Savoring Tasty Traditions

Roasted turkey garnished with cranberries on a rustic style table decoraded with pumpkins, gourds, asparagus, brussel sprouts, baked vegetables, pie, flowers, and candles.

Roasted turkey garnished with cranberries on a rustic style table decoraded with pumpkins, gourds, asparagus, brussel sprouts, baked vegetables, pie, flowers, and candles.

People all over the world, Americans especially, cherish food and its role in holiday traditions. As a result, holiday merrymaking and weight gain often go hand-in-hand. When food abounds, our waistlines expand.
Why is this, and how can it be helped?
When I talk with people about holidays, special food dishes are often listed as their favorite parts of celebrations. In my family we love to make homemade chocolates and English toffee at Christmastime. Sometimes these goodies make it to the friends and family members for whom they are intended, but all too often we end up needing to make a second batch (oops!). We love this tradition not just for the delectable delights we devour, but for the memories we make with grandparents in the kitchen as we dutifully stir candies over the hot stove, and the joy we feel as we share something we love with the people we love most.
Don’t despair; we don’t need to discard rich holiday food traditions to keep our health on track. The trick is deciding what truly makes your celebrations special, and keeping those things special—distinct, enjoyable, and infrequent.
Depending on your religious affiliation, the fall holiday season spans two to three months, or about 20% of each year. During those months, it’s easy to let those “special” foods bleed into our daily habits and routines. Christmas chocolates are delicious and a loaded bag of Halloween candy is exciting—but when a cookie jar is stocked with them for a full month, these treats lose their specialness and our physical wellbeing suffers. With higher-calorie delights piled high on kitchen counters and in well-stocked refrigerators, we find ourselves eating mindlessly.
Use these helpful holiday hints to keep you on track to eating healthy year round—and reserving special traditions for truly special moments:

  • Avoid purchasing and making treats too far in advance. When they are in the house, keep them out of sight and out of reach.
  • Eat before attending holiday parties and events so that you don’t arrive ravenous, with only high-calorie appetizers and desserts available.
  • Make only one trip to buffet tables and load up on healthy options first.
  • If you feel like you need something in your hand while socializing, try a glass of water.
  • Choose to indulge in just your favorites. Not a cake fan? Skip it and wait for the gooey brownies to come around.
  • Always use dishes for snacking instead of eating out of containers. If you put your foods into a bowl or on a plate, you’re more likely to eat less frequently and eat in smaller quantities.
  • Most importantly: focus on the meaning of your celebrations and the people you love. Spend time socializing to strengthen relationships instead of focusing the fare.

Above all, remember to enjoy the holidays—but don’t let an occasional treat become an everyday indulgence. Otherwise, you risk losing some of what makes this time of year so uniquely wonderful.

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Written by Erica Hansen MS, RD, CD

Erica Hansen is a registered dietitian who owns the nutrition consulting company, Foods That Fit. She specializes in working with individuals and organizations to make their health and lifestyle goals fit into real life. She believes that getting back to the basics—preparing good, wholesome foods at home—is the first step to improving health.