10 Tips for Healthier Holiday Eating

Eat, drink, and be merry—and still feel good on January 1? If you make it a priority, you can enjoy the holidays without sabotaging your health and waistline. All you need are some realistic goals, thoughtful planning, and smart choices. Check out these 10 tips for healthy holiday eating to be ready for an energetic 2018.

  1. Begin with the end in mind.
    What are your health goals for the holiday season? Envision how you want to look and feel on January 1st. Commit to it. Write it down. Post it. Own it. Research shows that writing down goals significantly increases your chance of meeting a goal.1 However, be realistic that this may not be the ideal time to try to lose weight or start a new exercise program in order to get there.
  2. Have a plan.
    When you go to a holiday gathering, you likely already make plans for transportation, for childcare, for gifts, etc. So add an eating and drinking plan to the list. Without a plan, you’re more likely to make indiscriminate choices and overindulge. And if you know that you won’t be happy without a piece of your neighbor’s pie, then plan to have it and enjoy it—guilt-free! Just be mindful of how you define a special occasion and favorite treats. Remember, not every event in November and December is a special event.
  3. Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast.
    Many people routinely skip meals, especially breakfast, in the belief that the missing calories help their waistline.2 But it doesn’t work that way. In fact, people who skip breakfast regularly tend to have a higher body mass index and report more hunger and food cravings throughout the day than those who eat breakfast.3
  4. Go colorful.
    Eat colorful fruits and vegetables throughout each day. This provides an ongoing supply of phytonutrients, potent plant chemicals that help offset oxidative stress from holiday indulgences. In doing so, they leave your body’s detoxification and immune systems in better shape for the new year.
  5. Plan to drink…plenty of water.
    Drink up! Enjoy plenty of sparkling or still water before and during holiday events. Besides providing hydration, keeping your skin party-ready, water helps fill you up and occupy your hands. According to a three-month research study, people who drank about 2 cups of water an hour before eating consumed fewer calories, helping them lose 44% more weight than those who didn’t.4 Adding a slice of lemon or lime makes it more festive.
  6. Don’t go hungry.
    Bolster your holiday eating plans by consuming a light, nutritious snack an hour before your event. For example, have a serving of fruit or a protein-rich food. Yogurt or a healthy salad, in particular, has been show to manage hunger and reduce intake at the next meal.5,6
  7. Portion control: The portion makes the poison.
    Indeed, holiday eats tend to be calorically dense and heavy on the carbohydrates. So, in addition to using a smaller plate and filling half of it with nonstarchy vegetables, be mindful of portion control. Try the American Institute of Cancer Research’s portion quiz7 to test your portion size smarts. And if you’re making or bringing dessert, cut it into small portions. For example, slice a pie into twelve pieces instead of eight. Your guests can always have seconds if they are so inclined.
  8. Do a buffet drive-by─then go last.
    Before you even pick up a plate, look at all your options. Then let others help themselves first. It’s easier to restrain yourself if the buffet isn’t quite Instagram-ready.
  9. Skip the deep-fried wontons (and other high-AGE foods) to look better in January.
    Many holiday foods contain compounds known as advanced glycated end-products, or AGEs. Accumulation of these harmful compounds can affect all of our cells and is linked to the development or worsening of many diseases, such as cardiovascular and Alzheimer’s. In addition, like their acronym, they are associated with premature aging. Specifically in skin cells, AGEs can build up in connective tissue, promoting stiffness and loss of elasticity.8,9 Think wrinkles.So avoid high-AGE foods. These include:

    • Sugary items such as candy, cookies, cakes, soda, and pastries
    • Processed foods, including packaged meats and cheese
    • High-fat (especially red) meats
    • Deep-fried and broiled foods
  1. Bring the holiday healthiness.
    Always offer to bring a healthy dish to a gathering. Besides being a helpful guest, you’ll be assured that there is something nourishing you can enjoy. Buy one premade if it will reduce your holiday stress. Be sure to add festive garnishes, such as toasted, chopped nuts or dried cranberries. Ideally, bring a vegetable or fruit-based dish, as nutrient-dense dishes are harder to find at holiday gatherings. Here are some healthy holiday swap ideas.

    • Mashed potatoes: Mash the potatoes with chicken broth and roasted garlic or garlic powder rather than whole milk and butter. Let guests add butter to their own portions.
    • Cauliflower mash: In addition to being much healthier than typical mashed potatoes, these can be made in advance and won’t turn into culinary cement. Try the basic recipe, or try dressing it up with a citrus version.
    • Stuffing: Swap out some of the bread with dried fruits and herbs to make it lighter and phytonutrient-rich. For gluten-free stuffing, consider making cornbread with organic cornmeal.
    • Cranberry sauce: It’s a condiment, not a dessert. So avoid the high-fructose corn syrup in the canned versions and make your own. This recipe includes citrus and pomegranate to deliver an antioxidant-packed bright color and flavor without relying on a lot of added sugar.
    • Turkey: True, the darker meat has more fat than the white meat. But whether you pick light or dark meat, remove the skin to save 11 grams of saturated fat per 3 oz. serving, and most holiday servings are bigger than that.
    • Gravy: Refrigerate, then skim off the hard fat before rewarming, then serving. This habit removes nearly 500 calories of fat per cup.


  1. Domincan.edu. https://www.dominican.edu/academics/lae/undergraduate-programs/psych/faculty/assets-gail-matthews/researchsummary2.pdf Accessed November 29, 2017.
  2. Nicklas, TA, Myers, L, Reger, C, et al. (1998) Impact of breakfast consumption on nutritional adequacy of the diets of young adults in Bogalusa, Louisiana: ethnic and gender contrasts. J Am Diet Assoc. 98: 1432–1438.
  3. Cho E. Dietrich M, Brown CJP, Clark CA, et al. The effect of breakfast type on total daily energy intake and body mass index: results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). J Am Coll Nutr 2003:22(4):296-302.
  4. Dennis EA, Dengo AL, Comber DL, et al. Water consumption increases weight loss during a hypocaloric diet intervention in middle-aged and older adults. Obesity. 2010;18(2):300-307. doi:10.1038/oby.2009.235.
  5. Tremblay A, Doyon C, Sanchez M. Impact of yogurt on appetite control, energy balance, and body composition. Nutr Rev 2015; 73 (suppl_1): 23-27. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuv015.
  6. B J Rolls. L S Roe, J S Meengs. Salad and satiety: energy density and portion size of a first-course salad affect energy intake at lunch. J Am Diet Assoc. 2004 Oct;104(10):1570-6.
  7. American Institute for Cancer Research. Holiday Portion Quiz. http://www.aicr.org/enews/2017/11-november/enews-holiday-portion-quiz.html Accessed November 29, 2017.
  8. Lee EJ, Kim JY, Oh SH. Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) promote melanogenesis through receptor for AGEs. Scientific Reports. 2016;6:27848. doi:10.1038/srep27848.
  9. http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/030314p10.shtml Accessed Nov. 28, 2017.
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About Maribeth Evezich

Maribeth Evezich, MS, RD is a functional nutrition and therapeutic lifestyle consultant. Maribeth is also a graduate of Bastyr University and the Natural Gourmet Institute. Whether she is in her kitchen experimenting, at her computer researching, or behind the lens of her camera, she is on a mission to inspire others to love whole foods as much as she does. She lives in Seattle, is on the faculty of Bastyr University, and is the founder of Lifestyle Medicine Consulting, LLC and the culinary nutrition blog, Whole Foods Explorer. Maribeth Evezich is a paid consultant and guest writer for Metagenics.

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