Enjoying Holiday Treats | Advice from a dietitian

The holidays are here, and so are the holiday treats and must-haves. From childhood favorites to shared family recipes, holiday foods tend to be sweeter and richer than what we’re used to. Although these foods are traditionally less healthy, they should not be banned. We spoke with Melody Steeples, MPH, RD, Registered Dietitian at Woodland Clinic, about her recommendations for enjoying this time of year without overdoing it.

Q: What are some tips to consider when enjoying holiday treats?
The best way to enjoy holiday treats is to eat them slowly and mindfully. Start with a small portion and really work on tasting each bite. Focus on what you like about what you eat. Take a moment to fully appreciate what you enjoy: the texture, the spices and flavors, the sweet or the salty. If you’re really hungry for 20 minutes or more after you’ve finished what you’ve eaten, go ahead and eat some more.

Q: Are all holiday foods created equal? Are some worse than others?
In my opinion, the only “bad” holiday foods are overly processed foods and desserts that replace real homemade foods. Holiday meals should be balanced like any other meal. Make sure your plate includes vegetables, fruit, protein, and a starch like sweet potato, bread, or stuffing.

Q: Can you “balance” holiday eating with physical activity?
I see physical activity and diet as different but equally necessary habits to promote good health. It’s easy to eat 400 to 500 extra calories (or more) a day while on vacation, and it’s hard to burn that number of calories. Instead of trying to “earn” your vacation by exercising, pay attention to your physical hunger. Don’t overeat and savor every bite you take. By maintaining your regular exercise routine, you will likely feel better throughout the day. That said, it’s not a bad idea to take a nice walk after your meals. Walking is much better for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels than taking a nap.

Q: Do you have any other nutritional tips for the holiday season?
Research shows that the more options available at a meal, the more people tend to eat. One strategy for small rallies is to limit the number of options to six or less. This will also avoid having too many leftovers. For large gatherings, let guests know that they don’t have to bring food to be welcome. Alternatively, you can ask a guest to bring music, games, something to entertain the kids, or a table decoration, for example. I hope you are having a happy and healthy holiday season!

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