A table with several holiday dishes and text stating: "5 Tips for Healthier Holiday Meals"

5 Tips for Healthier Holiday Meals

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Making better holiday meal decisions doesn't need to be a chore. Little decisions can turn a diet-compromising meal into a minor indulgence. Consider using one or more of the tips that follow to end the year on a healthy note!



1. Bring a healthier version of traditional dishes


A good holiday meal plan often starts several days before. If you bring a dish to share for holiday meals, consider providing a healthier option for the family. Simple substitutions or slight recipe tweaks can keep the dish tasty and make it healthier at the same time.

For example, if you usually bring a casserole, perhaps you can reduce the amount of salt in the recipe. Family members who heavily season their food can always add more and those who prefer less will be happy with the change.

Dishes that include noodles or rice can trade inert ingredients for nutritious, vegetable-based alternatives. Making spaghetti from squash and rice from cauliflower adds more vegetables to the dish with a comparable mouthfeel and similar cost.

Maybe you're in charge of the dessert, in that case you might bring fresh fruit instead of a second pie. Giving your guests several options allows them to make healthy decisions without feeling like they're burdening the host by requesting something different.



2. Make water a prominent drink option


Water is a powerful tool to improve your holiday eating habits!

When the tradition is to overeat, you can tilt the odds in your favor by making water an easy option for you and your guests. Adding a pitcher of water to the table makes it easy to get a refill without leaving the room. If you have the higher calorie drinks in a different room, then the added effort to leave the table might be just enough to cause you to choose water instead.

Another way to help manage food overload is to drink a glass of water before you start the meal. That single glass of water helps you feel full sooner and avoids mistaking hunger for dehydration. Little changes, like this one, can be the difference between reaching for a second plate and being satisfied with the first.

For those who find water bland, you can add lemon or lime slices to a pitcher of ice water to make a refreshing, flavored beverage. You might also consider flavored sparkling water, you get the taste of a fizzy drink without the added sugar and calories of a soft drink.



3. Control portion sizes by using small plates


Controlling portion sizes can be difficult when you have so many tasty options in front of you. Beat the urge to go overboard by using a smaller plate. When using a large plate you're more likely to fill up that extra space with food. Small plates let you get a taste of everything in portion sizes that are easier to control.

As a bonus, using smaller plates gives your body a chance to react to the food you've already had. According to WebMD's Nourish Blog, slower eating can reduce the total calories consumed. It's frequently cited that it can take 20 minutes or more for your body to perceive satiety or the feeling of fullness. Use this knowledge to your advantage and save yourself from overeating.

By filling a small plate, consuming your first, smaller course, and only then reaching for a second plate, you give your body the chance to tell you you've had enough. That extra time might be all you need to stave off the cravings for "just a little more."



4. You can enjoy boozy beverages and still make healthy decisions


Typical holiday stress might make you want an extra glass of mulled wine or the annual holiday cocktail. If you can keep that indulgence in check, you can save calories and reduce the unwanted after effects of having one-to-many.

Just like reducing portion sizes by using a smaller plate, you can use a similar trick to reduce the amount of alcohol you consume: use a half-sized glass. Giving yourself a moment to decide if you'd like more or would rather switch to another drink puts you in control.

If your meal has a make-your-own drink station, then you can adjust the proportions of ingredients in your cocktail. There may not be a noticeable difference between a whole portion of the spirit and a half portion. In cocktails with strongly flavored ingredients, you might be able to avoid the spirit entirely without affecting the taste.

If there's a traditional holiday drink that you know will be served, consider bringing a non-alcoholic version that mirrors the cocktail's taste profile. There's an abundance of non-alcoholic spirits on the market today and with a little extra planning you can have a complex drink that's alcohol-free.



5. Make a plan for leftovers before you reach the dinner table


When you've had your fill and find that there's still food on the table, you have to decide whether to finish off what's there or store it for later. By quickly packing up leftovers before the dessert course, you can avoid the temptation of all-day grazing.

In the event that you have neighbors who are unable to visit family during the holidays, you can brighten up their day with a meal (or two) from your home. You'll feel better making that neighborly connection and you'll be able to get back to your normal routine sooner without wasting food.

By limiting the amount of food you prepare, either in volume or variety, you may be able to avoid leftovers altogether. Moreover, making a lighter meal allows for quicker preparation and faster cleanup. While the quantity of food might change, the benefit of knowing you're sticking to your health goals can make it all worthwhile.



Holiday meals can be healthy meals!


Planning for healthier holiday meals doesn't mean you have to add a lot of extra work or expense. Simple, easy-to-make changes can create a healthy shift during end-of-the year celebrations and help maintain the progress you've made during the year. Over time these little tweaks can make all the difference for you and your health goals!


Do you need a little more help with your nutrition plan? Book a Nutritional Counseling session with Dr. Inman and by this time next year you'll be a healthier happier you!