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Healthy Eating

Healthy holiday eating

​​​​​Food is an important part of many holiday celebrations with family and friends. The foods served at these times can be higher in calories, fat, and/or sugar. It is also easy to overeat when there is a lot of food around. As a result, people may gain weight over the holidays.

With a little planning, you can make healthy food choices and still enjoy holiday celebrations.

Holiday eating tips:

Limit appetizers

It is easy to eat a full meal's worth of calories from appetizers alone. For example, 2 chicken wings, 2 sausage rolls, and 1 mini quiche have the same calories as a healthy meal. Choose a few items that you enjoy, and leave the rest. Visit with friends away from the appetizer or food table. Drink water or chew gum to help avoid mindless eating.

Re-think your drink

To limit the calories from drinks:

  • choose black coffee, tea or herbal tea (with or without 2%, 1% or skim milk)
  • use flavoured coffee beans instead of adding flavoured coffee creamers
  • try a light beer or wine spritzer (½ white wine and ½ club soda)
  • mix an alcoholic drink with diet pop
  • add extra flavours to water without extra calories by infusing (adding) water with cucumber slices, cranberries, sliced oranges or other fruit

Many holiday drinks are high in sugar and calories. Limit these drinks:

  • eggnog: 1 cup (250 mL) has about 235 to 350 calories and about 6 tsp (30 mL) of sugar
  • hot chocolate: 1 cup (250 mL) has about 150 to 250 calories and about 5 tsp (25 mL) of sugar
  • pop, iced tea or fruit punch: 1 cup (250 mL) has about 90 to 120 calories and about 6 tsp (30 mL) of sugar
  • wine: 5 oz (150 mL) has about 100 calories
  • liquor: 1½ oz (45 mL) has about 100 to 150 calories
  • beer: a 12 oz (341 mL) bottle has about 100 to 150 calories
  • wine or vodka cooler: 12 oz (341 mL) bottle has about 175 to 210 calories and about 4 to 6 tsp (20 to 30 mL) of sugar
  • liqueur: 1½​ oz (45 mL) has about 150 calories and 2 to 3 tsp ​(10 to 15 mL) of sugar

Build a healthy plate

You can enjoy holidayfoods without giving up healthy eating. Try to build a healthy plate even at a party. Start with a smaller plate, if possible, to help you keep your portions smaller.

  • Fill at least ½ of your plate with vegetables and fruit. They are high in fibre so they keep you full longer. They are also lower in calories.
  • Fill ¼ of your plate with grains (for example, brown rice, whole wheat pasta).
  • Fill ¼ of your plate with protein foods. Make healthy choices such as fish, lean cuts of meat, or beans, lentils or tofu.​

This is what a healthy plate looks like:

A healthy plate is 50% vegetables and fruits, 25% whole grain foods, and 25% protein foods.  

Image cred​it: Nutrition Services, Alberta Health Services 2021.

If you have a large plate, fill only the middle area.

Practice saying “No, thank-you”

You might feel pressure to eat food that the host has prepared. Learn to say “no, thank you, I’m full” when someone invites you to eat more. Keep some food on your plate and keep your glass half full to avoid pressure to eat and drink more. Instead of a second drink of alcohol or punch, refill your glass with water or club soda.

Bring along healthy options

Offer to bring dishes that have less added fat and less added sugar to parties. If you bring dessert, try a fruit tray. Your host and guests may welcome some healthy options.

Take charge in the kitchen

Do yourself and your guests a favour by making a few healthy changes when preparing foods by:

  • cut back on the number of dishes you serve
  • reducing the fat, salt, and sugar in your favourite and new recipes
  • choose healthier cooking methods, such as baking and grilling with little or no added fat
  • making enough to last the holiday not longer

Offer your guests tasty snacks that are healthy:

  • open-faced mini sandwiches on whole grain bread
  • peeled, unbreaded shrimp with cocktail sauce
  • reduced fat cheese and whole grain crackers
  • vegetables and dips such as hummus or tzatziki
  • a fruit platter
  • baked whole grain tortilla or pita chips with salsa

Use leftovers

Sometimes you end up with extra food after a party. Offer your guests a plate of food to take home for a meal or snack the next day. Party foods make great meals the day after:

  • use leftover turkey in sandwiches with whole grain bread, tomato, and spinach
  • add leftover raw or cooked vegetables to spaghetti sauce or soup
  • combine extra cut-up fruit in low fat yogurt and high fibre cereal

Carry on with active living

  • Stay active over the holidays. Try to do some kind of physical activity every day.
  • Get your family active after a meal or snack. Take a walk, play in the park, ride a bike, or go ice skating.
  • Even if you can do only 10 minutes at a time, it still counts towards the 150 minutes you need each week!

Keep in mind…

  • Focus on the party or event rather than the food.
  • Start a journal to keep track of your eating and activity during the holidays. Check out the Food and Activity Journal to get you started.
  • The best plan is to eat healthy and be active all year long.

Current as of: December 15, 2021

Author: Nutrition Services, Alberta Health Services