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How to Enjoy a Healthy Holiday Season

by Lindsay Allen December 01, 2022 0 Comments

Young Woman Cooking in the kitchen. Healthy Food for Christmas

Looking for a more healthy holiday season? Now is a great time to get prepared – not just for those presents, but for those healthy habits. This time of year brings plenty of events and gatherings with friends and family, but all that excitement can also bring packed schedules, stress, less sleep, and of course lots of food. If you are worried that the holidays may derail your good habits, think again! Stop, take a breath and read on…

Tips for a Healthier Holiday Season

With an abundance of gatherings, work commitments, and a to-do list that keeps getting longer, you might find that the holidays start to take away from your current routine. Surviving the holidays isn’t all about food. Habits and traditions can be helpful tools to celebrate while still maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Try making the holidays less about sitting and eating and follow these tips to help make this holiday the healthiest yet:

  1. Keep a routine and stick with it 

    If possible, try to keep the days between commitments as ‘normal’ as possible. Continue your regular work schedule, exercise classes, sports practices, etc. It is easier to continue a routine than to re-start an old one. 

  2. Keep Moving all winter long

    Busy schedules and the temptation of a warm living room can make it hard to get outside. But make it a priority to get out for some fresh air and activity. Planning some winter activities can help keep you active and create a connection with friends and family that doesn’t involve food. Make the activity a tradition that you look forward to so you can stay motivated!

  3. Take a break and breathe

    Check-in with yourself and those close to you during the holiday season. It can be hard to slow down but decide what is best for you and your health. Be assertive about taking time for self-care and drawing boundaries with friends and loved ones. Your mental health is important, especially during the busy holiday season.

  4. Ask for help

    Manage your stress this holiday season by asking for help. Use meal and party prep to spend quality time with loved ones. Teaching others to make their favorite dishes or offering help to someone else can help alleviate everyone’s stress and provide a fun activity to do together. 

  5. Most importantly, enjoy yourself

    Many events feature plentiful meals that are meant to be celebrated and enjoyed. Rather than worry, or deny yourself, allow yourself to experience the flavors. If a dessert is calling, have it and enjoy it! You can balance it out with a walk after dinner.

  6. Get some shut-eye

    Sleep is not only important for your digestion but is essential to stress management. Skip the holiday stress eating and turn off the lights. Getting extra sleep can be a game-changer! Check out these tips on improving your sleep.

Ways to Reduce Overindulging

Most holidays come with their temptations that can cause us to get off track. However, there are some easy ways to celebrate without overindulging. How can we practice mindful eating and moderation while still enjoying those favorite treats?

  • Eat Regular Meals & Snacks Throughout the Day

    Saving up your calories for the big meal can backfire and lead to overeating. Focus on consuming a small meal or snack every three to four hours to help keep your blood sugar stable. This will help ensure you don’t go into the holiday festivities feeling overly hungry. 

  • Scan the Table

    Before you start filling your plate, take a moment to observe all the food options. Begin by serving yourself a small sample portion of the dishes that interest you the most and then go back for larger helpings of your favorites. 

  • Portion Appetizers & Desserts

    If a favorite is calling your name, enjoy it! Just make sure that you limit your portions by choosing only what fits on a small plate or napkin. Using a limited amount of space can help you select the foods you really want without the risk of overindulging from the start. 

  • Slow Down

    Practice by putting your food or utensil down between bites. This can help you reflect and give your body time to realize it is full. It can take approximately 20 minutes for our bodies to recognize fullness so savor those bites.

  • Provide Healthy Holiday Dishes

    Whether you are hosting an event, attending a dinner, or planning a potluck, bring some healthy options. It is a great way to share new recipes with everyone.

  • Stay Hydrated & Limit Alcohol

    Overconsuming alcoholic drinks will use up most of your calories and put you well over the daily recommendation. Replace alcohol with water which will not only improve your digestion but also reduce your appetite. 

  • Wear Fitted Clothes

    While many people may have adopted a different dress code being home (think sweatpants), putting on form-fitting clothes for a meal may help you be more aware when you are full.

How to Stay Healthy While Traveling

Traveling can take you off normal routines and may derail you from your goals. Regardless of where you are headed, use these tips for staying healthy:

Check out more helpful tips for traveling year-round here.

  1. Plan Ahead

    Traveling is a time to enjoy and even indulge a little. But it doesn’t mean you have to toss out your healthy habits. Check out the area to get healthy restaurant ideas or markets to grab a few essentials.

  2. Load Up on Healthy Snacks

    Pack a couple of healthy snacks to reduce cravings after a long day. Some choices are fruit, nuts, trail mix, and bars like RxBars or Kind with little to no added sugars. With many flights not providing meals and major highways lacking fresh, healthy meal options it is best to be ready to go.

  3. Keep it Clean

    Getting sick on vacation can put a damper on the fun so wash your hands more often and carry some disinfecting wipes in your bag.

  4. Stay Hydrated

    Staying hydrated can help you arrive refreshed and energized. Pack a reusable water bottle so that you can fill up past airport security or before you hit the road. Learn more on the benefits of staying hydrated.

  5. Get Moving and De-stress

    We all deserve some downtime but do your best to incorporate some movement into your day. Try walking or biking to check out local sights, go for a local hike, try beach yoga or check out the hotel gym. And don’t forget to breathe. Traveling can be stressful, and we all need to check in with ourselves

Healthy Tips for Eating Out

    Substitutes for Traditional Holiday Dishes

    Family recipes come with plenty of tradition, but if you are trying to stick to your goals this holiday season it may be time for a refresh.

    Did you know, the average American only puts on about one pound during the season? It may not sound like a lot unless you gain that extra pound year after year. It can add up so make it a priority to break the cycle.

    But don’t think that you must deprive yourself of all your favorites. With simple substitutions, you can make your favorites both delicious and healthy.

    Use these tips to make this year’s holiday cooking healthier:

    • Greek Yogurt

      Swap sour cream for plain Greek yogurt. Sour cream is used in many holiday dishes and is relatively high in saturated fat (with limited nutritional value). Swapping it with plain Greek yogurt keeps dishes rich and creamy, cuts calories by about a quarter, and adds probiotics. It’s a win!

    • Low-Fat (Neufchatel) Cream Cheese

      Choosing low-fat products will help reduce the risk of heart disease and most can’t taste the difference in most recipes.

    • Coconut Milk

      Use in replace of heavy cream. This simple substitution in cream-based recipes to cut your calories in half without sacrificing taste.

    • Olive, Grapeseed, or Canola Oil

      Swap out the butter for one of these alternatives. Unsaturated fats, like those found in these vegetable oils, have been shown to decrease cholesterol levels. If you want to take it up a notch, use unsweetened applesauce. Using applesauce in place of oil when making baked goods can help cut your total fat and calories and keep your item moist.

    • Whole-Grain Bread

      Serve whole-grain bread instead of white bread. Using 100% whole grain in your stuffing recipe and for dinner, rolls can give a boost of fiber, antioxidants, and minerals.

    • Cauliflower

      Replace mashed cauliflower with potatoes. No one will even notice if you swap out some or all the potatoes for cauliflower as a side dish. It has the same texture and far fewer calories than traditional mashed potatoes.

    • More Water & Non-Acholoic Drinks

      If you choose to indulge in alcohol, try drinking water in between or try a ‘mocktail’. Avoiding alcohol will cut down on calories and added sugar to save for that pie you have been eyeing.

    Healthy Recipes for the Winter Holiday Season

    Chicken Vegetable Soup with Kale

    Kale and carrots add lots of Vitamin A to this hearty soup. It is a great recipe for using kale from the local farmer’s market.

    Makes 3 servings. Nutrition Info: 1/3 recipe - 177 calories, 5g fat, 257mg sodium - Source: myplate.gov 

    Ingredients:

    • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
    • 1/2 cup onion (chopped)
    • 1/2 cup carrot (chopped)
    • 1 teaspoon thyme (ground)
    • 2 garlic cloves (minced)
    • 2 cups water (or chicken broth)
    • 3/4 cup tomatoes (diced)
    • 1 cup chicken, cooked, skinned, and cubed
    • 1/2 cup brown rice, cooked (or white rice)
    • 1 cup kale (chopped, about one large leaf)

    Directions:

    • Heat oil in a medium saucepan. Add onion and carrot. Sauté until vegetables are tender, about 5-8 minutes.
    • Add thyme and garlic. Sauté for one more minute.
    • Add water or broth, tomatoes, cooked rice, chicken, and kale.
    • Simmer for 5-10 minutes.

    Meatball Soup

    Mixed vegetables, meatballs, and brown rice make a delicious and hearty soup that will warm you up on a cold winter night.

    Makes 4 servings. Nutrition Info: ½ cup broth with 3 large meatballs - 246 calories, 7g fat, 420mg sodium - Source: myplate.gov 

    Ingredients: 

    • 6 cups water
    • 1/3 cup brown rice
    • 3 bouillon cubes (low-sodium chicken or beef flavored, or 1 tablespoon of low-sodium bouillon powder)
    • 1 tablespoon oregano
    • 8 ounces ground beef (90% lean, or turkey or chicken)
    • 1 tomato (finely chopped)
    • 1/2 onion (peeled and finely chopped)
    • 1 egg (large)
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 2 cups vegetable mix (chopped, fresh, carrots, celery, and spinach)

    Directions:

    • In a large pot, combine water, rice, bouillon cubes, and oregano. Bring to a boil over high heat.
    • Stir to dissolve the bouillon. Reduce heat to low and simmer.
    • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix ground meat, tomato, onion, egg, and salt. Form into 12 meatballs.
    • Add meatballs to the broth mixture and simmer for 30 minutes.
    • Add vegetables and serve. Cook 10 to 15 minutes or until meatballs are cooked and rice and vegetables are tender.

    Glazed Sugar Snap Peas and Carrots

    A healthy veggie alternative to the sweet potato or green bean casserole.

    Makes 4 servings. Nutrition Info: ¼ recipe - 143 calories, 2g fat, 77mg sodium

    Ingredients:

    • 2 tbsp. light margarine
    • 4 tsp. sugar
    • 1, 8-ounce package ready to cook sugar snap peas
    • 1.5 cups cut carrots
    • 1 tsp dried tarragon or mint if desired
    • Salt and pepper to taste

    Directions:

    • Place a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add margarine and melt. 
    • Add sugar, and cook, stirring until sugar melts. 
    • Add peas and ¼ cup water. Cook, stirring occasionally until water evaporates. 
    • Add carrots and ¼ cup water. Stir. Cook, stirring frequently until water evaporates. Vegetables should be tender. Add a little more water and cook until done as needed.
    • Season with tarragon, salt, and pepper to taste. Serve.

    Tropical Slaw

    A healthy side dish or dessert to complement any holiday meal.

    Makes 4 servings. Nutrition Info: ¼ recipe – 115 calories, 5g fat, 169mg sodium

    Ingredients:

    • ½ cup pineapple tidbits, canned in 100% juice
    • 4 cups finely chopped cabbage
    • ½ cup drained mandarin orange sections, canned in 100% juice
    • ½ cup fat-free sour cream
    • ¼ cup reduced-fat mayonnaise

    Directions:

    • Drain pineapple, and reserve juice. 
    • In a large bowl, combine cabbage, pineapple, and orange sections. 
    • In a measuring cup combine sour cream, mayo, and 2 tbsp. reserved pineapple juice. Mix well and pour over cabbage and mix. 
    • Refrigerate for ½ hour before serving. 

    *Salad may look dry initially, but cabbage will release liquid as it stands.

    Links to Other Healthy Holiday Recipes:

    Heart-Healthy Holiday Recipes

    Healthy and Festive Fair Recipes

    Healthy and Thrifty Holiday Menus

    Five Healthy Recipes for Holiday Season

    Seasonal Recipes

    Recipe Collection

    Nutrition Goals for the New Year

    Did you know that over half of New Years Resolutions fail by mid-January? For many that resolutions include plans for self-reformation where we  start with the best of intentions and set a goal that can likely positively impact our lives. With the right strategies, you can ensure those smart habit changes will stick around for the remainder of the year.

    Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals

    Ensure your goals follow the SMART model to make them easier to track and achieve.

    • Specific

      Create a tangible plan to keep you on track. Do you plan on working out regularly? Be specific and set how often.

    • Measurable

      Goals that are not written down are just wishes. Track changes by writing them down and finding a way to measure them. Want to exercise every day or eat more veggies? Pick a set amount of time or number of servings so that you can keep track.

    • Attainable

      Start small so you are not setting yourself up for failure right off the starting block. We want to do it all but be realistic. Evaluate what your current routine looks like and choose goals that won’t be overwhelming. 

    • Relevant

      Why are we setting this goal? The most successful goals are the ones that allow us to flourish and succeed. Don’t set a goal to punish yourself – if it starts with negative roots, we likely will ditch it in a few weeks. 

    • Time-Sensitive

      We all have that goal we will get to ‘someday’. Now is the time to get focused and turn it into a realistic timeline. Focus on smaller goals that you can celebrate along the way to your long-term behavior changes.

    Other Goal Setting Tips

    • Make it meaningful

      Pick a goal that means something to you and will work with your lifestyle. Focus on a habit that will make YOU successful in the new year and not something you feel forced to be doing. 

    • Create a plan and put it into action

      Once you have a SMART goal in place, go ahead and put it into action. We all wish they could miraculously achieve themselves, but they do require a little preparation on our part. Are you planning to exercise every day? If so, join a local gym or research some videos you can do at home. Ensure you have the appropriate attire and water bottle ready and fuel up with healthy foods. With a good plan in place, you will be more likely to sustain it for weeks (if not months) to come!

    Staying on Track During the Holidays

    There are plenty of obstacles and interruptions in life that get in the way but with a little planning, you can be successful. Remember to be flexible and when goals get away from you, re-evaluate. Modifying them along the way can help make them more representative of your needs and keep you headed in the right direction. Success takes time and does not have to be perfect – breathe and get back to work.

    Lindsay Allen
    Lindsay Allen

    For over 20 years, Lindsay has worked as a passionate and dedicated professional seeking to advocate health & well-being in the community and beyond. She has worked with various hospitals & health departments to plan, implement & evaluate educational programs on healthy lifestyle topics including nutrition, physical activity, and cancer prevention. She completed her degree & internship in Dietetics from Virginia Tech and holds certifications in CDC Diabetes Prevention Program along with effective writing and cultural competency to assist clients in the best personal goal setting & habits. In her spare time, Lindsay loves working out, watching sports, and spending time with her husband, 3 children & dogs.



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