Tips for Enjoying a Healthier Holiday Season

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, filled with fond memories of family, friends, and of course, food. On average, Americans gain one to two pounds during the holiday season and while this isn’t dramatic, research shows it tends to stick and accumulate over the years. With everyone showcasing their best, rich and decadent recipes over the holidays, trying to maintain a healthy eating pattern can seem impossible. Do not despair! With just a few strategies, you can eat healthfully and avoid holiday weight gain while still enjoying friends, family and the feast!

  1. Avoid Skipping Meals

I hear it regularly throughout the holiday season: a plan to fast all day before overindulging at a big dinner meal. While eating lighter throughout the day to save calories for a bigger meal can be beneficial, skipping entire meals often results in a sluggish metabolism, increased hunger, and overeating later. This is especially important when it comes to breakfast. Research shows that people who eat breakfast consume fewer calories during the day and are less likely to be overweight. If you eat your biggest holiday meal at lunch, try to include at least two food groups at breakfast such as high fiber whole grains and lean protein. Eat light snacks every 3 to 4 hours throughout the day such as whole grain crackers with cheese or peanut butter, a fruit smoothie made with yogurt, or hummus with veggies. This will rev up your metabolism and help you pay closer attention to hunger and fullness cues at the later meals.

  1. Start with Veggies

Focus on eating lower-calorie party foods, such as fruits and vegetables, first. Bring a fruit or veggie tray to the holiday gathering. This can be a great way to get in nutrient-dense, low calorie snacks before the heavy stuff. Research shows eating lighter foods like a salad before your meal can help you eat fewer calories overall. Don’t forget that even though a fruit or vegetable is considered “healthy”, like sweet potatoes or cranberries, they still contain calories, especially if prepared in a casserole or sauce, so portion size is key.

  1. Try Healthy Substitutions

Using a few healthy substitutions is a great way to save some calories in the preparation process. You can also substitute more nutritious items to make your recipes a little healthier, such as chicken broth instead of butter and low-fat milk instead of heavy cream in mashed potatoes, whole wheat flour in casserole toppings and whole wheat bread in stuffing for added fiber, or applesauce instead of oil in baked goods. One recipe that is particularly simple to lighten up is the traditional green bean casserole. Instead of using canned cream of mushroom soup and canned green beans, use plain Greek yogurt and fresh or frozen green beans as a base. You’re not only reducing sodium and fat, but increasing beneficial vitamins and minerals as well. Lastly, give your desserts a nutritious punch by preparing fruit-based sweets such as apple crisp or berry cobbler. These dishes do not skimp on flavor, but contain more antioxidants and fiber than typical desserts, which are calorie dense with little nutritional value.

  1. Enjoy in Moderation

Let’s face it, there is no substitute for some of those special holiday treats that you only eat one or two times a year. Enjoy the foods you love, but enjoy them in moderation. Start by making just one trip to the buffet line and choose the foods you really want to eat. Wait at least 10 minutes after you are finished eating to go back for seconds. This is because it typically takes 20 minutes for your brain to realize your stomach is full. If you fill your plate too quickly, you could overeat. Also, try to use a smaller plate, around 9 inches, as this will trick the brain into thinking portion sizes are bigger than they actually are.

Remember these everyday objects when portioning food:

  • Turkey: 1 serving = deck of cards
  • Cheese: 1 serving (1 oz) = 4 dice
  • Roll: 1 serving = bar of soap
  • Butter: 1 serving = 1 dice
  • Mashed potatoes: 1 serving = tennis ball
  • Pie: 1 serving = light bulb
  • Brownie: 1 serving = post it note
  1. Incorporate Activity

We all know that a healthy lifestyle balances diet and exercise. Activity helps to burn extra calories eaten during the day, so they don’t contribute to weight gain. There are small things you can do every day to remain active such as taking the stairs or parking far away. Research shows that just 10 minutes of activity each day really makes a difference.

Here are some tips to incorporate activity into your holiday traditions and gatherings:

  • If you are at a party, try to stand while mingling with guests to burn more calories.
  • Go on a walk after dinner or play a game of touch football or charades.
  • Help clean up after the meal.
  • Participate in a local race or event.

Some of these tips may work for your family, and some may not. If all else fails, try to take the focus off of the food for a while by moving the party away from buffet table after dinner. Instead, focus on conversation or playing games with family and friends.

The holidays are meant to be enjoyed, so if you overindulge a few days a year, forgive yourself and move on. Your healthy lifestyle isn’t ruined just because of a few choices you make, rather consistently choosing healthier foods over the long-run is what is important. Nurture a healthy relationship with food by eating all foods in moderation, with mindfulness, and without guilt. This will make the holidays, and the whole year, less stressful and more enjoyable for all.




Healthier Green Bean Casserole Recipe

Prep and Cool time:  30 mins
Cook time:  30 mins
Total time:  1 hour

Yield: 4 servings


Breadcrumb topping:

  • 3 slices dry whole-wheat bread, cut into pieces
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, soft, cut into pieces


  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped (8 oz)
  • 1 lb. fresh green beans, ends removed, cut in half
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • ½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Prepare the topping by pulsing the bread and butter in a food processor.
  3. Mix yogurt with ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, garlic powder and cayenne pepper. Set aside.
  4. In a large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion with ½ teaspoon of the salt and cook 4 minutes, stirring often, until onions are golden brown.
  5. Add the green beans and cook, stirring often, 4 more minutes, until just tender. Add the garlic and cook 1 more minute. Remove from heat.
  6. Stir in the cheddar cheese until it melts. Then stir in the seasoned yogurt.
  7. Transfer the mixture into a 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with the topping. Bake 30 minutes, until topping is golden

Nutrition Per Serving: Calories: 325; Fat: 15g; Carbohydrates: 33g; Sugar: 3g; Sodium: 431mg; Fiber: 7g; Protein: 15g


This post was guest written by Elizabeth Hall, RDN, LDRN Registered Dietitian, Food City

Follow her on Twitter @FCDietitican


Source: Recipe adapted from