Healthy eating at holiday gatherings? It’s possible.

Turkey on a silver platter next to a wooden salad bowl

Healthy eating at holiday gatherings: Is this even possible? We’d like to think so. But people seem to fall into two camps when it comes to holiday food: deep diving into delights they know will make them feel bad (think dairy, gluten, refined grains, and sugar), or being able to stick to their usual healthy eating plan. So what’s the secret to keeping on track during the holidays? We don’t have all the answers, but here are a few tips to help you and your family navigate the unhealthy bounty this holiday season, and even enjoy some tasty treats that won’t leave you feeling like you overdid it.

Don’t arrive super hungry

Willpower is a tricky thing, especially when one of our strongest animal impulses takes over – hunger. Have you ever grocery shopped on an empty stomach and come home with items you would usually not purchase? Eating before shopping can help you avoid this, and you can employ the same logic for holiday gatherings. Make sure you eat either a meal or snack prior to going, to lessen the desire to go back for seconds and thirds, and to help you avoid foods you ordinarily wouldn’t want. If your family member has dietary restrictions, having snacks on hand for you and/or your kids can also help avoid undesirable food exposures.

Bring something to share

If you want to have a treat, and you know there won’t be much offered to your liking at the gathering, offer to make something to share. There are tons of ideas on Pinterest and blogs for gluten-free, dairy-free, low sugar options, even for the holiday staples like pies, gravies, breads, etc. Need some inspiration? Here are some helpful sites with some of your holiday favorites:

Focus on protein, fat and fiber

This is just a great, basic year-round nutrition tip for both adults and kids. Protein, fat, and fiber all keep blood sugar stable and keep you satisfied longer than a carb-heavy meal will. Use this concept whether you are building a meal or a snack, or making your plate at dinner. It is especially important for blood sugar control to pair protein, fat, and fiber with carbohydrate foods. When blood sugar is dysregulated, you or your child might experience mood swings, fatigue, brain fog, low energy, or sugar cravings.

For snacks, try nuts/seeds, veggies with hummus or guacamole, or hard boiled eggs with a piece of fruit. These options cross categories, as they are mostly fat, some protein, and have some fiber as well. Here are even more ideas to inspire your holiday meal and snack planing:

Protein Sources: Meat and poultry, nuts/seeds/nut butters, beans/legumes, and hard-boiled eggs
Fat Sources: Olives, avocado, coconut products, nuts/seeds and nut butters, egg yolks, and oils
Fiber Sources: Plant-based… think veggies, fruits, beans/legumes, and whole grains

Avoid potential pitfalls

Watch out for sauces, marinades, dressings and other ingredients that can have ingredients you may be avoiding like gluten, dairy, or soy. Same goes for desserts – if they are homemade, don’t hesitate to ask about ingredients, and volunteer to bring an option that you know tastes great but is also free of ingredients that don’t work well for your body.

Share your needs

And finally, if you have a supportive family member that wants to prepare food for you, sharing the “can have” list is just as important as the “can’t have” list. This is not only a more positive mindset for you to focus on (vs restriction), it can really help the host or hostess hone in on what to offer. Additionally, send some ideas of your favorites ahead of time as a guide; these days there are many options – by way of recipes or even store-bought items – that are gluten, grain, dairy, and sugar free.

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