Holiday Gatherings Can be Fun and Healthy

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I’ve been watching my diet this year and eating better. But with the holidays in full swing, I’m worried about derailing all of my hard work. What can I do to stay healthy during the holidays and still have fun?

While holiday celebrations are traditionally associated with rich, decadent foods, you can still enjoy holiday get-togethers without breaking from your commitment to have healthy eating habits. It just takes a little planning.

For example, if you are attending a holiday party that involves food, eat a small, healthy meal beforehand.

This will help you feel more satisfied and make you less likely to overeat. And when you get to the party, start with the vegetables as a way to satiate your hunger, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, trade-offs are a good option – for example, if you have a sweet treat, then eat fewer carbs like bread or potatoes for the rest of the meal, CDC advises.

If you are hosting a holiday shindig, try swapping out traditional ingredients from your holiday recipes with some healthier alternatives, the group says. For example, you can substitute applesauce for oil, margarine, or butter in some baked products such as muffins. And two egg whites can replace one whole egg to reduce the dietary cholesterol, while producing the same results in many recipes.

Other tips for healthier eating at the holiday party from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics include:

  • When you get to the party or celebration, take time to enjoy the festivities and socialize with others before you head to the food table.
  • Try eating smaller portions of the foods you really enjoy eating and pass on other items that aren’t your favorite.
  • Try drinking a glass of water before drinking an alcoholic beverage.
  • Use fat-free yogurt, sour cream and whipped toppings for your sauces, dips and pie toppings.

So keep in mind that while it’s the holidays and you want to enjoy all that it may bring, you can do so while maintaining healthy eating tactics. In addition to making healthy choices, you can also cheat a little by indulging in your favorite holiday treat as long as you do it in moderation and try to get in a brisk walk or other calorie-burning exercise.

A study by Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, that ran in the Sept. 2016 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, found that on average, people gain about 1.3 pounds between October and December. Making smarter, healthier food choices may help you avoid the same.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, state specialist in Community Nutrition for Ohio State University Extension.

Special note: Chow Line is taking a two-week holiday break. Look for fresh perspectives for the New Year on Jan. 12.

Tracy Turner
For more information, contact: 

Carolyn Gunther
OSU Extension, Community Nutrition