Every family has its unique holiday food traditions—you know, like the cookies your sister-in-law only makes once a year or the mac and cheese that feels like a hug.
No matter what you’re looking forward to eating, one thing’s for sure: Holiday celebrations often revolve around foods you don’t have on constant rotation, which can make it hard for you to prioritize the nourishing ingredients your body needs, too.
But, the importance of fitting in nutritious foods shouldn’t be underestimated during a hectic schedule of pot-luck dinners and cocktail parties, says Michelle Cardel, PhD, RD, head of clinical research and nutrition at WeightWatchers.
“Finding ways to incorporate healthy foods into your holiday routine is important to help you stay feeling energized, nourished, and on track with your health goals,” Dr. Cardel says. “By balancing nutritious food choices with your favorite holiday foods, you can create a sustainable and enjoyable approach to eating throughout this season, without compromising how you feel and your health goals.”
Dr. Cardel’s biggest piece of advice? Remember that all foods can be incorporated into a healthy diet. That’s why the WeightWatchers Points Program—a great tool to use during the holiday season to support your well-being—keeps all foods on the menu and helps guide you toward more wholesome foods, not just ones that are lower in calories.
Want to prioritize staying nourished during back-to-back festivities? Follow these three healthy holiday eating tips from Dr. Cardel.
1. Plan ahead
This holiday season, your calendar is going to become your best friend. Plan out time to sit down and look at the dates of different events. When you know you’ll be going somewhere your favorite holiday foods will be plentiful, make sure to eat (or meal prep if you’re feeling really organized) at-home meals full of energizing, wholesome ingredients for earlier in the day so you can feel your best, most ready-to-small-talk self later.
“Give yourself the flexibility of enjoying your favorite seasonal foods by planning ahead,” Dr. Cardel says. “For instance, if you have a holiday gathering in the evening, kickstart your day with nutrient-rich WeightWatchers program ZeroPoint foods that fuel your body, such as fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, during breakfast and lunch.”
2. Bring nourishing options to gatherings
News flash: Healthy holiday eating doesn’t have to be boring. Try out some new recipes to bring along to the festivities, like this yummy Brussels sprout salad or these adorable apple-ginger mini pies so you know you’ll have nutritious options to add to your plate. You’ll be surprised by how many people will appreciate a palate cleanser to break up the heavier dishes.
“[Bringing a healthy dish] will ensure that a nourishing choice will be available amidst the holiday spread, allowing you to pair it with your favorite holiday food for a healthy balance,” Dr. Cardel says.
Dr. Cardel also recommends trying the USDA’s MyPlate method, aka filling half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables or fruits, one quarter of your plate with protein, and the remaining quarter of your plate with grains. (Just don’t forget to leave room for dessert afterward, of course.)
3. Embrace mindful eating
When you’re at a party holding a plate of food and distracted by the (lovable) chaos around you, it can be easy to eat more than your stomach can handle, which can lead to dreaded, unbutton-my-pants-immediately discomfort.
This holiday season, try mindful eating—or using all of your physical and emotional senses to experience and enjoy the food in front of you. Savor each bite, pay attention to your body’s cues, and leave the judgment behind as you follow the mindful-eating model.
“By practicing [the mindful eating] technique, you can bring about a greater awareness of your eating habits, and recognize when you are full prior to filling another plate,” Dr. Cardel says. Now you can feel your best and have your fest, too.
Want to check out how WeightWatchers can help support your staying nourished this holiday season? Click here to get three months free!