holiday wellness

Dietitian’s Dish – Tips for Navigating Nutrition During the Holidays

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lisa shettle

by Lisa Shettle, MS, RDN, CD-N

Happy, Healthy Holidays!


Savor the flavors of the season – without overdoing it!

The rush of the winter holidays can make it challenging to stick to good nutritional habits. Many things can divert us from our best intentions. All sorts of social events, tempting treats, last-minute shopping excursions, traveling out of town… these holiday extras may interfere with our regular eating habits and derail a healthy diet.

First, spend a little time thinking about what you usually do during the holidays for nutrition and how you want to approach it this year. 

Ask yourself questions like: 

 “How do I usually eat during the holidays?” 

“Do I want to approach the holidays with a different mindset this year?” 

“How can I do this differently this year?” 

Then, set your intention about what you’re going to consume with your goals in mind. Below are some tips you might want to try to enjoy the foods you love while balancing your health and time with your family.

Eat mindfully. Enjoy and savor each bite! Really savor the flavor and each bite of your meal. Notice the smells, textures, and taste.  Intentionally choose which food and how much of it you eat, with your goals in mind. Contemplate what you most enjoy, and consider how much of this do I really need to eat?

Eat slowly. This may seem so basic, but it is so helpful! Eating slowly helps us digest better because it allows for food to remain in our mouths longer, which allows the enzymes in our mouth more time to digest our food. Do something in between bites: put your fork down, take a drink of water, focus on conversations.

Hunger cues. Pay attention to your body’s physical hunger cues of being full. Stop eating when you are at about a 7-8 on a scale of 1-10 where 10 is STUFFED and 1 is very hungry.

Practice the 80/20 rule. Aim to fill your plate with 80% good stuff that’s nutrient-dense, and 20% other less healthy options to indulge.

Visualize a plate for portion control. Using a plate as a visual is another helpful way to practice portion control. Fill half your plate with non-starchy veggies. Fill 1/4 on your plate with protein. Fill 1/8 with starchy carbs. Fill 1/8 with fats.

Stock up. Fill your kitchen with healthy, can’t-miss foods. During this hectic season, it’s common to feel run down, so it is especially important to maintain a healthy nutrient intake. Keep fresh fruit and vegetables on hand, and stash away some hearty, beneficial snacks, such as nuts and trail mixes. 

Don’t skip meals. A healthy breakfast could include fruits, whole grains, and some protein. Missing out on regular meals will only make you hungrier later on and more likely to indulge in unhealthy foods – the hors d’oeuvres at an after-work party, or the quick fix of pizza or fries on the way.

Pace yourself.  At social events, try to pace yourself when faced with tempting goodies. Seek out healthier food choices, such as the fresh fruit or veggie tray. Allow yourself to partake of a couple of the “naughtier” holiday delicacies but do so in moderation. Choose a small portion, take your time, and really savor each bit of the richer, sweeter treats. The slower you eat, the fuller and more satisfied you will feel.

Count memories! Food and eating is about more than just nutrients, it is something that brings us together. We bond as we break bread together while making memories!

Keep your stress low this holiday season

Stress piles up around the holidays. What should be a time of peace, joy, and giving can become a time of hurrying, rushing, and worrying. It’s important to find a way to balance holiday stress so you can enjoy the true pleasures of the season.

Get enough sleep. Give yourself the gift of a good night’s rest. Get your shopping, wrapping, and planning done in time for a full seven to eight hours of sleep each night.  Lack of sleep influences our decisions to choose higher calorie, less nutrient-dense foods.

Eat your veggies. During stressful times, your immune system could use an extra boost of nutrition. Keep fresh or canned veggies on hand to supplement your meals or fill in the gaps as snacks.

Avoid using caffeine, alcohol, or tobacco as a prop to help you keep going. If you find you can’t keep up with your schedule, it may mean you need to re-evaluate and reduce some of your commitments.

Give yourself a break. Many of us get so caught up in giving and sharing with others that we forget to take care of ourselves. Slot in some relaxation time – you deserve it! This is one appointment you really shouldn’t decline.

Here are two festive recipes for the holidays:

Walnut Crusted Salmon with Asparagus and Quinoa Chickpea Stuffed Squash



A registered dietitian provides medical nutrition therapy and is your best source of reliable and evidence-based nutrition information.  An RDN can also help you determine measurable and achievable goals within your individualized plan for your best health outcomes.  

BONUS: Services are covered by most health insurance plans!

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