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Simple tips to eat healthy through the holidays

Published November 16, 2012
Turkey dinner surrounded by fruit garnish

URBANA – Are you worried about waking up early next year wishing you had indulged a little less? With all of the seasonal gatherings, office potlucks, holiday product marketing, and cookie swaps you’re facing at this time of year, healthy food options can be hard to find, said a University of Illinois Extension nutrition and wellness educator.

“Don’t worry! With the help of a few tips from USDA’s website, you can smile with accomplishment on New Year’s Day—instead of frowning and using your holiday gift cards to buy bigger pants,” said Julie Muñoz-Nájar.

First, use the website for ideas on how to include foods from all the food groups for your gatherings.

“Veggies and fruits look beautiful and festive by themselves when they are cut into shapes, and they add a nice pop of color. Offer whole-grain crackers with a spicy bean dip and veggie tray, make fruit kabobs with the kids, or make a festive holiday salad that matches your holiday decorations,” she suggested.

Try to make better drink choices. When the holidays come around, it’s easy to give in to special drinks like sparkling apple cider, alcohol, or eggnog, but the extra calories will add up quickly due to added sugars, she said.

“Stick to water. You may have to ask for it at holiday gatherings, but it will help you fill up on the healthy stuff,” she said. She advised checking out Food-A-Pedia, an online feature available at, to help compare calories, added sugars, and fats in your favorite holiday beverages. 

Enjoy your food but eat less. “Grandma will always say, ‘Please eat more because we have so much food,’ but there are ways to keep you and Grandma happy,” she said.

For one thing, you could use a smaller plate. “This helps you eat everything on your plate and still feel satisfied. Listen to your fullness cues. Enjoy the company around you. Take a moment to put your fork down, take a breath, and enjoy others. That way you enjoy your food and hear about the year Grandma got coal in her stocking,” she added.

The next tip is keeping active. Set aside some time for exercise, even if it’s just a short walk. Your mind and body will enjoy the break from the hectic holiday schedule, she said.

Stick to a holiday budget, she advised. “Plan your recipes and use a grocery list so you don’t overspend on holiday foods.”

Other quick tips: Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits first or eat a healthy snack plate before going to parties. Fill dessert plates with fruits. When choosing meat options, pick proteins that are low in fat like turkey.

“Then on January 1, you’ll unwrap the best gift of all, a healthy you,” said the educator. “Here’s a toast to sticking to your holiday resolution before the New Year even gets here.”

For more information, please visit the USDA’s website or contact your University of Illinois Extension nutrition office at 217-353-0740.