Holiday eating

Outsmart the holidays with these healthy eating tips

By Daniella Youhan, MPH

Daniella Youhan, MPH

Daniella Youhan, MPH

It’s officially November which means the holiday season is right around the corner. What does this time of year make you think of? It could be family and friends, religion, or celebrations. No matter what comes to mind, food is likely involved. Food is a huge part of the holidays and there’s often a lot of it. Eating healthy during this time can seem challenging and even impossible, but it doesn’t have to be. Keeping these key points in mind can make navigating nutrition and health during the holidays seem like a piece of cake.

Don’t skip meals! While it may seem like a good idea to save your appetite for the big holiday meal, not eating throughout the day can result in overeating. Avoid consuming extra calories by eating a nutritious breakfast. Try eggs with cooked tomatoes (bee’a oo tomata), whole grain bread, and a small piece of fruit.

Remember the “plate method” for both appetizers and the main course. Half your plate should be filled with vegetables and fruits, while the other half should be one-fourth protein and one-fourth carbohydrates. Using this as a visual will help with portion control and make you feel fuller while eating more of the lower calorie foods.

Use a small plate. We tend to fill our plates, so choosing a smaller one will limit the amount of food that can fit on that plate and help with portion control.

Eat slowly! We have a tendency to eat fast and go back for more, but it takes 10-20 minutes for our brains to tell our stomachs we are full. Take your time by putting down your fork between each bite to really enjoy the food you’re eating and engage in conversation with your loved ones. This will slow down how quickly you finish and allow time for your body to tell you if it’s full. 

Vegetables are key! When it comes to appetizers, remember to start with the vegetables. They’ll help take the edge off and fill you up while providing fewer calories than dips and other starters. Choose fresh cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower to dip into your hummus and baba ganoush rather than pita bread or chips.

Enjoy everything in moderation. Don’t want to miss out on any of the delicious food? No problem! Go ahead and fill your plate with a small portion of all the foods while keeping the plate method in mind. This goes for sweets too. Pick one or two small pieces of dessert, choosing fruit to fill the rest of your plate.

Limit alcohol and sugary drinks. Try to limit your fancy holiday beverages, alcoholic and sugar-sweetened, to just one. Choose water and low/no-calorie beverages.

Don’t forget to move. Take a walk around the block with friends and family to catch up and check out all the holiday decorations after a meal. Plan a holiday-themed scavenger hunt or other activities to get everyone up and active.

If you’re hosting or making a dish, here are some additional tips to help make the holiday season a little healthier.

Produce, produce, produce. Whether you’re making appetizers, entrees, or sides, focus on seasonal fruits and vegetables. Try using spaghetti squash as a side in place of pasta or use cauliflower rice in addition to or in place of white rice. Utilize fresh eggplant to make zalata’d benjani or fresh zucchini, onions, and bell peppers for chili-fry.

Make simple swaps. Use brown rice in place of white rice when making dolma or biryani for a higher fiber and healthier dish. Make tomato-based kubba hameth over yogurt-based for a lower fat and calorie dish. Choose lean cuts of meat, at least 80 percent lean.

Maintaining your health during the holiday season doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy all the delicious food. Being mindful of what you put on your plate is an easy place to start. I hope you find these tips helpful when it comes to navigating nutrition and health during the upcoming holidays.

Wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season!

Daniella Youhan has a Master of Public Health in Nutritional Sciences and is currently pursuing her Registered Dietitian Nutritionist credentials from the University of Michigan. Her passion is helping people lead healthier, happier lives through the use of food and nutrition.