1 Dec

Healthful Holiday Eating

December 1, 2015

The holidays often provide opportunities to consume excess calories by eating mindlessly. Small snacks, like office cookie trays or holiday appetizers, can add up quickly if you aren’t aware of your consumption, warns West Virginia University Extension Service Public Health Specialist Kristin McCartney.

Americans can gain seven to ten pounds through the holidays, according to McCartney, and she warns that it’s harder to take the weight off than it is to put the pounds on.

turkey “People think that they’re being careful with their weight if they just limit themselves to fewer snacks or don’t add ice cream to their apple pie,” she says. “Those are fine first steps, but people still need to be careful when it comes to calorie consumption during the holidays.”

In order to help combat this, McCartney provides tips for holiday meals like Thanksgiving. Her tips will not only keep turkey, stuffing and gravy on the menu, but also leave guests satisfied after the traditional meal.

“It’s all about healthy preparation and substitutions, reducing the fat and sugar in your meal and taking a healthier mental approach,” McCartney explains.

Small changes can make meals healthier without compromising quality. For example, steam, bake or broil foods instead of frying them. Skim the fat off gravies, soups and stews.

For healthier and tastier vegetables, leave out butter, oil and lard. Instead, substitute low-fat and low-sodium broth to retain flavor while trimming fat.

gingerbread Try new spices to give food more pizzazz without adding fat or salt. Avoid adding additional sugar to sweet dishes; add vanilla, cinnamon or nutmeg instead.

“Using nonfat or low-fat counterparts of pantry staples is a hassle-free way to retain flavor while making the dish healthier overall,” says McCartney.

Items such as salad dressing, mayonnaise, whipped topping, butter, sour cream and cheese all have low fat counterparts readily available. Artificial sweeteners provide an alternative to sugar when preparing desserts.

Substitute white meat for dark, load up on vegetables and watch portion sizes on gravy and starches, such as stuffing and sweet potatoes.

“Limit your desire to overeat by grabbing a healthy snack before you head to a dinner party,” McCartney explains. “Wear clothing that fits you a little bit tighter so you notice yourself feeling full faster.”

While these are just a few ways to help your waistline during the holiday season, it’s also important not to lose perspective.

“Most importantly, remember that you’re sharing meals to spend time with family, so slow down while eating and enjoy visiting with them,” McCartney says. “There’s plenty of time to enjoy non-food related activities, too. Play games, watch movies, walk outside or play football.”

To learn more about how WVU Extension Service Family Nutrition Programs help citizens of the state make choices to improve their health, visit or call your local office of the WVU Extension Service.