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Navigating the Holidays, Nutritiously

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Most of us experience a host of challenges to our wellness goals during the holidays. We’re crunched for time, with social gatherings, volunteer service, shopping excursions, family activities, and faith events all crowding the calendar and making it even harder to fit in exercise and healthy meals.

The kinds of food that are common at these events — heavy, laden with ingredients that contribute too much unhealthy fat, added sugars, and sodium — represent another challenge. Yet many of these meals, and activities are special markers of this time of year, and we may not want to give them up altogether. Here are a few ideas that can support you to have a joyous and celebratory holiday season, while also staying on track with your health goals.

  1. Use technology. Options abound, from wearable fitness trackers that motivate you to fit in some extra steps, to smart phone apps and online support communities for wellness behaviors. No time to get to the gym? Take advantage of many of the free fitness classes available online – from yoga to high intensity bootcamp workouts, YouTube has it all.  
  2. Prepare for action. Plan ahead for those busy days and prepare a few healthy meals that you can freeze, or have a plan of action for Sunday meal prep to get much of prep work for cooking done in advance.  By cooking in advance, you can have a freezer full of quick, easy, and nourishing meals that can be ready as fast as it takes to have less-healthy options delivered. Soups, stews, and casseroles are all good candidates for freezing in single- or family-size portions.
  3. Keep your balance. Whether you’re cooking meals or enjoying those offered at events, use the principles of an In Balance plate to ensure you’re supporting your goals for energy, health, and well-being throughout the holidays. Filling half the plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with whole grains, and a quarter with lean proteins (ideally prepared with a plant-based fat), gives you lots of room to enjoy wholesome family favorites and rich holiday treats alike. Even at the most indulgent meals of the season, doubling up on the vegetables and going lighter on the other meal components still allows you to taste and enjoy all of your special favorites, without regretting it as you move into the New Year.
  4. Be picky. Indulge in a reasonably sized portion of your favorite holiday dish or two and skip other high calorie dishes that aren’t “worth it.” Maybe it’s your grandmother’s stuffing recipe or your uncle’s sweet potato casserole that you wait for all year; whatever your choice — enjoy it and move on without guilt. But, skip the cheese laden appetizer or the extra slice of pie that won’t satisfy your craving.  
  5. Beware of beverage calories. Many holiday drinks are filled with a full meal’s worth of calories. Read more here about how to keep beverage calories in check.
  6. Be social. Remember that the holidays are about spending time with family and friends. Spend more time catching up with family members and less time standing by the hors d’oeuvre station. Out of sight, out of mind.

The holidays don’t have to derail your efforts to take care of yourself with nourishing foods and physical activity. By planning ahead and using all the tools available to keep you motivated, you can enjoy the best the season has to offer while still making your health and well-being a priority.