Eating Healthy After The Holidays

by Kari Hartel, RD, LD
Program Coordinator, Cooking Matters, Operation Food Search

It’s that time of year again – everyone is trying to lose the inevitable holiday weight that lingers after the celebrations are over. Thanksgiving and the other holidays that follow are times of feasting and indulgence. If you want to get back to clean eating, there are some strategies that can help you get back to eating a lighter, healthier diet.

Emphasize whole foods that are minimally processed. Whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole-grains should be the foundation of a healthy diet.

Get back to proper portion sizes. We tend to overeat during the holidays and stretch our tummies to their limits. Use a smaller plate (a 9-inch plate instead of a 12-inch plate) and don’t go back for “seconds.” Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, one-quarter with a lean protein and one-quarter with a whole-grain item. Enjoy some low-fat or fat-free dairy on the side and you’ll have a well-balanced meal.

Stick with calorie-free beverages. During the holidays, we often celebrate with cocktails, wine, champagne and other “spiked” beverages. Although a libation can certainly liven up a party, alcohol provides a lot of empty calories. In fact, alcohol has more calories per gram than both protein and carbohydrates. Even if you didn’t drink any alcohol at family dinners and social gatherings, you may have indulged in some fruit punch or eggnog. These beverages are high in calories and sugar (and eggnog is also loaded with fat) and we tend to not feel as full from ingesting liquid calories as we do from solid foods. Opt for water, unsweetened tea, coffee or other low-calorie beverages.

Steer clear of sweets and desserts. Pumpkin and apple pies, homemade cookies, candy canes and chocolates—the holiday season never fails to provide us with a plethora of sweet treats. Sugary desserts and decadent confections are savored throughout the holiday season more frequently than any other time of year. Get back into your normal routine that doesn’t include as many sweets.

Cut back on animal proteins. Thanksgiving, Christmas and other winter holiday meals focus on large portions of meats – turkey and ham being the most popular. A healthy meal should have vegetables as the primary focus, with meats being used as a flavor-enhancer rather than the main focus. Vegetables are naturally low in calories and fat, are chock-full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and disease-fighting antioxidants, and are generally free of preservatives and other unnecessary additives.

Swap out those unhealthy fats—butter, lard, full-fat dairy and animal fats—for heart-happy unsaturated fats, including olive and canola oil, nuts, seeds, olives, avocado and fatty fish.

Winter months can be particularly harsh – especially for people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. If you haven’t made a New Year’s resolve, think about helping someone faced with the struggle of hunger and food insecurity. Please consider volunteering or making a donation to Operation Food Search. For every dollar donated, Operation Food Search can provide $22 of food and nutrition services to help nourish our neighbors in need. www.OperationFoodSearch.org.