Sneak in healthy eating habits with your holiday indulging

CORP20160183_13_Holiday_diet_tips_largeBy Dena Champion, registered dietitian with The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute

There’s nothing wrong with a little holiday indulgence. Part of the fun is enjoying grandma’s cookies or sharing a toast with family.

Just keep in mind that the holidays are not an excuse to eat as much as you want.

I’m not talking only about keeping off weight, which we all know seems easier to gain than to lose. Chances are you will feel better – mind and body – by making smart decisions.

I pulled together some ideas for you on ways to slip in good-for-you habits during this season of excess.

I share these same tips with patients whom I help with nutrition planning during and after cancer treatment:

Take 20 minutes to decide whether you really want the cookie

When piles of pastries, candies and other sweets tempt you, pause before picking one up. You’ll likely give up on the idea after that time, but if you still want the treat, no big deal. Enjoy it this time and pass the next time!

Be careful when drinking alcohol

A lot of people think this caution is just about alcohol’s calories, but there’s more to it.  Alcohol lowers your inhibitions and may cause you to eat more. Try sparkling water with a lime or splash of juice instead. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. 

Do not go to a party or holiday dinner famished

You are much more likely to overindulge.

Stop grazing all day/night

Make a plate and eat it slowly. You will eat less and enjoy it more.

Continue healthful dinners at home on nights you’re free

Now is the time for make-ahead recipes and cooking shortcuts for those meals in between parties, eating out and shopping.

  • Make a big pot of soup and freeze individual portions to grab for lunch or a quick dinner.
  • Wash and cut lettuce and salad fixings for easy access to veggies.
  • Keep bags of frozen vegetables on hand.

A quick meal idea: Throw together whole grain pasta with store-bought marinara (avoiding those with added sugars, meats and cheese). Add some frozen spinach or broccoli during last several minutes of boiling the pasta. For extra protein, use leftover chicken breast from another meal or canned chickpeas (rinsed and warmed).

Be the person who brings a healthy side dish

That way you’ll know there will be something nutritious to eat at the party!


  • Fruit skewers with yogurt (try adding cinnamon to plain yogurt)
  • Veggie tray with hummus and guacamole
  • Cherry tomatoes stuffed with tuna salad (made with minimal low-fat mayo)
  • Try a mix of veggies roasted with olive oil, a dash of salt and pepper and a little balsamic vinegar. A combo of brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, red onion and cremini mushrooms always goes over well.

Remember: Fancy coffee drinks are loaded with sugar and calories

When ordering, try these tips:

  • Request skim, 2% or soy milk instead of full fat
  • Ask for the sugary syrup to be halved
  • Skip the whipped cream
  • Order the smallest size

Or better yet, you don’t have to wait all year for the pumpkin-flavored latte to return to the menu. Try my homemade version instead!


Healthier Pumpkin Spice Latte

1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk (or other low-fat milk of your choice)

2 tablespoons canned pureed pumpkin

1/8 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice

1/2 tablespoon pure maple syrup

1 cup strong-brewed coffee or espresso

Warm the milk in a small saucepan. Whisk in the pureed pumpkin, pumpkin spice and maple syrup. Pour into coffee or espresso. Add more maple syrup and/or pumpkin spice as desired.

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