Angela Kohlway

Here we go again! It is the time of year for all those special gatherings with family and friends — and because food is often a big part of the celebration, there are more temptations around. This can be very hard for some, as you’re trying to enjoy your favorite treats but also feel your best and stay as healthy as you can. Well, just because you are trying to eat healthy doesn’t mean you have to give up all your favorites.

You may hear this a lot, but it is true: All foods can be a part of a healthy diet! Even those traditional holiday treats can be worked into a healthful eating plan. We all need to eat food for the nourishment it provides our bodies, but we can also eat for the joy it gives us as long as it is done in moderation. The key is balance.

Here are my top 10 healthy holiday eating tips for balance and moderation:

1. Forget the all-or-nothing mindset

Depriving yourself of your favorite holiday foods or treats (or feeling guilty when you do have them) may just lead to overeating later. An occasional treat won’t throw off your healthy eating plan. Take smaller portions.

2. Eat breakfast every day

If you head out to work, school or shopping on an empty stomach, you may find yourself overeating later, unable to control yourself because you are now starving. For a filling breakfast healthy carbohydrates such as a small bowl of whole grain cereal, piece of whole wheat toast or fruit along with protein such as egg, yogurt, milk, peanut butter or cheese.

3. Watch your portions when eating out

Ask for a carry out box when you order and when you meal arrives put half in the box right away so you’ll be less tempted to eat it all. Order food that reheats well so you don’t feel you have to eat it all now. Split a meal with someone else at the table. Choose a healthy salad or appetizer for your meal. Ask for a salad or steamed vegetables with your meal instead of fries.

4. Treats at work can be a challenge

How often do we walk in the break room at work or the cafeteria to find all kinds of sweets or unhealthy snacks? Try staying out of that room if you cannot resist the temptation. Allow yourself one of the treats, but choose wisely. Pick your favorite and have one small piece or have a half portion of each when you cannot decide between two favorites. Go for fruits and vegetables if they’re available.

5. Use smaller plates and bowls

It seems simple, but studies show that people tend to eat much more when they are dishing their food onto a larger plate.

6. Don’t forget activity

Take a walk around the building, house or halls before you get in your car when you leave for work or home. Find the farthest parking spot, walk at the mall before or after work for 10-15 minutes, walk in place during the TV commercials if you find yourself watching holiday specials in the evening. The key is to just move more!

7. Bring fruits and vegetables

If you often find the celebrations you attend to be lacking in fruits and vegetables, be the one to bring them in — and make sure you have some while you’re there!

8. Make sure to eat mindfully

It takes at least 20 minutes to realize you are full. To start practicing mindful eating, first ask yourself if you are hungry or just bored. Take less to start with. Set your fork down when eating. Turn off the TV. Chew well. All this can help you eat less while enjoying your food more. You will need to practice this one.

9. Weight maintenance is key

You may set yourself up to feeling like a failure if you are trying to lose weight during the holidays. Focus instead on keeping your weight stable or strive for a little slower weight loss by eating smaller portions while enjoying all your favorite foods and get out and move more.

10. Think positive

Don’t beat yourself up if you have a bad day. Just get on track the next day. Tell yourself positive thoughts to help you do better next time. If you are too hard on yourself with negative self-talk, you may find it takes longer to get back on track, and what was one bad day becomes a whole week. Everyone is a work in progress. Be patient. Be kind to yourself. Ask for support from family and friends or seek out a health professional such as a registered dietitian who is trained to help you make gradual, healthy changes for a lifetime.

Try these healthy holiday recipes:

Easy hummus party dip recipe

Makes: About 15 servings (1 tablespoon each)


  • 1 (15.5 oz.) can garbanzo beans, drained with liquid reserved
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • Crushed red pepper to taste


In a blender container or food processor, puree all ingredients plus two tablespoons reserved bean liquid. Add additional reserved bean liquid while processing until desired consistency is achieved. Chill before serving.

Nutrition information: Per serving: 50 calories, 2 g fat, 2 g protein, 7 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 80 mg sodium

Cranberry oatmeal cookies

Makes: 24 cookies


  • Cooking spray
  • ½ cup Splenda brown
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 medium ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups old fashioned, rolled oats
  • ¼ cup milled flax seed
  • 1½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ½ cup white chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray or line with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, mix together brown sugar and oil. Add egg and vanilla, and beat until smooth. Add bananas and beat well.

In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, flax seed, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the center of dry ingredients and pour in egg mixture. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients until batter is incorporated. Stir in cranberries.

Scoop cookies into heaping 2-inch balls and place on prepared baking sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes or until slightly golden on bottom.

Nutrition information: Per serving: 150 calories, 7 g fat, 2 g protein, 20 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, and 85 mg sodium

Angie Kohlwey is a Gundersen Health System registered dietitian.


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