Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Good (for You) Cheer: Tips for healthy holiday eating–without depriving yourself.

The holidays are the time for friends, family, good cheer and good food. Lots of food. But if you are managing your weight, you don’t have to feel left out.

Here are some tips to help you enjoy the bounty of the holidays, without adding the pounds.

Never go to a party hungry. You may think it’s a good idea to skip a meal or limit your calories beforehand to save them up for the big holiday party. Our bodies— unfortunately—do not work like this. If we under-eat, we tend to be hungrier than normal and then we eat large portions of unhealthy foods, typically more calories than what we would normally eat if we ate moderate portions throughout the day. Having a small snack before an event can help prevent you from overeating at a party.

Slow down. It’s so easy to get excited and overeat when there is an abundance of delicious food in front of us. Sometimes, if we eat quickly, we can eat two to three times what our stomach can actually hold in a 15-to-20-minute timespan, which is the amount of time it takes for the stomach to tell the brain that it is full. Slow down by taking small bites and setting silverware down between bites. You may be surprised to learn that a lesser amount of food will actually satisfy you.

Use smaller dishes. In addition to slowing down, use smaller dishes. We not only eat with our stomachs, but with our eyes, too. We can fool our brains into thinking we’re eating more food by using a smaller plate. With a smaller plate, it will take much smaller portions of food to fill it up, allowing us to feel satisfied with less food.

Offer to bring a healthier choice. Holiday meals are occasions to have rich foods that we don’t normally enjoy year-round. But this shouldn’t prevent us from bringing a healthier dish or fresh vegetable or fruit tray to the party. Also, there are many different ways to “lighten” a rich holiday recipe, such as using low-fat or fat-free ingredients, or even replacing unhealthy ingredients altogether. See the sidebar for some delicious ways to make your family recipes healthier.

Watch alcohol consumption. Let’s face it—liquids can do a lot of calorie damage. Alcohol calories add up very quickly, even in one or two glasses. A standard beer usually accounts for about 100 to 150 calories per 12-ounce bottle/can. A 5-ounce glass of wine (red or white) has the same number of calories. Each ounce of hard liquor can add up to 60 to 100 extra calories, not including the calories in the liquids we mix with the liquor. Calories consumed from alcohol can sometimes add up to the same as a small meal.

Socialize strategically. The most popular area to meet and talk is usually in the kitchen or near the food table. However, having easy access to food while you are focused on talking makes it easy to overeat. Sit down away from the buffet table, concentrate on your food, and engage in conversation with those nearby doing the same.

Remember, the worst thing you can do is deprive yourself. These special events come just once a year, but just a few small changes can make the difference between maintaining and gaining weight over the holidays.

Tamara Rhodes, RD, LDN, and Sara Meloy, RD, LDN, are dietitians at UPMC Pinnacle.


Make Your Holiday Recipes Healthier

  • Make low-fat ingredient substitutions in cooking and baking.
  • Use skim or 1-percent milk instead of 2-percent or whole milk.
  • Use nonfat, plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream or mayonnaise.
  • Use egg whites in place of whole eggs.
  • Use unsweetened applesauce in place of oil.
  • Use fat-free or low-fat cheese, cream and condiments in place of full-fat varieties.
  • Use sugar-free maple syrup in place of regular maple syrup.
  • Get creative with casserole toppings, such as by using almonds or walnuts in place of marshmallows or fried onions.
  • If you are breading something, use whole-wheat panko, ground flaxseed or crushed whole-grain crackers (Wheat Thins, Triscuits).
  • Refrigerate gravy and skim the fat off before re-heating and serving.
  • Make cookies with a light dusting of sugar rather than icing.
  • Hold off on the whipped cream, chocolate or ice cream topping.
  • Make pies with real fruit instead of pie filling for more vitamins, more antioxidants, more fiber and less sugar.
  • Choose pies without a caramelized surface or top crust, such as pumpkin pie instead of pecan or apple pie.
  • Replace half of the sugar in desserts with a sugar substitute such as Splenda or Stevia.
  • Use graham crackers to make pastry dough.
  • Prepare a crustless quiche or cheesecake.
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