Making Healthy Food Choices During the Holidays | Harris Casel Institute Melbourne FL
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Making Healthy Food Choices During the Holidays

A young woman opts for a healthy snack of whole grains, nuts and fruit to fuel her dayFollow these tips for enjoying without overindulging in holiday eating

From Thanksgiving through New Year's Day, it seems like there is a revolving door of opportunity to eat great food, and lots of it. And because it’s often a time that is brimming with end-of-semester projects and tests, holiday shopping, family parties, friend get-togethers, and office celebrations, it's easy to get caught up in the swirl of running from one place to the next while tackling the ever-present to-do list. This often leads to skipping daily exercise and meal-plan routines that you may have been following for much of the year, leaving you feeling less than overjoyed and more overstuffed, sluggish and even slightly stressed.

There are ways to fully enjoy the holidays and all the yummy treats this time of year brings. You don't have to skip your best friend's cheesy casserole or your aunt's out-of-this-world, homemade cookies. Planning ahead, focusing on a balance, and maintaining your usual routine as much as possible can all help you celebrate without completely going off-track with overindulging. The following are some strategies we think might be useful as you navigate the next few weeks.

Don't leave the house hungry

Whether you're heading out for a marathon of shopping or just to run errands, make sure you are fueled up before leaving your house or apartment.

Start your day with a whole-grain roll with an egg and cheddar cheese or eat oatmeal with plain yogurt, walnuts, and blueberries. You might even want to try a smoothie that you can pack with frozen fruit like blueberries and strawberries, coconut milk, plain yogurt, oatmeal, and chia seeds. All of these breakfasts can give you energy to navigate the crowds of a busy shopping complex.

Pack snacks to take along with you. It can be something as simple as throwing a serving-size bag of almonds, walnuts or trail mix into your bag. Or, you can take an insulated lunch bag with a freezer pack in it to store a hard-boiled egg and an apple and peanut butter. All of these can be a great mid-morning re-charge. If you have to eat lunch out, choose a salad with lots of fresh veggies, quinoa, and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing or a grilled chicken sandwich on whole-grain bread.

While we know all the holiday-themed, sugar-filled coffee drinks may call your name, don't listen to them! Opt instead for a simple coffee with milk, either one at the coffee shop or fill-up a travel mug at home to carry with you. Tea is another excellent choice if you are looking for something warm. And it's always a great idea to take along water so you can stay hydrated as you run from store to store.

Make mindful choices

Once you have actually arrived at a party or dinner, make mindful food choices can help satisfy your cravings for holiday treats while also helping you avoid a revolt by your digestive system later.

When standing in front of the appetizer table, scan the options before you start filling your plate. Reach for vegetables and hummus over egg rolls or chips and cream-based dips. However, if the egg roll is really calling to you, try one instead of three.

It's fine to enjoy sauces, butter, dressings and gravy, but try drizzling a small puddle rather than ladling an overflowing lake onto your plate.

If you want to try everything, go ahead and do so in moderation. Select small amounts of each – potatoes, meat, vegetables, casserole, stuffing side dishes – and enjoy the sampling. Then resist the temptation to go back for seconds or thirds.

When it's dessert time, apply the same strategies: take two cookies instead of six. Have a sliver of pie and one scoop of ice cream instead of two. Or, try a bowl of fresh fruit with your cookie.

Drink water with your meals or sip seltzer with lime throughout a party in place of sugary drinks or alcoholic beverages.

Be kind to yourself

If you did eat your way through a party from heavy appetizers straight through to a gooey, decadent dessert, don't feel guilty about it the next day. Start the new day fresh and refocus. Be sure to drink plenty of water and return to more moderate-sized meals and healthy, lean choices such as a dinner of salmon or chicken with roasted green beans and sweet potatoes.

Remember to exercise and sleep

The holidays are also known for schedules that are so busy that exercise tends to get dropped from the must-do list. Often, the number of sleeping hours is usually trimmed down as well. This can deplete energy levels and simply make you feel tired and irritated with no motivation to hit the gym and cook healthy meals much less get your studies and work done, and holiday preparations completed!

To avoid a completely meltdown that could lead you through a fast-food drive-through one too many times during the holidays, it's important to fit in exercise and a good night's sleep.

While you might be saying that you just don't have an hour a day to devote to running or a spin class, there are easy ways to get moving daily. Try budgeting 20 minutes of your lunch hour to walking, even if it is just up and down stairs or doing laps around the building. When at home, you can do push-ups, sit-ups, and more while watching TV. Check out this Bustle article for more great ideas for how to combine your exercise and TV time.

Try to get at least seven hours of sleep. Your body and mind will thank you by giving you more energy and alertness to power through your packed days!

This time of year is all about food, fun, family, and friends. We hope that these suggestions will help you navigate this busy time and allow you to hit the ground running in the new year! We wish you a safe and fun holiday season filled with laughter and great food!

This article is part of the Harris Casel Institute’s weekly blog. We conveniently offer  career training programs at our campus in Melbourne, FL. For more information, please contact us online!