I love the holiday season! It’s always exciting when the party invitations start rolling in and we start to imagine all the yummy foods we will get to try during the season. It’s really tempting to give in to wanting to eat rich comfort food and drink sugar-laden alcoholic beverages at a holiday party. If you don’t have any health concerns or think you have your body’s well-being wired, then by all means, let her rip and load on the gravy! But many of us are taking serious, committed steps to leading a consistent healthier lifestyle. And a few unhealthy holiday parties and meals with the wrong balance of nutrition and toxic calories can really throw a person off course. So, I created this easy to follow guide that you can refer to throughout the holidays, and apply during your busier, unhealthier busy times, or at any holiday buffet where you find yourself grazing. This post is designed to help you identify foods that are more likely to have better nutrition, and less likely to be loaded with the bad stuff, while allowing you to pick from the entire menu and keep it all in balance. Why not keep your healthy momentum going through the holidays? Enjoy and master the art of healthy holiday eating!
6 Healthy Holiday Eating Tips
1. Know What to Avoid or Reduce
You can be way ahead of the game and give yourself a huge healthy holiday eating helping hand by just remembering a short list of the foods that wreak havoc on your body, and identifying them on any given menu before you decide what, or how much, to put on your plate. The top culprits in my opinion are refined sugar, dairy, refined gluten, processed foods & alcohol.
- Alcohol is easy enough to identify. I know, I know, you really want to enjoy that eggnog martini or glass of wine with everyone else. If anyone gets it, I do. In my less-healthy life I enjoyed more than my share of alcoholic beverages on many occasions. Overcoming that urge to indulge in drink can be daunting. But guess what? There may be a good reason to try. Consuming alcohol is the absolute worst thing you can do to your body if you are truly trying to stay healthy and vibrant. If you think the holidays are stressful, you actually make it worse by putting your body through the cycle of having to process alcohol over and over again. So, if you must, try to keep it to just a couple drinks, and drink more water than you do alcoholic beverages. So, not to put a damper on your fun, just try to be mindful and remember your healthy promises to yourself.
- Refined sugar finds it’s way into almost everything we eat if we aren’t being vigilant and paying attention. Five places where you know you will encounter loads of sugar are: dessert, cranberry sauce, possibly in pureed soups, sweet potato side dishes that might be mixed with sugar, and your before dinner cocktail.
- Dairy can also be easily disguised on a holiday menu. It can show up in your gravy, vegetable casserole, mashed potatoes, dessert, and before dinner cocktails.
- You will find refined gluten in anything with white or even wheat flour, and some bottled sauces– pretty simple. So that includes white pasta, couscous, orzo, bread, gravy, bottled salad dressings, stuffing, the toasted bread base of bruschetta, breading on meat cutlets or sprinkled over casseroles, phyllo dough, puff pastry, and many pie crusts and cakes.
- And processed foods just boils down to foods that are not in their most original, whole form possible. Some examples of processed foods that you will find at Thanksgiving are instant mashed potatoes, instant gravy, manufactured vegan turkey (a homemade tofurkey is way better), canned pie filling, fried onions from a box, stuffing from a box– you get the picture?
2. Know What to Look For, Load Up on, and Enjoy!
Now that we got the list of stuff to try to avoid (not very fun at all), this is where the real fun begins. Here is your opportunity to take yourself on a special Thanksgiving whole food, alkalizing adventure and try things from a completely different perspective than what you might be used to. Here are examples of great whole, healthier foods you might find on the menu: Cooked leafy greens, fresh vegetables of any kind, salad, starchy root vegetables (like carrots, parsnips, turnips and beets), whole grains & legumes, fresh fruit (especially berries and citrus), homemade vegan creations.
- Cooked Leafy Greens, Salad, and Fresh Vegetables are a no brainer. If you see them, run to them. Put them on your plate before anything else, and the more the merrier. Try to fill half your plate with green vegetables, and just make sure you keep in mind any of the avoid items from the last section that might be mixed in, like cheese topping, or cream in your vegetable casserole. Look for vegetables that are simply prepared with minimal ingredients. You might be amazed at how much you relish a few great ingredients when they are highlighted and unmasked by gobs of other stuff.
- Starchy Root Vegetables, especially some of the less known varieties like parsnips and turnips, are becoming more and more popular as more people turn to satiating, nutritious holiday ingredients. In a recent holiday soup recipe for pumpkin potato leek soup, I used parsnip to help bring out the creaminess with out the use of dairy products. Focus on dishes where you can see the vegetable cut into pieces and roasted. The pureed version may have cream, butter, and even sugar as part of the recipe.
- Whole Grains & Legumes are another thing to look for. You might be surprised at the variety of whole grains and legumes appearing on your holiday menus lately– quinoa, faro, brown and wild rice, whole grain pastas, sprouted beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, baked beans, oatmeal biscuits or muffins, whole grain breads.
- Fresh Fruit, especially berries like blueberries, pomegranate, and cranberries (minimally sweetened), add awesome antioxidants to help offset the stress of the season. Try having fresh berries for dessert, with maybe just a smidgen of the pie.
- Homemade Vegan Creations are becoming very common on holiday menus. The easiest way to identify a vegan “entree” is to look for the stuffed acorn squash, stuffed portobello mushroom, or stuffed tofurkey. Homemade tofurkey is a better choice than store bought, for the reasons of keeping it as minimally processed as possible. Identify the vegan in the room and try a little of what they’re eating.
3. Know How To Fill Your Plate
You can follow a simple guideline on how you fill your plate with which types of foods. My preferred rule of thumb is:
- 1/2: Green Vegetables
- 1/4: Lean, Clean Protein
- 1/8: Healthy Carbs (brown rice, quinoa, yams, carrots, beets, low glycemic fruit)
- 1/8: Healthy Fats (flax, salmon, avocado, seeds, nuts, healthy oils)
4. Practice the Clean Eating 80/20 Rule
This is a very easy to follow rule that you can just keep in the back of your head all throughout the holiday season. We use this rule in our Whole Clean & Green on-line healthy eating program when we are addressing on-going healthy maintenance. It basically means to keep the food and drink healthy and clean 80% of the time, and enjoy the indulgences 20% of the time. For example, if you eat fresh vegetables, whole grains, berries, and lean turkey breast for 80% of your holiday meal, and fit everything else into 20%, this is a very easy way to at least keep your healthy momentum up if all else fails. On a larger scale, if you are in the middle of the busy holiday party season and you have 3 holiday parties to go to on a given week, and you eat 4 meals per day, just make sure that your breakfasts and lunches, and a couple dinners for that week are in the clean and healthy zone, and then at the parities you can let yourself enjoy a little and not have to think as much about every little thing you eat off the buffet.
5. Stay Hydrated
Often, when we are partying and celebrating, we forget to insert the hydration. Especially if you plan to drink alcohol during the holidays, be sure to insist that the water always be there, even if you have to bring your own water bottle to the event. Here is an article from the Mayo Clinic on how much water you should be drinking per day for your body and weight. Just because you’re at a party doesn’t mean your body doesn’t need proper hydration. Make an effort to hydrate more this holiday season, and you will notice the difference.
6. Detox Between Celebrations
You can give your digestive system, liver, and kidneys a lot of assistance by incorporating a couple of detox friendly habits into your daily routine during the holidays.
- First, find a healthy detox tea that you love and drink it every night before you go to bed. Make sure it is a good quality like this Happy Kidney-Liver Tea by Create Your Health, or something from a reputable, holistic health market or licensed herbalist.
- Second, try to fit a cleansing juice into your morning routine. An ideal juice could be made from beets, cucumber, celery, carrot, kale, ginger root, & apples. Or try a green food supplement mixed into your morning smoothie.
- Third, try to eat a raw-food, plant based lunch every day. If you want protein add some raw seeds and nuts. The raw lunch will help cleanse you and energize you for the next indulgent party.
And One Bonus Healthy Holiday Eating Tip: Don’t Deprive Yourself!
When we consciously try to deprive ourselves at the holiday table, we are creating an inner conflict with our subconscious habit of celebrating with delicious, rich foods. If you try this, you may be successful at one or two parties, but after a while your subconscious urge to binge on roast beef with Yorkshire pudding will prevail, and then, instead of giving your body the consistent healthy foods, you will give it the unhealthy stuff that will set you back. Deliberate deprivation is a great recipe for failure in your healthy eating endeavors. So use these tools to enjoy a fantastic, balanced, and satiating holiday season while keeping your awesome, clean, lean, and healthy edge. Enjoy and happy holidays!