7 Healthy Holiday Eating Tips

It's that time of year again—and for most Americans, the holidays are the hardest time to maintain healthy eating habits. The good news? There are healthy options, according to Mary Fay, assistant director of patient services at Olean General Hospital in Olean, New York, and a 28-year registered dietitian with the American Dietetic Association.

From Naughty to Nice

The biggest holiday-eating culprits, Fay says, are alcoholic drinks, sodas, eggnog, side dishes, fried appetizers, and rich desserts, all of which can contain excessive calories. In addition, multiple oversize portions play a major role in unhealthy eating and weight gain.

At the same time, Fay is quick to point out that not all seasonal fare is unhealthy. Our traditional holiday meals—turkey, pork loin, or roast beef with sweet potatoes, winter squash, green beans, fruit salads, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce—are loaded with vitamins and minerals and good phytochemicals that may help to prevent cancer and heart disease, she says.

Back to the Basics

Although it seems more difficult to eat well over the holidays, Fay says that getting back to the basics helps. Choosing a variety of foods and low-calorie beverages, limiting portions, and getting physical activity can prevent major weight gain. In addition, she recommends the following healthy holiday eating tips.

1. Before leaving for a party, eat an apple or several carrot sticks so you don't arrive starving.

2. When invited to a party, bring a vegetable or fruit dish, such as fresh vegetables and a salsa dip or lime-ginger dip for fresh fruit, instead of cream- or cheese-based items. Whole grain chips or tortillas with salsa, low-fat cheese, and low-fat whole grain crackers are also good choices.

3. At parties and buffets, scan the food and beverage tables, decide what you're going to have, and limit yourself to one plate. Most of your plate should be composed of fruits and vegetables, not starches, fried items, and desserts.

4. Try to limit yourself to foods you can only enjoy during the holidays, not foods you may eat year-round or at home.

5. Have one or two drinks, then switch to water with lemon or coffee.

6. To prevent mindless munching, don't stand next to the food table.

7. Fit in a half hour of brisk walking every day, either outdoors or at the local mall or gym.