Healthy for the Holidays: Keeping Control When the Family Gathers ‘Round the Kitchen

Legacy Community Health Diabetes Management

By Barrett White


Through November and December, there are 14 holidays observed by the world’s major religions. While each belief and culture is different, one thing remains mostly the same across the board: Food. This is the time of the year when families gather for prayer, harmony, and a good meal. These meals are often indulgent, and much heartier than what you would normally eat in your day-to-day life. If you’re worried about losing healthy progress you’ve been working to maintain—breathe a sigh of relief. “I think we should enjoy the one good meal for the holiday,” says Legacy licensed nutritionist Sean Barrett, “One meal does not hurt our goals; what happens is we eat high calorie leftovers for days, we also over indulge in high calorie alcoholic beverages.”

It’s important to remember that no matter how you eat, the focus for the holidays should be on your family and loved ones, and not to get lost in your head. When on a health journey, it’s easy to give yourself anxiety about overeating during the holidays, and that’s simply not good for your mental health—which is just as important as your physical health. It’s absolutely possible to enjoy yourself with friends and family this holiday season while still maintaining a healthy balance with moderation and control.

“We can always be cognizant of portion sizes and have substitutions but if we enjoy our favorites for that meal then we can go back to eating a healthful diet afterwards,” Barrett says. Here we’ve provided three simple steps for maintaining your progress, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, the Solstice, or otherwise.


  1. Eat breakfast. On the high holy days when a feast is imminent, people often skip breakfast and lunch in favor of the big dinner, while just snacking throughout the day. This leads to an eyes-are-bigger-than-your-stomach dinner plate. For those whose holiday does not require a daytime fast, eat as you normally would, including breakfast and lunch. Then, you can enjoy your dinner without accidentally overloading on extra calories.
  2. Drink water. This is an important tip for any day of the year, and especially on food-centered holidays. Keep hydrated—those hunger pangs may actually be thirst.
  3. Consider replacements. If your holiday brood loves mashed potatoes, consider trying out a cauliflower mash instead. Experiment with seasoning to get it to your liking for a healthier alternative to starchy potatoes. We also offer you try these other tasty alternatives to holiday favorites:
    • Cranberry relish instead of cranberry sauce
    • Cider instead of egg nog
    • Whole wheat instead of white bread
    • Steamed, baked, or sautéed fresh green beans instead of green bean casserole
    • The best part: Pumpkin pie instead of pecan pie. You can still have pie, and while neither pie is particularly healthy, pumpkin pie will save you a few calories compared to pecan. If you want to save yourself even more calories, skip the pie crust.