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Healthy Holiday Eating: It Can be Done! 

‘Tis the season to be jolly, but that doesn’t mean you have a free pass to eat whatever you want.  From Grandma’s famous sugar cookies, to pumpkin pie, to a glass of egg nog, there are a whole host of holiday treats coming our way – many of them loaded with calories.  But you don’t have to avoid all the tasty treats. A team of five St. Mary’s Hospital dietitians weighs-in with some tips for a happy and healthy holiday season.

 With family get-togethers and holiday parties, what’s the best way to approach the season?

 “My advice to people is to be mindful,” said Julie Kruenen, RD, CD.  “While this is a term often applied to meditation and yoga, it applies equally to eating all year around - holiday time is not special in that regard.”

 A lot of people have a tendency to “let loose” around the holidays and while it may seem ok at the time, it doesn’t help in the end.

 “Sometimes you have the mentality that it’s ok to eat as much as you want around the holidays because, ‘January 1, I’m going to quit cold turkey,’” said Thea Grau, RD, CD.  “But then you find yourself gorging until that deadline approaches.  Plus, there are always more holidays like Easter, July 4th and Thanksgiving.”

 So does that mean I can’t have the sweets that I enjoy?

Dietitian Dianne Riley says the key is moderation.  “It’s ok to try a little of everything but make sure it’s just a little of everything.”

 Another tip for holiday dinners and parties is to come up with an eating game plan before you even pick up a plate.

 “A good thing to do is look at everything being served first so you don’t go down the line and grab everything,” said Grau.  “Otherwise, you take something and see something later that you want more and take it too.”

 If that doesn’t seem feasible, there’s another way to get out without eating too much - just take small scoops of many things.  Then, make sure they’re spaced apart and not touching.  You should be able to see your plate between each type of food.  That ensures you won’t overeat.

 Go ahead and fill up your plate as many times with things like leafy greens or fresh fruits and vegetables.  Just don’t go overboard on dressing, limit that to 1-2 tablespoons.  When it comes to nuts, a quarter cup is fine – but once you take them, walk away to avoid the temptation to continuously refill your plate.  And when it comes to desserts, adopt the rule of passing on those things that are pre-cut.

 “The key to moderation is keeping control,” said dietitian Susan Doyle.  “It’s not good to go with cake already sliced; someone else has already chosen the portion for you.  So, instead of choosing the big slice of pre-cut cheesecake, you might want to go with a bite-sized brownie.”

 Do I need to skip a meal to go to a holiday party?

 “It’s not advised,” said Riley.  “If you don’t eat enough calories your metabolism slows down so you might actually put on more weight that way.”

 Instead recognize you will likely be taking in more calories than you might otherwise that day and plan accordingly.

 “Maybe there are other things you can do earlier in the day like have a lighter lunch, go for a walk or  participate in some other form of exercise to make room for those extra calories,” advised Grau.

 Finally, never go to a party hungry.

 “You might want to eat a little something ahead of time like a piece of whole grain bread with peanut butter,” said dietitian Tammy Fumusa.  “Otherwise you’ll be starving when you get there and things could get out of hand.”

 Is it ok to have a holiday beverage?

 It’s ok to have a drink, just make sure you recognize there are hidden calories and sometimes lots of them.

 “Alcohol is high in calories - almost as high as fat,” said Doyle.  “A mixed drink can be 300-400 calories so a few of those can add up to a day’s worth of calories.”

 Dietitians say another way to get around this is by, again, planning.

 “If you’re going to have a drink and then follow it with a glass of water or diet soda and space that apart before having another cocktail,” said Riley. 

 It also makes a difference what type of drink you choose.  If possible stick to lighter cocktails, red or white wine and light beer.

 Any final advice to pass along?

 “I think most people get in trouble over the holidays because they just react,” said Kruenen.  “They are even less aware than usual what is happening regarding what they eat. If a person decides to create awareness about food choices, they are much more likely to put appropriate amounts of food into their body.”

 “Another important thing is to remember to exercise,” said Fumusa.  “If you know you’re eating more, then exercise more or increase the intensity.  It’s all about intake and output.  If you ran six miles you might be able to have an extra glass of wine or piece of pie.  Just make sure the math is in your favor!”

And finally, don’t think about your intake only around the holidays.  Establish a routine and stick to it year-round. 

“Our biggest mistake is poor planning and not having daily healthy meals,” said Doyle.  “People rely on eating out too much.  So few people make their own food and thus have lost control of what goes into food.”


Holiday Crowd Pleasers


If you’re throwing a holiday party or plan on attending one, here are some tasty and healthy tips:

  • Bring a fruit or veggie tray
  • Cookies – use half the sugar and less butter (no one will know!)
  • Substitute skim milk for whole milk
  • Put out white meat instead of dark meat
  • Make a crustless pie (most calories are in the crust)



Food Facts

Unsure how many calories are packed into your favorite foods?  Here are a few holiday favorites:


  • 6 oz ham = 300
  • 6 oz white and dark turkey = 340
  • ½ cup stuffing = 180
  • ½ cup mashed potatoes = 150
  • ½ cup gravy = 150
  • ½ cup green bean casserole = 225
  • ½ cup sweet potatoes = 150
  • 1 dinner roll = 110
  • 1 piece pumpkin pie = 180
  • 1 piece apple pie = 410
  • 1 piece pecan pie = 480
  • ½ cup whipped cream = 75
  • 1 mixed drink = 250
  • 1 glass wine = 120
  • 1 cup eggnog = 340


Ten Tips to Healthier Holiday Eating

  1. Don’t go to parties hungry.
  2. Bring a healthy dish to pass.
  3. Limit alcohol intake to 1-2 drinks.
  4. Talk, talk, talk.  The more you talk, the less you’ll eat.
  5. Eat fruits and vegetables…skip the sweets.
  6. Don’t try to lose weight during the holidays.
  7. Make sure to exercise – 30 minutes a day.
  8. Lighten the load – use healthy substitutes when baking.
  9. Bring a doggie bag.
  10. Don’t skimp on what you eat, just eat less of it.

  Fast Fact:  Every extra 3,500 calories you eat results in one pound of added body weight.


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