The holidays are a wonderful time of year filled with friends, family, and food —lots of it! Between cookie swaps, office holiday parties, ugly sweater shindigs, and family festivities, you can hardly walk three feet without being offered chocolate fudge or some other treat.
While it’s important not to feel guilty about the occasional indulgence, some mindfulness about how you approach this time of year can prevent desperate New Year’s resolutions attempting to undo the impact of the season’s revelries. Wondering how to eat healthy during the holidays? We’ve compiled some tips, plus festive (but not calorie-laden) recipes to help keep you on track this year.
How to Eat Healthy During the Holidays
- Don’t overindulge. It may be tempting to have a second slice of pie or a glass (or three) of eggnog, but moderation is key — particularly at this time of year. When it comes to holiday eating, it’s a marathon not a sprint. So enjoy, but stop when you’re full rather than when you need to loosen your belt.
- Don’t beat yourself up. That being said, don’t be hard on yourself when you do indulge as that can lead to an unhealthy cycle. So if you’re going to eat that cookie, savor it!
- Savor each bite. For all the time it takes to prepare a holiday meal, it often feels like it’s gobbled up (inhaled is more likely) in minutes. Make a conscious effort to take your time and savor each bite. This not only makes for a pleasant meal all around, but also gives your body time to signal your mind that you’re full.
- It’s all about balance. This time of year might be all about treats and comfort food, but there’s no reason not to balance that out with some healthy stuff too. Add some roasted veggies to your holiday dinner, serve a salad in a festive bowl, or add a fruit salad to the dinner spread.
- Make healthy swaps. If you’re the one doing the cooking, you can make some healthy swaps to make even comfort food a tad healthier. Toss salads with oil and vinegar rather than creamy dressings, use unsweetened applesauce instead of oil in baked goods, or mix in some pureed squash into that mac and cheese.
- Stay active. Of course, what you eat is only a part of your overall health picture. It’s always important to be physically active, but between the overeating and desire to hibernate in the cold, it’s particularly crucial this time of year. Even simple things like taking the stairs instead of elevator or parking a little further away can help.
- Watch what you drink. Between alcoholic beverages, eggnog in all its forms, and sugary ciders, holiday drinking can be just as unhealthy (or more) than holiday eating. Enjoy yourself, but drink lots and lots of water while keeping an eye on what else you imbibe.
Healthy Holiday Recipes
Need some healthy holiday eating inspiration? We’ve compiled some fun and festive – yet healthy(ish) – recipes that would make a great seasonal addition to your holiday table.
Pomegranate seeds sparkle like jewels on this simple holiday salad. Dressed simply with olive oil and lemon dress, the Turkish-inspired dish goes with just about everything and couldn’t be easier to prepare. Lightly toasted pine nuts add some more textural contrast and pleasant flavor.
Featuring seasonal ingredients like squash, orange, and cranberries roasted with warm spices, this is a roasted veggie dish that will feel right at home on any holiday table. But also break it out all season long as a healthy but super tasty side. It’s never been so easy to eat healthy.
If you want a show-stopping winter side, then beets with blood oranges and fennel is your recipe. Super seasonal and simple, this colorful salad is a fresh and beautiful accompaniment to any meal (or a great lunch on its own!). You can also use the sweet-tart vinaigrette – made with freshly squeezed blood orange juice, honey, red wine vinegar, and olive oil – on any salad.
Carrots have a spring and fall harvest and are typically hearty enough to last through the winter. If you have a year-round farmer’s market or specialty grocery store, it’s worth seeking out eye-catching rainbow carrots for this super simple, healthy salad. Carrots are thinly sliced and tossed with a red wine-shallot vinaigrette along with fresh parsley. It’s a beautiful, fresh, crunchy counterpoint to the typical holiday braises and roasts.
Though stuffing usually brings to mind bread, this recipe swaps in healthier (and gluten free) quinoa and red rice for a colorful and festive side. Veggies like kale, celery, and onion boost the nutrition, pine nuts give it crunch, dried cranberries add some sweetness, and a mix of fresh and dried herbs impart plenty of flavor.
To get your sweet potato fix without a heaping of marshmallows or streusel, give this simple sweet potato soup a go. With just veggies (sweet potato, leek, and celery) and broth, this recipe is downright virtuous (and you could even swap the small amount of butter for olive or coconut oil if you like). A simple topping of toasted pecans adds a pleasant, heart-healthy crunch. Eat healthy and serve the soup as a starter or make it a main with a salad or some whole grain bread.
This is still dessert, but with a fresh seasonal fruit filling and good-for-you oats and nuts making up the bulk of the topping, it’s a somewhat healthy way to appease your sweet tooth. Plus, this apple-cranberry crisp boasts a few sources of antioxidants and fiber (don’t peel the apple to get even more fiber in there).
For something a little different, try this yogurt panna cotta with seasonal orange-pomegranate compote. Swapping out the traditional cream for yogurt makes it slightly healthier, and you can feel good about eating some fruit while you’re at it. Plus, it can be made up to two days ahead, which is great news for holiday meal prep.