Tricks and Tips for Holiday Cooking and Eating

Tips and Tricks for Holiday Cooking

It can be extra hard to eat healthy around the holidays since heavy foods are often the focus of our celebrations. This year, try changing your mindset a bit.

The holidays can be so much more than big dinners and high-calorie appetizers. They are a good time for us to focus on what matters and spend quality time with our loved ones.  All the while, you can still enjoy holiday foods by keeping portions under control and eating mindfully.

Basic Tips for Any Holiday

  • Give yourself something to look forward to other than your holiday feast. Start a new tradition that gets everyone up and moving. Try running or walking a holiday race with your family. You could also start an annual flag football game, or take the whole gang sledding. There are lots of options for winter activities!
  • Why wait until the new year to get into an exercise routine? Take advantage of your days off from work or school around the holidays and build in some time for physical activity. Create a holiday challenge with your family or coworkers for extra motivation to stay active during the holiday season.
  • Manage your holiday stress level by being realistic. Don’t take on more duties than you can handle.
  • When you bring a dish to a holiday party, look for a lighter recipe. It will give you a healthy option, along with others who are trying to maintain their weight around the holidays. We have plenty of light and tasty holiday recipes right here on Recipes for Healthy Living!
  • Don’t skip meals earlier in the day. Coming to a party hungry means you'll be more likely to overeat.


If you don't pay attention, it’s easy to eat as much as 500 calories while grazing on appetizers. Here are some ways to avoid overeating before the dinner bell rings:

  • Fill a small appetizer plate once instead of snacking on chips and dip straight from the bowl. You'll have a better idea of how much you are eating if you fill a plate and walk away from the appetizer table.
  • Stop by the veggie tray first and fill at least half of your appetizer plate with a variety of veggies. Use these for dipping rather than tortilla chips, crackers, or bread.
  • Watch out for all of the creamy and cheesy dips like crab dip and spinach artichoke dip. These are dense in calories so keep portions small. Opt for bean dip, hummus, guacamole or low-fat ranch dressing instead.
  • Watch portions from the cheese and meat tray. Remember salami and other processed meats are high in sodium and saturated fat, so it may be best to skip these and save room for dinner. When it comes to cheese, remember that 1 ounce has about 100 calories and 5 grams of saturated fat. Again, it is important to keep portions small. (An ounce of cheese is about the size of a pair of dice.)

Some tasty ideas from our recipe library that you can bring to your next holiday party are Bell Pepper Poppers, Holiday Veggie and Hummus Platter, or Goat Cheese & Pear Mini Tarts.


You may want to enjoy a celebratory drink or two at a holiday party. We recommend no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. If you decide to drink, look for these lighter options at the bar:

  • Vodka soda with splash of cranberry (or use another calorie-free mixer with an ounce of spirits)
  • Champagne (add some sliced strawberries or raspberries to make your drink more festive)
  • Light beer
  • Wine or a wine spritzer (½ wine, ½ club soda served over ice with a slice of lemon or lime)

Here are some high-calorie drinks to watch out for:

  • 8-ounce spiked egg nog - 300+ calories
  • 8-ounce margarita on the rocks - 170+ calories
  • 4½-ounce white Russian - 300+ calories
  • 12-ounce bottle of specialty Christmas Ale (7.5% alcohol) - 200 calories

Don’t drink on an empty stomach and keep an eye on portion size. It’s easy to serve up more than a standard serving, which is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1-1 ½ ounces of spirits.

Holiday Dinner

Use our Create Your Plate meal planning method to keep portions in perspective at dinner time. It’s an easy way to plan your meals and it's great for "serve yourself" situations.

Simply fill half of your plate non-starchy veggies like salad, broccoli, carrots, or Brussels sprouts. Then fill one-fourth of the plate with starchy foods like sweet potatoes, a whole wheat roll, roasted root veggies, or corn casserole. The last fourth can be filled with a lean protein, like roasted turkey breast, chicken without the skin, or fish. You can also add a side of fruit salad and/or dairy. If you want more information, read more about Create Your Plate on Some other tips to remember are:


Research has shown that the type of carbohydrate is not as important as the amount of carbohydrate you eat when it comes to controlling blood glucose levels. Yep – that means that you can substitute a small portion of dessert for other carbohydrate foods in the same meal. Just remember it's important to save sweets for special occasions so you aren't missing out on important nutrients that you get from other foods.

  • Remember that fruit makes a nutritious, lower calorie dessert option.
  • Try a small portion of a fruit-based dessert like cinnamon baked apples or strawberries dipped in sugar-free chocolate. These will still have a fair amount of carbs, but overall they are more nutritious than chocolate cake or sugar cookies.
  • Keep portions small since dessert items are often dense in calories, carbs, and unhealthy fats.
  • Check out this month’s Meal Makeover for more ideas on fitting in dessert.

Fitting in Holiday Desserts

This month’s meal makeover, will show you some ways you can fit a portion of tasty dessert into your meal plan.

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Diabetes-Friendly Meals for the Holidays

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