Healthy Eating During the Holidays

Make no mistake; I adore the holidays – the assemblage of friends and family, the festive clothing, décor, and mood, and yes, the food. But the food – in all of its abundance and decadence – also poses challenges.

I’m particularly mindful about food this holiday season for three reasons. First, I’m pregnant, so my eating impacts two people. Second, because of my pregnancy, I need to think about portion control since I seem to fill up fast. And third, as I try to raise my 6-year-old daughter Laurel to love real, whole foods, it’s important to practice what I preach and model healthful eating habits. So today I wanted to share my favorite tips for healthy eating — handy during the holiday season and beyond, and whether or not you’re a parent.

Drink up. And I mean water! People often mistake hunger (and risk mindless snacking) when they’re actually thirsty. Tote an eco-friendly water bottle with you so you always have water on hand. Or set an alarm to regularly remind you to fill your water glass. I actually like the latter because it also offers a means to stretch and take a break from the computer.

Get in the good stuff first. ‘Tis the season for holiday parties, and the dessert table usually is piled just as high as the entrée table. Our family rule of thumb is that it’s fine to enjoy dessert so long as you fill up on the nutritious stuff first (i.e., so there’s less room for empty calories).

Fill up on fruit. I always make sure that we fill up on fruit through the day; it’s the first thing I offer for snack and we also eat fruit with meals. Fruit consumption is good for hydration and nutrients, and also leaves less room for rich desserts.

Snack mindfully. I do love sweet and salty snacks, but I always stop and think before I snack. And I always feel better when I opt for yogurt (the Stonyfield Oikos snack cups are my latest love – high in protein and calcium and yummy too!), fruit, or nuts as a snack over empty calories.

Bring an alternative. It’s common to bring sugary hostess gifts around the holidays, but one year my sister-in-law did the most brilliant thing. Instead of toting yet another tray of cookies, she brought trail mix (nuts, berries, chocolate chips), an array of dried fruit, and yogurt dipped pretzel rods. The snacks all had a touch of sweet to them, but were a refreshingly substantial alternative to the super sweet treats.

Encourage belly listening. Having grown up in a clean your plate household, I always encourage Laurel to listen to her belly. She definitely has a sweet tooth but she now knows to think carefully at the dessert table. Since toddlerhood, whenever she has asked for more dessert we respond, “Listen to your belly. If it feels good, go ahead, but remember that if you eat too many sweets, you’ll get a tummy ache. Only eat as much as feels good.” Laurel subsequently always stops eating when she’s full (i.e., not when she’s so stuffed that she gets sick). She even has adopted the practice that if she wants more than one treat, she’ll ask if we can split and sample together.

Bottom line. Enjoy the delights of the holidays, but in moderation. And always make sure you get in the good stuff first and be mindful about your choices. The treats will feel more special if they’re just that: treats, not the norm!

~ Christine Koh, Boston Mamas

Do you have favorite tips for eating healthy during the holidays? Please feel free to share them in the comments below!