you. Choose fruits, nuts or a piece of dark chocolate.

10. Don’t stop exercising

The holidays are meant to be a joyous time and that includes enjoying food with family and friends. While it’s important to maintain a balanced diet, it’s just as important to continue your exercise regimen during the holidays. “We think of holiday eating as a lot of fun with sweets and fatty options,” Clinton says. “Exercising will help counteract how much we are taking in.” Clinton suggests planning a family walk after Christmas lunch or start a pick-up game of touch football or basketball instead of spending the rest of the day on the couch.  

How can we help you?