Healthy Holiday Eating

family enjoying a holiday dinnerWith the holidays around the corner, it’s important not to forget your healthy eating habits just because it’s the holiday season. Weight gain can be common during the holiday season – whether you’re exercising less because you’re busy with errands or you’re eating more because of the holiday parties and treats. Either way your calorie intake may surpass your output, adding up to extra pounds. And although weight gain is common during the holiday season, it doesn’t have to be inevitable. It is essential to remain mindful of what you are eating and how much exercise you might be missing. Barbara Mintz, MS, RD, Senior Vice President for Healthy Living and Community Engagement at RWJBarnabas Health shares some tips on healthy holiday eating that won’t add inches to your waistline, and at the same time won’t deny you of your favorite holiday treats.

Avoiding Overeating

Making healthy food choices during the holidays starts even before the big meal. While many people think that it is a good idea to fast the morning of Thanksgiving to offset a big dinner later that day, that decision can easily lead to poor choices and overeating.

“It is never a good idea to skip meals, no matter what time of year it is. and fasting all day before a big party or dinner,” said Ms. Mintz. “Many feel they will be saving calories so they can eat as much as they wish at the event. Your body does not see it that way. If your go to and event hungry you are hungry, it’s harder to make healthy choices.”

Ms. Mintz suggests that before you leave home, eat your normal meals and drink a few extra glasses of water.

“It’s always a good idea to balance your meals as well,” Ms. Mintz added. “Eat carbohydrates with a protein and/or healthy fat like a hardboiled egg with whole wheat toast or Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts. Carbohydrates are faster-burning and balancing them with the other macronutrients keeps you feeling satisfied for longer periods of time. This will help you make healthier choices throughout the day and evening.”

Tips to Tackling Appetizers and Hors d’oeuvres

Appetizers and hors d’oeuvres can be misleading. Many of these choices can be high in fat and sodium and although in small bites, can be high in calories

“Cheese is a popular pre-dinner appetizer. It is a very healthy food but is high in fat,” said Ms. Mintz, “Nuts are also healthy but high in fat and most party mixes are high in salt and extra oils.”

It’s best to limit portions of these foods. The key is not to overindulge.

“Choose fruit or vegetable crudité to start. This will help fill you up before you are tempt by other, high calorie appetizers,” she added.

Ms. Mintz also suggests bringing a healthy appetizer dish to your party. That way you know there will be something healthy there for you to snack on. Veggie crudités with a low-fat dip or fruit bowls are healthy options. There’s no reason to load up on apps, though. Save room for dinner.

The Main Event

It’s a good idea to understand healthy portion sizes when you are eating during the holidays. Moderation is the key any time of the year.

“I don’t like to tell people to avoid a certain food all together,” said Ms. Mintz. “Just be careful. Have less of the high-fat food and have more of the healthy options, but don’t give up favorite foods or deprive yourself completely.”

Sometimes just tasting a tempting dish is all you need to satisfy your craving. Don’t be afraid to tell your hostess that you want to watch what you eat, but you still want to taste what they’re serving.

“An average portion of meat should be about the size of a woman’s palm,” said Ms. Mintz. “Stuffing and potato dishes should be about the size of your fist.”

Ms. Mintz also suggests trying to cut back on second helpings at holiday meals as well.

“Eat your first helping slowly and just enjoy the company at the table,” she added.

Veggies are often on the menu during the holidays, but they too can be misleading. Dishes like green bean casserole are not all that healthy for you. Instead, Ms. Mintz suggests you go for something without butter or cream sauce.

“Stick to steamed veggies,” she said. “Casseroles have a lot of extra calories, so don’t load up on those. Just have a spoonful.”

And don’t feel like you have to clear your plate either, added Ms. Mintz.

Navigating the Dessert Table

Again, Ms. Mintz doesn’t advise anyone to cut out any food entirely. Dessert is included!

“Don’t feel guilty about what you’re eating!” said Ms. Mintz. “And don’t feel like you have to give anything up. You don’t need a whole slice of pie. If you have just a taste, you can have a little bit of a few.”

Alcoholic beverages can really add the calories, too so again, moderation is the key.

“Water and sparkling waters are your best option, but if you want to have a drink, I would suggest choosing wine or even wine spritzers to cut down on your alcohol intake,” said Ms. Mintz. “With spritzers you can cut down on your alcohol intake, but also allows you to feel like you’re participating in the festivities.”

Staying Active During the Holidays

Although your schedule can get hectic during the holiday season, don’t forgo activity. Exercise will help you burn calories, relieve stress, and elevate your mood.

“Activities as simple as walking for 20 to 30 minutes a day can make a difference in your attempts to maintain a healthy weight through this stressful time of year,” said Ms. Mintz. “Walk before or after your big holiday meals. Shopping can even be a good activity. Walking through the mall is activity. If it’s too cold to walk outside, the mall can provide a way for you to get some exercise in. Even if you do all of your shopping on-line, you can take in the holiday cheer and get some exercise.”

But if you are going to shop ‘til you drop, eat something healthy before you get to the mall.

“Food courts are never a good place to find healthy foods,” added Ms. Mintz. “Always bring a bottle of water with you too. One of the signs of dehydration is hunger. You might just need to re-hydrate.”

Ultimately food can be an important part of the holidays for a lot of people. It’s often the center of a lot of holiday gatherings, but it is essential to stay mindful.

“Don’t eat and not think about what you’re putting into your body,” Ms. Mintz adds. “And remember that the holidays are really about gathering and celebrating family and friends, not the food.”

Let’s be healthy together. For more information on how you can stay healthy this holiday season please click here.