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Wise Choices for Healthy Holiday Eating

By Monica A. Cengia, MSEd, RDN, LD, CDCES

The holiday season is here! You may be anxious about the tempting foods now available. How can you maintain control of your desires to eat during this time of the year? The ideas below can help you to be better prepared. Enjoy these special times without the fear of gaining extra pounds or overindulging.

We’re home for the holidays:

  • Plan menus ahead; include some “family favorites”.
  • Keep lower fat chips, crackers, other “munchies” in covered containers so they are handy, but “out of sight” to avoid over-nibbling. Prepare finger foods like a fruit tray, fresh veggies or a cereal mix with nuts.
  • Freeze individual containers of cookies, breads & other favorite goodies so they can be taken out as in smaller amounts as a treat.
  • Plan activities that involve exercise such as: taking a nature hike, walking to see holiday lights or stretching/yoga in your home.

Party with hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, etc. (limit numbers & space guests apart if needed):

  • Prepare ahead to take small amounts of the foods you like the best.
  • Allow yourself 1 special drink in a smaller glass. Try bottled water, tomato or V8 juice or a non caloric beverage for additional drinks.
  • Avoid standing next to the food or beverages areas.
  • Try nibbling on raw vegetables, a small handful of nuts & other healthier choices.
  • Find out the food fare ahead, if possible, so you can decide if the menu is enough to be a meal or if you need to plan to eat before or after.
  • Spend more time developing new/renewed friendships than adding calories. Put more value in special relationships vs. in the food.

For those who may be traveling safely (& taking COVID precautions):

  • Bring a small cooler with carrot sticks, cucumber slices, celery, green pepper slices and fresh fruit.  Pack a container with pretzels, graham crackers, fruit or cereal bars and small packets of nuts.
  • Pack a water bottle for each traveler. Refill at rest stops.
  • Look for healthier choices at drive in restaurants. Choose a light, but satisfying breakfast like: cereal, bagels, fruit, yogurt or eggs.
  • Leaner lunch items may include: grilled chicken sandwich or salad, smaller sandwich (with fruit vs. fries) or lowfat yogurt smoothie.
  • Get out, stretch and get some fresh air every few hours if the trip is long.
  • Take a 10-20  minute walk break. Bring sturdy walking shoes or gym shoes.
  • Bring extra hand sanitizer, wipes, masks & stay 6 feet apart from others.

Ordering out sensibly:

  • Check with the restaurant ahead to find out what is on the menu.
  • Order a half portion, split a meal with someone or save ½ the meal.
  • Use smaller amounts of salad dressing, butter/margarine, gravy & other “added” fats on your food.
  • Avoid eating more once you are satisfied. You’ll feel better the next day!
  • Split your favorite dessert – a few bites can taste just as special!

Holiday feast (seating at more tables, spacing apart a bit if desired when not eating):

  • Take a modest portion (one large spoonful) of your favorite foods.
  • Eat slowly. Try putting your fork down between bites and chew a bit more.
  • Savor the flavor. Make the first servings on your plate last at least 15 minutes.
  • Stop eating before you are stuffed. You will feel better after the meal!
  • Be choosy about any second helpings. Pick the foods that are worth the extra calories and take a small amount. Ask yourself:  “Am I really still hungry?”
  • Match the total minutes eating with the same minutes moving afterwards.
  • Offer to help with the little ones, serve or clean up so your focus is on serving others & being a gracious guest. This takes the focus away from just eating!

When food is love/comfort… You’re going into hibernation – (or maybe not!)

  • Beat the boredom/blues with some new activities (besides eating):
    • Pray more often
    • Watch a favorite movie
    • Pull out old photo albums
    • Call a friend
    • Find a hobby/craft
    • Play a game
    • Take a warm bath
    • Watch family videos
    • Play favorite Christmas songs
    • Read a good book
  • Sip on your favorite herbal tea, cup of soup or lowfat cocoa.
  • Get out of the house for fresh air, sunshine and a stretch break.
  • Ask yourself “Am I really hungry?” before eating. Answer honestly.
  • Keep a large glass of water nearby. Try to drink 5-6 glasses per day.

Healthier holiday gift giving (may check ahead if uncertain of restrictions):

  • Be sensitive to health issues and goals when gifting foods.
  • Avoid giving food gifts that may be a temptation that will sabotage a person who has earnest efforts to avoid such items.
  • Be creative! Give flowers, a cookbook, a candle, a fruit basket, photo frame, plant or other item that may be treasured.

On the home front… Reshaping daily habits:

  • Buy a new festive holiday placemats. Put yours at your usual eating place for daily meals. This is a visual reminder to sit there whenever you eat. Keep your food diary underneath the placemat so it is handy.
  • Buy a holiday candle and light it whenever you eat. This will remind you to relax, slow down and enjoy the taste, texture and flavor of your foods.
  • Place all foods on a plate/dish. Keep the portions small.  Add a salad or extra plate of raw vegetables. Eating should be a pleasure!
  • Keep a food diary to increase your awareness of all that you eat and drink. Be sure to log how much you have eaten. This is a powerful tool for self awareness, accountability and personal decision making when trying to make a change. Did you know that those who record what they eat and how much during the holidays actually have lost some weight vs. those who gain the usual 5-7 pounds? Staying the same weight can be your goal vs. putting on extra pounds from not being mindful of choices!
  • Modify a favorite recipe to reduce the calories. Try a new recipe!
  • Find new recipes on some of these websites:
  • Stay on a regular exercise program. Try a new activity or use the buddy system!
  • Make a contract for holiday habits (see below). Commit to 2 or 3 goals.


My goal this holiday season is to avoid weight gain and stay healthy.  To achieve my goal, I plan to focus on the following lifestyle changes/commitments:




Weight :  Dec 12: _______    Dec. 19:_______   Dec 26 _______  Jan. 6: ________

Signed:______________________________________      Date: _______________

May your holiday be peaceful and full of love and joy!  Best wishes for a healthy, nutritious & happy New Year!

Please feel free to call to if you wish to set up a private nutrition consultation:

Monica A. Cengia, MBA, MSEd, RDN, LD, CBDCE

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Board for Diabetes Care & Education

1525 E. Stroop Rd. Suite 100, Kettering, OH 45429

Work: (937) 436-1985          FAX: (937) 436-8085

NOTE: Not a Medicare or Medicaid provider


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