How to put your health on the menu during the holidays

The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are nearly upon us, bringing promises of good times and good food. The holiday season is usually a time for gatherings with friends and family that include plentiful food and drinks. These times can also mean overindulging in some of our favorite comfort foods and desserts. A typical holiday meal can be about 3,000 calories by itself. If we pack on appetizers, desserts and drinks that can add on another 1,500 calories. This combination is more than double a recommended 2,000 daily calorie diet.  As we age, it is important not to let the holiday season get the best of our eating habits. Following a few simple tips this coming season will help you and your loved ones enjoy a more healthful holiday.

Prepare healthier choices

If you’re cooking for the holidays, try making some healthier changes to your dishes that cut sodium and calories, but not flavor. Swap out adding salt by including more herbs and spices or use a salt substitute. Cut out the fat in desserts by using applesauce or pureed banana instead of oil and butter. Add natural sweetness instead of relying on large amounts of sugar. The addition of honey, molasses or fresh or unsweetened frozen fruit can do wonders for adding a touch of sweetness to holiday desserts or beverages. Also, try adding healthier options for condiments that are typically laden with salt or sugar. Instead of pickled vegetables and olives or gravies, try adding in condiments like salsa, fresh tomatoes or flavored vinegars.

Start with a healthy breakfast

Making room for a big meal later by skipping breakfast and/or lunch can set you up for over indulging later in the day. Start the day off with a healthy, balanced breakfast that includes high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains and lean proteins like egg whites, chicken, fish and turkey. For example, a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal with fresh blueberries and a small portion of turkey bacon can help stave off your hunger and give you long-lasting energy so you won’t overeat during dinner.

Watch your portions

A table laid out with your favorite special dishes can tempt you into overloading your plate. Keeping a close eye on your portions is a must for healthy holiday nutrition. Try the Plate Method recommended by the American Diabetes Association. First, don’t pile your portions more than about the thickness of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand. Second, fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli, tomatoes or green beans. Third, fill a fourth of your plate with grains and starchy vegetables like bread, peas, potatoes or squash. Finally, fill the remainder of your plate with protein such as turkey (without the skin) or lean cuts of beef and pork.

Don’t drink your calories

Holiday beverages such as eggnog, spiced cider and mulled wine can pack on extra calories to your meal. Instead, opt for substitutions such as water, unsweet tea or skim or low-fat milk. If you are toasting the holidays with alcohol, make sure to drink in moderation to limit the number of excess calories you imbibe. Holiday cocktails are loaded with sugar from the alcohol content and mixers, and the calories can add up quickly when you drink too much.

Take a stroll

After a holiday meal, it may be the tradition to sit around watching football or to take a nap. This year may be a good time to start a new ritual for yourself and your family. Burn off some of those dinner calories and get your body moving with a walk around your neighborhood. Walking after a meal improves digestion and helps control blood sugar.

With a few preventative measures and a willingness to change some traditions, you can stay eat better without taking the enjoyment out of the holidays. Most importantly, healthier habits can improve your quality of life and give you more time to spend with those you love the most.