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Healthy holiday eating can sound like an oxymoron. Depending on who you listen to, American’s gain on average 1-7 pounds from the end of November to beginning of January. What makes that weight gain worse is that we tend to not lose it during the rest of the year. So over time we add a few pounds each holiday season.
It can be even harder to eat healthfully at the holidays if you are trying to eat real foods (as opposed to highly processed) and you aren’t the one doing all the cooking. While I am all for treating yo’ self and enjoying the foods that are meaningful to you at the holidays, it is important to keep portion size in mind and make healthy choices when possible. Follow these tips for healthy holiday eating and help yourself keep that belt notch right where it is.
11 Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating
Turkey is Your Friend
Unless it’s been deep fried, turkey is one of the healthiest choices you can make at a holiday meal. It is lower in fat and calories than ham and is full of protein. Choose white meat over dark meat for the lowest amount of calories to make more room for dessert.
Vegetable Trojan Horses
Sure green bean casserole has green beans in it, but is also has some heavy cream soups. Watch out for veggie dishes that are full of extra fat and sugar. There’s nothing wrong with eating them, just keep in mind that they are not as healthy as their names might suggest. For a healthy veggie option that is easy to bring with you wherever you go, toss some frozen broccoli with olive oil and Italian spices and roast in the oven.
Carbs in Disguise
Much like veggie Trojan horses, sweet potatoes, candied yams, and cream corn sound like vegetables but actually count as carbs because of their high starch content. Add in the extra butter and sugar that goes into those dishes and they definitely do not count as vegetables. Cut back on rolls and other breads if you splurge on veggie carbs.
Pie is Pie
There is no pretending that pie is healthy. But if you’re torn between the pumpkin and the pecan pie, the pumpkin is typically lower in sugar. Just be sure it actually has pumpkin in it. For a great real food option, check out this great GF pecan pie recipe.
Mackin’ on Mac-n-Cheese
Macaroni and cheese is definitely my holiday dinner weakness. So I’m not about to tell you not to eat it. But if you are the one making it, opt for whole-wheat macaroni for extra fiber and try adding some turmeric for added health benefits. Just don’t add too much turmeric or it will turn neon yellow and your family will think you’ve gone crazy (ask me how I know). Also don’t let it fill up three-quarters of your plate. (I won’t if you won’t)
Portion Size is Everything
The most important thing to remember for healthy holiday eating is portion size. You can eat whatever you want as long as you don’t eat too much of it. Half your plate should be fruits and veggies, one quarter should be protein, one quarter should be carbs, and fats and sugars should be limited.
Don’t Drink your Calories
Watch out for high calorie drinks like soda, sweet tea, beer, and wine. Moderation in everything, but make sure water is your primary drink of the day and drink plenty of it. If you do have a high calorie drink be sure to cut yourself off after a few. At restaurants it’s especially important to keep track of how many refills you’ve had and switch to water after a glass or two.
Eat a Salad
Depending on when your holiday meal is, eat a salad for lunch or dinner to fill up on healthy greens and give your body the fiber it needs to digest all the other foods you eat. Maybe even consider bringing salad to your holiday meals. You might be surprised how many people are thankful for a healthy option. Check out this post for other healthy holiday eating recipe ideas.
Go for a Walk
Trading that Turkey-coma nap for an after meal walk can help your body digest all that food you just ate and also help you burn some extra calories. And you can always take that nap after the walk.
Holidays are supposed to be a time to enjoy yourself and your time with friends and family. Don’t give yourself a hard time over one day’s meal. It’s ok to splurge every now and then, but feeling sick from overeating might not be worth it. Healthy holiday eating isn’t just about one holiday meal, it’s about making healthy eating choices throughout the holiday season.
Tradition isn’t Law
Who decided all this turkey, casserole, pie stuff is what we’re supposed to eat for holidays anyway? Why can’t we have tacos and cheesecake and still call it Thanksgiving? Don’t let tradition dictate what you eat at any holiday meal. It’s ok to go off the beaten path to create a meal that is special and healthy for your family.
Bonus Holiday Portion Planner
Success starts with planning! So before you sit down for dinner and suddenly get overwhelmed with all the options, take a moment to think about how you want to fill up your plate.