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Tips for a Healthier Holiday Meal

Thanksgiving dinner

When it comes to a healthier holiday meal, it is all about the portions. We can enjoy eating most all the same foods, if we pay attention to how much we're eating. The following tips can help you with happy and healthy eating this holiday season.

1. Practice Mindful Eating

Mindful eating strategies include: using a smaller sized plate, putting your fork down between bites, filling your plate once rather than grazing. Try to take at least 20 minutes to eat. It takes this long for your stomach and brain to communicate whether you are full. Serve yourself reasonable portions and resist going back for more until you've given your body some time. Also, you have permission to leave food on your plate - no need to finish if you're full.

2. Scan and Plan

Many meals are served buffet or family style. Look at everything first, then decide what's worth it when serving yourself. Pass on the everyday chips and cookies and save yourself for something special like your mom's pecan pie or grandma's roll.

3. Rethink Your Drink

Calories from liquids can add up without filling you up. Be especially mindful of alcohol intake as it contains a lot of calories, and loosens us up, which can lead to eating more than we may have intended. Make sure to drink plenty of water or try a festive seltzer.

4. Shift Your Focus

Social events tend to focus on food. This season, shift your focus from food to family and friends. Walk away from the food table and engage with those around you.

5. Emotional Eating

Holidays tend to be busy and stressful. Stress is a big reason for emotional eating, which often results in overeating. The comfort foods we gravitate toward tend to be higher in fat, sugar and salt. Take time to breathe, slow down and de-stress.

6. Add Activity

It is inevitable that we will eat more during the holidays. Make sure to balance the extra calories coming in by moving more calories out. Be intentional about exercise and added activity. Invite others to join you for a walk between the meal and dessert.

7. Take Two (or Three)

Did you know that if you are not hungry, it takes only two to three bites to feel satisfied? When you're full, a small sliver of pie is all it takes to get the same pleasure as eating a full slice. By finishing a normal piece all you get is extra calories, not extra enjoyment.

8. Pick Plants

Dietary guidelines aim for half of your plate to be full of fruits and vegetables, one-quarter grain and one-quarter protein. This means that three quarters of your plate should be made up of plants. The fiber and water from fruits, veggies and grains will make you feel full. Try to make your plate reflect these proportions every day, even holidays.

9. Banish Famish

They say don't go to the grocery store hungry. That's true for holiday gatherings, too. If you skip and skimp too much ahead of time, you'll end up being overly hungry, setting you up to overeat at the event.

About Heather Wolfe, MPH, RDN, LD

Heather WolfeWolfe is one of the Live Well/Work Well health and wellness (Dartmouth-Hitchcock's employee wellness program) coaches specializing in nutrition.