Holiday dining survival guide

How to plan and prepare for healthy meals during busy season


November through January boasts a plethora of holidays, most of which are well known and celebrated all over. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s typically involve parties and gatherings that oftentimes take us away from our own dinner table. Everyone, even family, tends to celebrate differently, however, with a little thought and planning, you can rejoice in the season, regardless of the venue and the menu.

Tip No. 1
Forgo saving yourself for that special holiday meal

Skipping meals before the holiday feast with the intent to save calories typically results in consuming more food at the celebration. When you are starving it becomes difficult to make healthy choices and the body craves sugar and fat to instantly suppress the hunger pangs. Smaller, more frequent meals enhance metabolism and curb binging on holiday treats. A great plan of action is to begin the day by eating a healthy breakfast complete with protein and complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal with almonds or hard boiled eggs and fruit. About one to two hours before the gathering, have a light snack along with a bottle of water to take the edge off your appetite and keep your blood sugar in check.

Tip No. 2
Offer to bring a healthy dish to parties

When appropriate, ask the party host ahead of time if you can bring a dish. The selection of unhealthy foods served can be irresistible and by bringing a healthy dish, you can plan to be worry-free at the gathering knowing there is something wholesome available to eat. Additionally, the party host will likely appreciate the kind act. Ideas include a vegetable platter with hummus, seasonal fruit salad or baked tortilla chips and salsa.

Tip No. 3
Have a plate plan

Before filling your plate, devise a plan of attack. Begin by taking a smaller plate (if available) and scout out your favorite dishes. Browse the food selection to find out what you really want and what you can pass up without feeling deprived. Fill your small plate to the rim if you desire — you will have to dish up less per serving.
Additionally, try to follow the tablespoon rule and only serve up about a tablespoon of your favorite holiday splurge dishes onto your plate. For buffet style holiday meals, avoid the temptation of returning for seconds by sitting as far away from your favorite foods as possible.
Another solution, which may have been common in your childhood, is to move your food around your plate and eat the dish you can enjoy first. Then, consolidate the foods you dislike onto one side so your plate does not look full.

Tip No. 4
Drink often, eat slowly and talk regularly

Occasionally, the main holiday dish might be a food you plain dislike, is unhealthy or relentlessly overcooked. The trick? Before putting food into your mouth, take a sip of your drink. Then right after eating take another drink to aid in the swallowing process. Not only does the liquid help dissipate the flavor and help the overcooked dish go down, drinking while eating tends to encourage the feeling of fullness, which means you eat less.

According to a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, obese people tend to chew their food less than lean people do, regardless of the food or bite size. The study found when people chewed their meals more than usual, the hormones regulating satiety and fullness increased. Overall, researchers concluded increasing chewing activity could become a valuable tool to reducing caloric intake and weight loss.

Be chatty. Catch up with relatives and friends who you have not seen in while. Begin with the familiar ice breaker of “how have you been?” and tune in to the life stories you have missed over the year. Likewise, think of two important events which summarize your year and share those as well. By the time the conversation concludes, dinner may be over and you can avoid ingesting too many calories.

Tip No. 5
Schedule your exercise and make holiday fitness fun

Admit it. Your schedule will be hectic this time of year. Schedule your workouts as you would any other important appointment.
Be flexible and think ahead, especially during a busy week or days out of town; change up your fitness routine by trying something new.
Commit to a holiday race by signing up for a “Winter Walk” or “Jingle Bell Jog.” These fun, family-friendly events will keep you motivated and moving during the holidays and best of all, the proceeds often benefit charities.

Enjoy the Season

Making healthy choices is definitely possible during the holiday season with a little planning and preparation. Having a game plan for these events can ensure you take pleasure in everything special about the holidays — from the delicious drinks, foods and desserts to your cherished family and friends.

Carey Stites, MS, RD, LD, CPT, is a registered and licensed dietitian working for Wellstone Health Partners in Harker Heights. Carey has been a practicing dietitian since 2001, with experience in both outpatient and inpatient medical nutrition therapy and sports nutrition. Carey is also an AFAA certified group fitness instructor and personal trainer; She has promoted health and wellness through presentations, classes, writing and cooking demonstrations all over Texas.