How to Build Balanced Holiday Meals

The holidays are quickly approaching, and that means planning and attending more gatherings with friends and family. Often, these celebrations will include special meals, snacks and treats — and all of that celebrating can interrupt your daily routine. So, how can you enjoy your favorite holiday meals and treats while continuing to be mindful about healthy eating?

The following tips from Stephani Hoch, MS, RD, CD, clinical dietitian, at UnityPoint Health – Meriter, can help you navigate this time of year.

  • Don’t skip meals to “save up” for a large meal, as this may make you more likely to overeat. Aim to eat close to your regular mealtimes if possible.
  • Remember MyPlate guidelines from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):
    • Try to incorporate items from various food groups.
    • Bring a dish from a food group you think may not be offered.
    • If there is more than one plate size to choose from, consider using the smaller plate, as this can help manage serving sizes.
  • Try substituting ingredients in your favorite recipes. Some examples include:
    • Use applesauce in place of oil in baked goods.
    • Use low-fat cheese in place of full-fat cheese.
  • Be mindful about beverages. Stay hydrated before a gathering, as sometimes hunger can be confused with thirst. Many holiday beverages are high in calories, so consider choosing lower-calorie options, such as sparkling water, diet soda, a low-calorie mocktail or punch.
    If you are drinking alcohol, remember that moderate drinking is defined as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. If you plan to drink alcohol, make sure you have a designated driver.
  • Include your favorite snacks and dishes — you deserve to enjoy your favorite holiday treats! Generally, no food should be off limits. Be mindful, slow down and savor what you’re eating. Pass on the foods that do not interest you.
  • Remember that it can take approximately 20 minutes after you start eating for your brain to realize you’re full. Take your time and listen to your body.
  • If you feel like you overate at a gathering, don’t feel too guilty. Just return back to your normal, healthy eating habits at your next meal.
  • Incorporate physical activity at a get-together. Go for a walk with a friend or play a friendly touch football game with family. Moving around can help offset food overindulgence and reduce stress.

Remember that the holidays are a small portion of the year, so be sure to have fun and connect with the important people in your life!

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