5 Simple Healthy Holiday Eating Tips

5 Simple Healthy Holiday Eating Tips

The food of the holidays is one of the things we look forward to—Thanksgiving dinner, complete with cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, eggnog, Christmas cookies, and other seasonal treats.

All these tempting foods put in front of us make it difficult to maintain a healthy diet. Not to fear. Here are five healthy holiday eating tips that can help you enjoy the holidays with a bit of indulgence but keep you from blowing the healthy eating habits you’ve worked so hard to develop.

5 Simple Healthy Holiday Eating Tips

1. Don’t Fool Yourself

Temptations are everywhere during the holidays. If you’re like me, a little indulgence quickly leads to overindulgence.— a cranberry muffin at breakfast can start the roll downhill, picking up speed quickly as carb cravings increase. A few Christmas cookies while working at your desk, a peppermint mocha latte with an extra dollop of whipped cream on your break…

One crucial fact to remember is: You Can’t Exercise Away Over Eating and Over Indulgence.

We all like to fool ourselves into believing that we don’t have to stick to our regular healthy eating habits since it’s the holidays. We’ll get back on track on January 1st—no harm done.

Telling yourself you’ll go back to healthy eating after the holidays permits you to overindulge at any opportunity throughout the holidays. All these extra carbs and rich holiday foods can zap your energy and cause weight gain that you’ll have to work hard to get off after the holidays.

For example, say you weigh 160 pounds and maintain that weight by typically eating about 1,900 calories each day and doing some form of moderate exercise 3 days per week for 30 minutes. 

Over the weekend, you eat two sugar cookies and drink a peppermint mocha latte in addition to what you usually eat. That may not seem like much, but now you have an extra 840 calories you need to burn.  That equates to an additional:

  • 4 hours and 30 minutes of moderate walking


  • 1 hour and 40 minutes of moderate cycling


  • 1 hour and 10 minutes of moderate jogging 

And that’s for just a few treats on just one weekend. Now add to that all the goodies of Thanksgiving dinner, a company holiday party, Christmas dinner,  celebrating New Year’s with friends, plus treats and desserts scattered here and there throughout the holiday season.

Soon you’ll have so many extra calories built up that you’d have to spend hours upon hours in the gym every day, in addition to your regular exercise routine, just to get back to where you were before the holidays. Don’t make it so hard on yourself.

2. Eat What You Love with Portion Control

Now that you understand that you can’t fool yourself into thinking a big meal here, an extra serving there and a few treats there won’t matter, the second healthy holiday eating tip involves portion control.  It may be common sense, but portion control may not be at the front of your mind with all the temptations. A few tips are:

  • Have a sample portion, not a whole serving
  • Have one cookie, not one of each kind
  • Have one cocktail or glass of wine—decline another round—the more you drink, the more your inhibitions decrease, making it more difficult to say ”no” to another hors d’oeuvre or an extra helping of stuffing.

Here are some nutritional facts to consider:

  • 1 slice of Marie Callender’spumpkin pie with whipped cream: 529 calories, 47 g

sugar and 23 g fat

  • 1 cup homemade stuffing: 342 calories, 5 g sugar, and 20 g fat
  • 1 medium-size frosted sugar cookie: 200 calories, 20 g sugar, and 9 g fat
  • 1 cup egg nog with a shot of brandy:  321 calories, 20g sugar, and 11g fat
  • 1 Starbucks’ grande peppermint mocha latte: 440 calories, 54g sugar, 16g fat

3. You Don’t Have to Try Everything

The third healthy holiday eating tip involves making choices. With portion control in mind, only sample what you really love or want to try.

Instead of trying everything on the holiday spread, focus on the foods that aren’t readily available other times of the year and that you enjoy the most. 

For example, many families can’t seem to have enough different kinds of carbs served at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls—I’ve even seen rice added to the mix.  And don’t forget the dessert—Pumpkin pie, pecan pie, Christmas cookies, and more.

If you prefer candied yams over mashed potatoes, just have a small portion of the yams and skip the potatoes. You can have a dinner roll or mashed potatoes any time, but cranberry sauce and stuffing may be a special treat. 

Don’t waste calories on foods and drinks that you’re not delighted with or could eat any time. If there are a lot of different items you’d like to try, just take a small sample of the ones you really want to try—not a regular size portion.

4. Substitute Healthier Options When Cooking and Baking

There are often ways to make a dish or baked goods healthier. Look for alternative healthier recipes for your favorite holiday foods, or substitute a few more nutritious ingredients in your current recipes.  We may use more nutritious alternative ingredients in our daily meals, but don’t hold the same standards for the holidays.

Of course, it’s essential to learn the exact substitution equivalents for the ingredients you plan to substitute.  Don’t assume that a cup of sugar is the same as a cup of honey or that two cups of unbleached flour is the same as two cups of almond flour, for instance.  A lot of chemistry is involved with cooking and baking. Substituting without research can lead to poor results.

Some healthier suggestions to consider are:

  • Whole wheat, brown rice, oat, or almond flour for all or part of the white flour in baking
  • Whole wheat stuffing made outside the turkey, with vegetable or chicken broth in place of traditional stuffing with butter (and turkey fat)
  • Vegetable or chicken broth and garlic instead of butter and milk in mashed potatoes
  • Stevia instead of sugar
  • Lowfat or nonfat milk instead of cream or full-fat milk
  • Drain off most of the fat before making gravy
  • Add extra veggies and spices to dishes

5. Bring a Healthy Dish or Snack to Parties and Work

If you work in an office, you probably are surrounded by treats throughout the holiday season—from co-workers, clients, and vendors. Keep some raw almonds or fruit at your desk so you won’t be as tempted by the homemade cookies your coworker made or the huge box of chocolates a client delivered.

When going to a holiday get-together, offer to bring a healthy appetizer, such as a tray of veggies and hummus, shrimp cocktail, or a dinner salad with a homemade olive oil and vinegar dressing. If you know there is something you can feel good about eating, you won’t be as likely to fill up on bacon and blue cheese canapes that you’ll regret eating later.

Try these healthy holiday eating tips if you want to make healthy choices and not consume hundreds or thousands of excess calories this holiday season. You’ll feel better and your body will thank you.

Leave a Reply