Healthy Holiday Tips From The Nutritionists & Dietitians

By Nutritional Weight & Wellness Staff
November 23, 2022

holiday-eating.jpgThe holidays are upon us and life is filled with temptation as we slide through the holidays into the end of the year. Depending on how much we partake and how busy our merriment is, we might find ourselves feeling bloated, tired, and maybe a little frazzled in the new year

Our dietitian Teresa says, “The food decisions of one day’s festivities are not the cause of holiday weight gain. Weight gain around the holidays is because of days, weeks, even months (Halloween to Easter) of indulgent eating. We get a bit out of rhythm on the holiday and then find ways of justifying why we should continue eating those foods associated with that day: Halloween candy, leftover pumpkin pie and stuffing, Christmas cookies, etc.” 

But what if we took a different approach to the holiday season and the end of the year? Instead of waiting for January 1 to turn over a new leaf, what if we incorporated a few things that would help keep our health a priority while also enjoying ourselves through the holiday season?

With that intention in mind, we asked the nutritionists and dietitians on staff, as well as our in-house chef, what tips and tricks they use for themselves and their families to not only survive the holiday season, but to thrive. The purpose of this list is not to overwhelm you with ideas that you “should” do that make your holidays MORE stressful, but to provide you with several options to choose from that feel like a good fit for your health goals and your lifestyle.

Stick To Your Balanced Eating Routine

“My way of successfully enjoying the holidays is to moderately indulge the day of celebration, love every minute of it, and get right back to balanced eating the next day. I know full well that eating that pumpkin dessert or fudge is going to stir up the sugar monster in me but I also know that if I get right back to balanced eating the desire will dwindle in a couple of days.” – Teresa Wagner, RD, LD

“I stick to our weekly grocery shopping, planning, and cooking just like any other time of year so I know we've got real food readily available.” – Britni Vincent, RD, LD

“Not skipping meals to save calories for a party, holiday meal or gathering is something I focus on. I try to stick to my regular eating routine and stay balanced. If I know I might be having some extra carbs or a glass of wine, then I will make sure I’m eating lots of veggies with my meals earlier in the day to keep my carbs balanced out rather than restricting.” – Monica Hoss, MS, RD, LD

“I love New Year’s Resolutions, so I use the last two months of the year to try to finish strong on what my goals are. I find that if I’m meeting my exercise goals, getting in enough water, and eating in balance throughout November and December, I’m able to make better decisions about what I eat at those holiday dinners or parties.” – Amy Crum, MS, RD, LD

Prioritize Sleep, Water, & Movement

“Anytime I travel I make sure to bring my magnesium with me. Good sleep is essential to reduced stress over the holidays. And drink lots of water.” – Nikki Doering, RD, LD

“When attending gatherings, I always ensure that I either ask for a bottle of water or I bring my own water so I can stay hydrated.” – Kristi Kalinsky, RD, LD

“When the holidays have me feeling off track, the best way I have found beyond eating well is to find some time to get a good workout in.  There’s nothing like a good sweat to reset!” – Teresa Wagner, RD, LD

“Staying active is something I focus on. Exercise is a stress management tool for me and essential to keeping bright spirits during the holidays. Even if my schedule is packed or the weather is grim, 20-30 minutes of movement keeps me on track. I search for workouts that do not require equipment that I can do indoors on YouTube. No bundling up or driving to the gym, I can sneak in a quick workout before work or even in the hotel/guest bedroom when I'm traveling for holiday get togethers.” – Brandy Buro, RD, LD

“When the weather cooperates, we will go out for a family walk. There will be a group of about 12 of us that go after Thanksgiving dinner. Feels so good to get fresh air and move after being in the kitchen cooking and eating for hours!” – Teresa Wagner, RD, LD

To come up with your own balanced plan for the holiday, set up an appointment with a dietitian or nutritionist to figure out the best plan for you.

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Recipe Swaps For Healthier Versions

“Make some of the traditional recipes healthier. My family loves the traditional green bean casserole, but I make the sauce from scratch, skip with fried onions, and use fresh ingredients.” – Britni Vincent, RD, LD

“For finding recipes, Pinterest or even Google is a great tool. You can find a more nutritious alternative to any recipe these days. I use the terms ‘paleo’ or ‘Whole30’ to get real food options free of gluten and dairy, not because I follow those diet rules exactly, but because it will help find more balanced options. The Nutritional Weight & Wellness recipe tab is also a great place to search for recipes where you won’t have to question the quality.” – Elizabeth Leppart, MS, LN

“When planning meals, always start with a protein. Then have two veggies to choose from if you can that are in their whole food form, like making sweet potato instead of the casserole. You get to enjoy the flavors of the whole real food version without all the extra junk.” – Melanie Beasley, RD, LD

“I do enjoy pumpkin! One thing my family enjoys is homemade pumpkin pie hummus that we serve with sliced apples. We also make pumpkin pie parfaits in little mason jars made with real canned pumpkin, whipped cream cheese, and whipped cream from heavy whipping cream. When you make it yourself, you know exactly what’s in it.” – Alyssa Krejci, RD, LD, LMNT

Eat Before You Go

“When I'm invited to a holiday party, I will eat something before I go (a protein, healthy fat and vegetable carb). That way I don't enter the party hungry, so I'm not tempted by poor food choices. I focus more on the socializing and less on the food.” – Kristi Kalinsky, RD, LD

Bring A Healthy Dish To Share

“Regarding the big holiday meal, I always make sure I bring a dish to share that is something I know works for me and that I can fill up on if there’s not a lot of other great choices. More often than not, that is bringing a vegetable or salad dish. My favorite (and is usually a crowd pleaser) is the Cabbage Apple Slaw recipe from the N4WL cookbook. The Crunchy Broccoli Salad is also a nice choice. I know if I can eat a good hunk of meat and go to town on the veggies, there’s not a whole lot of room left over for the other stuff.” – Leah Kleinschrodt, MS, RD, LD

“Bring a vegetable side dish to potlucks and holiday parties so you know you and your loved ones will have a healthy carbohydrate to eat.” – Nikki Doering, RD, LD

“Like many have already suggested, I always bring a veggie side or two so I know there's something that works with my meal plan on the table. I fill up on those sides and have just a taste of the richer dishes that often leave me feeling sluggish afterward. For dessert, I like a pumpkin custard (the best part of pumpkin pie for me is the filling!) or a fruit crisp.” – Brandy Buro, RD, LD

Fill Up On The Real Foods First

“I choose those to fill up my plate with the meat and at least one vegetable first. Then just have a small serving of the other less healthy options. For me, even having just a bite of stuffing, let’s say, satisfies me just to experience the flavor then move on to the healthier options.” – Elizabeth Leppart, MS, LN

“There are certain holiday foods that I don’t want to change or try to make healthy – I also know myself and my tendency to be an all-or-nothing person so I am very careful about how and when I eat those foods. Never on an empty stomach, as I will fill up on that food and then regret it. If the food is something that I may overeat and is also a part of a meal, I fill my plate with the proteins, the veggies, and leave a smaller place on the plate for the more indulgent foods.” – Teresa Wagner, RD, LD

Practice Mindful Eating

“Eating mindfully is key. I plan ahead and decide what I am going to have on Thanksgiving Day. Of course, I'll load up on vegetables and turkey, but I think about what other foods I want to enjoy that day. Then, I'm mindful when I am eating, I enjoy and savor my food. I also don't overeat, so at the end of the day, I'm satisfied but not uncomfortable.” – Kelly McGraw, MS, LN

“I skip or take very small amounts of any foods I don’t truly enjoy. While eating I make a very conscious effort to eat slowly and focus on the conversation.  Eating slowly helps me to savor the food more and allows time for the brain and stomach to talk to each other, far less likely to take seconds and get uncomfortably full.” – Teresa Wagner, RD, LD

Spread The Enjoyment Throughout The Season

“Thanksgiving comes with a lot of favorite recipes. Instead of making them ALL on Thanksgiving, my family has started to space them out throughout the holiday season.  So, on Thanksgiving we may have: turkey with gravy + mashed potatoes + roasted green beans + little bit of cranberry pear sauce

While other holiday season family meals include other “Thanksgiving” type favorites: 

I enjoy ALL my favorite recipes of the season, but I don’t have to make them ALL in one day.  Enjoy balanced meals all through the holidays.” – Alyssa Krejci, RD, LD, LMNT

“If I'm lucky enough to get some of the turkey or ham leftovers, I make a big pot of soup and freeze portions for quick lunches and busy days I don't have time to cook. It's convenient to have a bowl of turkey wild rice soup or ham, bean, and kale soup ready to go during the holidays when I'm out of the house more often, shopping or headed to a gathering.” – Brandy Buro, RD, LD

Cooking Baking & Gift Giving

“Baking cookies with my children is mostly about the fun and being creative in decorating. We view it as a craft activity more than a “making and eating” activity where we focus on time spent with family and less on the actual food. Some recipes make A LOT of cookies, so I will cut down the size of the recipe to only make enough for us all to decorate 1-3 cookies each and I give myself permission to not eat them all. Another option is to freeze the cookie dough balls (or cut out cookie shapes) for later to save more cookie decorating for another night with my kids. Have a contest with judging to decide whose cookie decorating is 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place. My kids make homemade certificates with stickers for prizes.” – Alyssa Krejci, RD, LD, LMNT

“My kids and I will make the chocolate fat bombs sprinkled with a little sea salt (which adds some shimmer to them) so we have a sweet "treat" accessible if we want one. We will make other not so healthy treats/cookies as well, but we give them away to neighbors and friends to share in the spirit of the season. We still keep up the tradition of baking this way but without the temptation!” – Kristi Kalinsky, RD, LD

“I love to give practical gifts, so I make big pots of soup and stew or batches of veggies that I have fermented. I put them in mason jars with a festive tag and bow. This way I am giving a healthy gift and it almost always starts of conversation about eating real food.” – Chef Marianne Jurayj

“Many people like to give food “treats” for the holidays. My husband and I balance this by first accepting the gift with gratitude, appreciating the thought and the gift from the other person, but also realizing we do not have to eat the gift. We might take one or two of our favorites to enjoy or serve some to everyone with dinner for a treat. After that we toss the rest. We want to be respectful and kind to our bodies, while also showing gratitude to the gift-giver. To us, that means controlling our environment and removing an excess of cookies/treats from our surroundings.” – Alyssa Krejci, RD, LD, LMNT

Do Your Best This Holiday

Depending on your life circumstances, the holidays can be a wonderful or challenging time of year (and maybe a bit of both). Setting an intention for yourself about what matters most to you from now until the end of the year can be a great way to focus your mindset and your actions on supporting yourself. What will your touchstones be this year that will help you navigate the festivities? Maybe it’s keeping up your balanced eating throughout the day. Perhaps you prioritize your sleep. Maybe you choose one dish to swap for a healthier version or maybe you decide to eat protein first then the other yummy stuff. However you spend your holiday this year, do your best and remember you can always start fresh with your next choice. All of us from Nutritional Weight & Wellness wish you a warm, delicious, and heart-centered holiday season ahead!

For more information on a healthy holiday season, check out these resources:


About the author

This blog content was written by a staff member at Nutritional Weight & Wellness who is passionate about eating real food.

View all posts by Nutritional Weight & Wellness Staff

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