Tips for healthy holiday eating

From the family gatherings to the Westlake Center tree lighting and the annual Gingerbread Village at the Seattle Sheraton, holiday activities are quickly approaching. And right alongside these activities come a plethora of delicious food traditions: festive parties, cookie exchanges, exquisite desserts, once-a-year beverages, family meals and homemade treats. Eating healthily during the winter holidays can prove challenging for even the most disciplined of people, but you can celebrate while eating healthily and having fun.

Read on to learn tips on which foods to eat at parties, which to avoid and how to make your traditional recipes healthier.

Choose pumpkin

Pumpkin contains beta carotene, a helpful antioxidant. Pumpkin is also technically a veggie, and one slice of pumpkin pie can count as a half-serving of your daily recommended amount of vegetables. Yes, this is not a terrific amount, but most of us fall drastically short on vegetable servings, so I say sneak them in wherever we can!

Finally, pumpkin pie usually has about 200 fewer calories per slice, compared to other pies such as apple. This is mainly because pumpkin pie doesn’t have a top crust, which adds extra calories.

Cook stuffing separately

When baked inside the turkey, stuffing absorbs the turkey’s fat drippings, so opt for the pan method instead to save on calories and fat.

Other tips to decrease calories include using low-fat, low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth instead of butter and swapping out bread for a higher-fiber, higher-protein option like wild rice.

You can also get creative and skip the giblets, bacon and sausage ingredients and choose alternative healthier additions, such as chicken sausage, nuts, celery, diced carrots, apples or dried cranberries.

Eat popcorn — but keep it healthy

Yes, popcorn can be part of a healthy diet! Roughly three cups of air-popped popcorn equals 100 calories. (For comparison, about one and a half cheese straws or about one-half of a sugar cookie have the same calorie count.)

Popcorn is a whole grain and a good source of fiber. Feel free to add your own toppings, such as drizzling olive or canola oil over it, sprinkling on parmesan cheese or adding herbs such as rosemary, garlic or dried basil.

Caution: Be careful to not go for the popcorn balls, kettle corn or caramel corn. These popcorn dishes tend to be very high in fat and sugar and turn popcorn into a high-calorie dessert versus a healthy snack.

Baked potatoes

Potatoes are a good source of potassium and vitamin C, but opt for a baked potato over mashed or scalloped potato dishes because it contains fewer calories and fat.

For a healthier mashed potato dish, try substituting skim milk for cream or butter. Limit the gravy as a topping, and add extra pepper and green onions to boost flavor.

A healthy, festive perspective

On average, people gain 1 to 2 pounds from fall to early spring, mostly during the feasting weeks of the winter holidays. Remember, one big holiday dinner isn’t going to cause long-term weight gain (just like one day of healthy eating won’t do much to support weight loss).

When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight, focus on what your meals look like on most days, and don’t beat yourself up over the occasional splurge at a holiday meal.

Instead of trying to lose weight during the holidays, aim to maintain and avoid seasonal weight gain. Trying to lose weight over the holidays can be a self-defeating goal, and you may set yourself up for failure. Come January and February, work on shedding those pesky pounds!

Making these small changes to your celebration meals can help you to alleviate stress and enjoy a healthy holiday season with family and friends.