Whether you’re gathering around the table for a lovely holiday dinner with all the trimmings, or ringing in the new year with a feast of good food and celebratory drinks, you may see the holidays as an excuse to indulge a bit. And while it’s completely okay to treat yourself—especially during this time of year—don’t let unhealthy eating habits spoil the fun.
If you’re looking for ways to make nutritious choices, follow these few simple tips for a healthy holiday season.
While the scout’s motto rings true in any situation, “be prepared” is a mantra to live by when it comes to healthy holiday eating.
“The holidays can be a stressful time for many people, and this stress can often affect eating behaviors,” says Jessica Lehmann, a registered dietitian, and lecturer in nutrition at the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University, Downtown Phoenix Campus. “An important thing to do is a check-in with yourself often. Before eating, ask yourself if you’re hungry or if you’re almost full. If the answer is ‘yes,’ then you may be happier if you stopping eating at that point.”
Lehmann also suggests eating when you’re moderately hungry. “That’s when your body is primed and ready to enjoy your food—and when you have a good amount of digestive enzymes and digestive hormones circulating.”
Make a plan
Nothing goes better with being prepared than making a plan. To avoid holiday eating pitfalls, a few simple tips will keep you on top of your game, such as avoiding foods you think you have to eat to be polite and curbing your alcohol intake. “Too much alcohol prevents you from eating mindfully,” Lehmann explains. “It also raises the risks of developing cancers and cardiovascular diseases.”
Also, include some protein and some vegetables for nutritional balance on your plate. “Look for a sensory balance, so include foods that are light and refreshing and have a variety of flavors and textures, in addition to some foods that are heavier and more filling,” she continues. “Eat a small to medium amount of anything you do want, and enjoy every delicious bite!”
Focus on flavor
If you’re in charge of cooking this year’s holiday feasts, there are simple things you can do to make your dishes healthier, such as using cooking methods that use less added fats.
“Grilling, baking, roasting, stewing, and steaming instead of deep-frying are all good methods,” says Lehmann, who also suggests choosing healthier fats when cooking. “These include seafood, seeds, nuts and avocado in dishes, using vegetable and seed-based oils such as olive oil and grape seed oils for cooking, and thinking of butter and coconut oil more as ‘flavoring fats’ rather than as the main ‘cooking fats’ due to their high saturated fat content.”
To end the meal, Lehmann suggests serving fruit-based desserts and offering lighter options such as tea, fresh fruit, small cookies, dark chocolate, and nuts.
Lastly, Lehmann stresses the importance of being mindful this holiday season. “Put away your phone, turn off the screens. sit down and focus on connecting with loved ones, enjoying traditions, and celebrating the true purpose of the holiday.”