While pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, and eggnog may not care about your waistline, you’re not alone in wanting to eat healthy across this season’s celebratory meals.
You can picture the spreads already. Glistening, golden turkeys and tender, honeybaked hams, surrounded by the fluffiest mashed or marshmallow-toasted sweet potatoes. There’s browned-butter green beans, succulent stuffing, sweet cranberry relish, rich hot cocoa. And, of course, all the cookies and pie you could dream of for dessert.
It’s not a hard equation: The holidays equal food, and lots of it. And while it’s one of the most celebratory times of the year, it’s also one of the most stressful for those of us mindful of nutrition and maintaining a balanced, plant-primary diet.
Nobody wants to be the Grinch to their gut when sitting down at the holiday table. Luckily, you can have some of your festive foodie favorites – and enjoy them too – by keeping in mind these five healthy holiday eating tricks.
Healthy Holiday Tip 1: It’s okay to indulge – just remind yourself who’s in control.
I put this one first for a reason, because all of us could use a gentle reminder.
The holidays mean a lot of things to a lot of folks, but sharing good food with family and friends is a key one. Don’t get so caught up in the stretch of your jeans that you refuse to even look at grandma’s homemade gingerbread cookies – the ones she’s been baking for years for the people she loves.
Rather, know there is nothing on that table you haven’t eaten before and will never eat again. Remind yourself of this. Sneak off to the bathroom and say it out loud while looking in the mirror if you must.
This kind of affirmation asserts your control over your cravings, making “guilty” foods less enticing, less off-limits. It will also help you eat healthier portions of those sweet-and-savory goodies that make holiday meals so wonderful, because they won’t seem like such rare treats.
Healthy Holiday Tip 2: Watch your liquids
Alcohol and special, seasonal drinks are everywhere this time of year. They’re also one of the sneakiest ways to consume excess sugars, fats, and calories without balancing any nutritional macros.
When at a holiday party – from the one at the office to the one at your best friend’s – keep your alcoholic beverages in-check. Swap the fancy, sugary cocktails for a glass of red wine or a favorite beer, and take your time to drink it, savoring the sips. Or forgo the alcohol, eggnog, and hot cocoa altogether in place of seasonally spruced-up flavored waters, like cranberry-lime or blackberry-and-sage spritzers.
Healthy Holiday Tip 3: Keep it colorful
The proverbial wisdom to make your plate as colorful as possible is just as pertinent at Thanksgiving as it is for your regular Tuesday meal prep – and maybe even a little easier!
With the fall harvest, there are plenty of fresh and nutritionally dense produce options to grace a holiday feast. While it’s easy to load up on all the shades of brown due to meats, starches, and gravies, keep half your plate veggie-centric. In-season favorites include brussel sprouts, arugula, beets, broccoli rabe, squash, carrots, and cauliflower – all of which can be prepared in delicious, creative ways that don’t involve a deep fryer or butter.
The half-veggie rule is a mindless way to get your recommended 5-7 daily servings of fruit and veggies, as well as delivers a rainbow of vitamin and minerals likely lacking in a main dish of meat. Bonus – when the dessert bell rings, you’ll have hacked your tastebuds and feel more satiated, too.
Healthy Holiday Tip 4: Have fun with recipe swaps.
Remember above, when I said there are creative ways to cook “boring” veggies sans deep-fryer or butter?
Holiday staples like creamy mashed potatoes can be swapped for herb-seasoned sweet potatoes. Carrots can be roasted and brightened with a curry-powder yogurt sauce, or maybe garnished in a rosemary-parsley-thyme mix. Green beans can be blanched and drizzled in olive oil, then topped with low-fat feta cheese, toasted almonds, and pomegranate seed sprinklings. The list goes on and on.
Your kitchen is a place to experiment, create, and make memories. There’s almost no time better for this than the holiday season. Opportunities abound to take familiar recipes and give them a healthy, hearty twist – without sacrificing the nostalgia of favorite lifelong dishes.
Healthy Holiday Tip 5: Re-work your working out
For as many tricks as there are to eating well over the holidays, there are just as many to exercising well, too.
While the food you consume remains step one to optimal physical health, exercise is an imperative complement, as well. And let’s face it, we’re all going to be eating and drinking a little bit more this time of year – and that’s okay! Just ensure you give your workouts the same attention as your tastebuds.
You’re much more likely to stick to exercising if you do two things: Have an accountability system, and/or find a workout you actually enjoy. Why not try both this holiday season?
Sign up for a yoga, Zumba, or a spin class with a friend. Set up a walking challenge at work, with the individual or department totaling the most weekly steps winning a gift card or healthy treat. Go on walks at the top of the hour with a friend – especially if you work a desk job. Park in the far corner of parking lots. Create multiple workout playlists with your favorite songs, and listen to a new one every day of the week. You get the gist.
Now get yourself fun workout plan and partner – and make this holiday’s eating a little less scary.
If you would like expert advice on personal meal planning, we offer nutrition counseling services at Digestive Care Specialists. Schedule an appointment by calling 301-288-1319.