The holidays are often associated with an over-abundance of food, and with good reason. It’s a time to eat, drink and enjoy parties and other festivities. It is also a time when we make special meals and serve dishes we may not have at other times of the year. We bring out our mom’s special recipes, invite the neighbors over for brunch, and go out of our way to give our best to those we love. And that’s exactly what makes a holiday special, so staying on track with eating healthy doesn’t mean depriving yourself of joining in on the celebration. What it does mean is planning ahead for holiday dinners and parties, and making smart choices. Here are some ideas to help you do just that:
- Plan healthy meals at home for yourself and your family. Look at your week, and plan to shop for groceries so that you have healthy options on hand. If you are conscious about healthy meal planning most of the time, you’ll be able to allow a splurge here and there.
- Write it down – keeping a food journal has been shown to be an effective way to track your intake and prevent overeating. Aside from being a record of what you eat, it is also a good way to be aware of those times when you might be vulnerable to emotional or mindless eating. Knowing that you have to write down an extra snack may help you to think before you eat, and keeps you accountable.
- Another key advantage of keeping a food journal is that you start to become much more aware of the amount you eat. Portion size is important! Many of us are not even sure what an average portion size is. Some nutritionists estimate restaurant portion sizes are anywhere from two to five times bigger than they were 30 years ago, and our culture reinforces the notion that bigger is better. Take an “average” serving of poultry, meat or fish, for example. One serving is generally considered to be 3 ounces, which would be roughly the size of your palm or a deck of cards. How often is this the reality of a restaurant portion? Pay attention to portion sizes – sometimes a few bites of something is just as satisfying.
- Have a plan. I can’t stress this enough. Planning ahead for a holiday dinner party might mean having a salad with protein that will keep you going until dinnertime, and deciding beforehand on what you will indulge in when you get there. For example, if your hostess is known for her fabulous holiday buffets, you can choose to indulge in smaller portions of her traditional specialties, and only the ones that you would truly enjoy.
- If dinner will be late, have a healthy snack so you don’t arrive at the party starving. A handful of almonds, apple slices with peanut butter or cheese, or carrots with hummus are great. Be sure to stay hydrated. Often we think we are hungry, when we are really thirsty. Some nutrition experts recommend drinking a glass of water before going to a party or dinner. Water is always a good idea, but in this case it can help fill you up and prevent overeating.
- If you are eating out, most restaurants now post menus online. This is a great way to plan ahead. If you know what you are eating before you get there, you eliminate last minute, impulsive choices. You can make an informed decision ahead of time and concentrate on enjoying the company once you arrive.
- Finally, if you do over-indulge, just get back to healthy eating at your next opportunity. Sometimes we tend to think “Well, I blew my healthy food plan, I might as well go ahead and really blow it.” Don’t go there! You may have overdone it – everyone does at times! – but don’t give yourself permission to really overdo it. Just guide yourself back on track. And enjoy the holidays!