5 Tips for Navigating Healthy Eating Around the Holidays

By Lindsay Christensen

Nutritionist @ The Pratt Clinics


The season of indulgence is upon us! Between family gatherings, holiday parties for work, and the plethora of goodies available at the grocery store, it can be challenging to eat healthy around the holidays. The challenges of healthy holiday eating are further magnified for those navigating dietary restrictions, such as gluten and dairy intolerance. In this blog post, I’ll outline five tips that will help you eat healthy around the holidays, including those of you with special dietary needs. These tips will help you indulge responsibly in holiday foods so you can not only enjoy the holiday season but feel great throughout it!  

Make a list of dietary “non-negotiables.” 

Having some structure around eating is the first step towards having a healthy holiday season. Create some structure in your eating habits by making a list of dietary “non-negotiables,” aka healthy foods that you intend to include in your diet throughout the holiday season and those foods that you must strictly avoid due to a food allergy or intolerance. For example, if having a big salad every day at lunch keeps you feeling healthy and vibrant, make sure to eat one every day throughout the holiday season. On the other hand, if you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), then you should commit to avoiding gluten at holiday gatherings; consuming even small amounts of gluten “here and there” can cause significant problems for celiac and NCGS individuals and is not a matter to take lightly. Similarly, if dairy throws off your digestion and makes you inflamed, avoid it and instead use replacements such as full-fat coconut milk and almond milk in recipes. 

Fortunately, there are numerous holiday-friendly, gluten-free and dairy-free food alternatives available for the gluten- and dairy-sensitive among us. You’ll find some of these options in the “Holiday recipe resources for those on special diets” and “Pre-made indulgences for those on special diets” sections below. 

Be selective about indulgences.

Many of us associated the holiday season with our favorite comfort foods and sweets, some of which are less than healthy. However, if you indulge heavily in these foods at every gathering, then you may walk away from the holiday season with more than a few extra pounds and low energy. Throughout the holiday season, choose your food indulgences wisely. Treat yourself to the comfort foods and sweets that are most special to you, rather than every delectable treat that crosses your path! Personally, this means I will choose to indulge in the caramelized potatoes (potatoes cooked with LOTS of sugar and butter) and Citron Frommage (a rich lemon mousse) that my Grandma makes as part of our traditional Danish Christmas dinner, while abstaining from the countless other cookies and candies floating around the house. This strategy allows for culinary pleasures while also preventing you from going off the rails with your diet.

Furthermore, you can enhance your recovery from sugary, rich holiday indulgences by consuming plenty of fresh vegetables, clean protein, and healthy fats at your other meals. Also, make sure to drink plenty of water (preferably filtered) if you plan to indulge in alcohol. 

Create a healthy dinner plate at holiday gatherings.

It is entirely possible to eat nutritious foods at holiday gatherings, if you know what to look for! Rather than gorging on refined carbohydrates such as bread and other baked goods, load up your plate with the following nutrient-dense, satiating foods:

• Meat (sugar-glazed ham should be your last choice!)
• Salad – Bring your own dressing because most salad dressings contain inflammatory industrial seed oils such as canola and corn oil and added sugar. Alternately, you can just make a quick, simple dressing out of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. 
• Cooked vegetables – Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, squash
• Sweet potatoes (sans marshmallows and added sugar)
• Raw veggies with dip 
• Deviled eggs
• Shrimp cocktail
• Salami and cheese
• Olives
• Mixed nuts 

If you focus on eating plenty of these foods commonly available at holiday gatherings, you may find you have fewer cravings (and less room in your stomach) for baked goods, candy, and other sugary treats.  

Bring healthy options for holiday parties.

If you know that the holiday parties you’re attending are going to be relatively devoid of healthy options, bring your own! There are plenty of recipes available for holiday dishes that are healthier than traditional versions, or that comply with special diets such as low-carb, gluten-free, and dairy-free diets. Two of the simple, healthy dishes I like to bring to holiday gatherings are roasted root vegetables and homemade gluten-free pumpkin bread. Don’t be shy about bringing your healthy homemade goodies to holiday get-togethers; you may find that your dishes are an unexpected hit! 

Manage stress!

For many people, the hectic nature of the holiday season triggers stress eating, or consuming food in response to feelings rather than hunger. Typically, stress causes people to eat more sweets and other calorically-dense but nutrient-poor foods. Instead of using food to calm your nerves, manage your stress with some tried-and-true stress-reduction practices by taking up meditation or yoga, fitting in a daily exercise session, taking a walk in nature, or settling in with a mug of tea and a good book. If you’re interested in meditation I recommend trying the Calm, Headspace, or Waking Up meditation apps. Finally, an important part of reducing holiday stress is to divvy up the work load including cooking, cleaning the house in preparation for guests, and wrapping gifts, rather than taking it all on yourself.   

Holiday recipe resources for those on special diets

If you need to follow a gluten-free, dairy-free or other type of special diet over the holiday season, have no fear! There are many recipes available that can fit your needs. Check out the following resources for ideas:

• Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays 
• Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain Celebrations: A Year of Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Paleo Recipes for Every Occasion
• Gluten-Free Holiday Recipes from Food & Wine 

Pre-made indulgences for those on special diets

Are you following a special diet but don’t want to make treats from scratch? This collection of innovative food companies has you covered! 

• Thrive Tribe: Try Thrive Tribe’s limited-edition holiday Eggnog, Gingerbread, and Pumpkin Pie Cookies. These cookies are grain-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, and delicious! While they aren’t available online, I have found them at Whole Foods and Sprouts grocery stores. 
• Eating Evolved: This innovative line has a delicious collection of pumpkin spice products, including pumpkin spice coconut butter, coconut butter cups, and chocolate spread. All of their products are Paleo, gluten-free, and dairy-free.
• Simple Mills: Simple Mills baking mixes are excellent alternatives for those following gluten- and dairy-free diets. They have a pumpkin muffin mix that, when combined with their organic vanilla frosting, makes for an amazing holiday treat. 
• Enjoy Life: Enjoy Life makes gluten-free and dairy-free chocolate chips for adding to cookies and other baked goods, as well as a limited-edition line of holiday chocolates. 
• Pamela’s Products: This company makes gluten-free baking mixes and this season, has a special line of holiday cookies. 
• Califia Farms: Califia Farms is known for their almond milk, but they also have an almond milk-based, dairy-free “Holiday Nog” as an alternative to eggnog for those avoiding dairy.  

While it is fun to indulge here and there, I believe having a dietary “game plan” will leave you feeling healthier and happier throughout the holiday season! If you have any thoughts or suggestions on this topic, please leave a comment for me in the comments section below! 

If you need more information or help with your overall health, contact us at The Pratt Clinics.

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