A holiday season done right celebrates the greatest aspects of family, food and relaxation, but we all know that an excess of any of those three things can negatively impact our mind and body (sorry Aunt Linda!).
It’s important to keep things in perspective. Your health or diet isn’t going to be completely sabotaged by one meal or even a handful of meals throughout the holiday season, and there’s no reason you can’t enjoy your favorite foods to mark these special occasions; the key is to find a balance that allows you to feel good afterward.
Whether you’re trying to maintain your fitness goals or kick things into gear as we approach the New Year, you can enjoy the festivities and the delicious accompanying food if you practice these three tips from expert nutritionists to support your well-being.
How To Eat Healthy During The Holidays
When you take your seat at the table over the holidays, you’ll be presented with an abundance and quantity of dishes that’s entirely unlike any other day of the year. The same is true at holiday parties where finger foods stretch as far as the eye can see.
These foods are certainly delicious, but they’re also high in fat, sugar and salt.
“These are events where you should be able to enjoy your food and not feel the need for restriction,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Sherry Coleman Collins. “That’s a really important part of enjoying the holidays. However, there’s really never a bad time to be paying attention to your body and paying attention to your hunger and satiety.”
Satiety is the concept of being satisfied and full after eating, without eating to the point of being uncomfortable. The post-Thanksgiving dinner nap is a staple of living rooms across America, but practicing taking a couple of bites of your favorite dish rather than a massive portion can help you avoid that crash, as can reaching for a snack like peanuts to help curb your hunger.
“What we know about peanuts is that they’re higher in protein than any other nut with 7 grams per one ounce serving,” Coleman Collins says. “They’re going to be a way for you to enjoy a food that’s got protein and more than 30 essential vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. They also provide a lot of satiety. If we eat a handful of peanuts, then we’re going to feel fuller longer than if we have something that’s not quite as nutrient dense. That’s the kind of thing that can help us when it comes to a situation where there’s a lot of candy, cookies, pastries and things out all the time.”
Finding that balance is important throughout the year, but especially so during the holidays. You want to enjoy your favorite foods, and really we can eat everything we want to and still be healthy, but we can’t eat everything we want to all the time and in any quantity.
#2. Dietary Balance
When we think about our menu for the holidays, it’s important to insert some balance among the food that’s high in sugar and carbohydrates. It’s not that carbs are inherently bad or that you can’t enjoy sweet things — and we’re always going to have our really sweet, fat-laden dishes that are family favorites and traditions — but it’s a pretty simple task to balance those out with some nutrient dense dishes that satisfy and provide good fats from ingredients like peanuts.
For example, we know that our dessert menu will typically be high in sweet things at this time of year, so you can balance that out with a dish at the beginning of the meal like a citrus salad with mint and peanuts, a rich and savory African peanut stew or oven-roasted winter vegetables.
“The oven-roasted vegetable dish has sweet potatoes, other root vegetables and peanuts, so it’s a really nutrient dense dish that also has the crunch, protein and good fats from peanuts to help balance some of the more indulgent dishes,” Coleman Collins says. “Another thing I love is soups at the beginning of the meal. The African peanut stew is so delicious and really nutrient rich and filling, but not something that’s overly indulgent. It tastes really rich and fantastic, but nutritionally it’s a solid dish.”
#3. Staying Active
The holiday season is always a busy period full of travel and scheduled events, but maintaining an active lifestyle allows you to stay productive, fit and balanced.
Peanuts and peanut butter are an excellent, ready-to-eat and portable food source that allow you to minimize meal-prep time while still delivering the protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals of healthy nutrition.
“Muscles use carbohydrates and fat as the primary fuel sources for cardio exercise,” says sports nutrition dietitian Leslie Bonci. “Peanuts or peanut butter provide the fat and are deliciously combined with carbs like cereal for a tasty trail mix or bread for a delicious sandwich. And to get the most out of strength training workouts, it’s best to consume a little protein both before and after, so peanut butter on a banana or peanuts added to oatmeal can be great pre-lifting fuel.”
If you’re looking to rise and grind before being somewhat debilitated by food and drink later in the day, consider this pre and post-workout meal.
1 ounce of peanuts with 2 tablespoons dried fruit like berries or pineapple.
1 tablespoon peanut butter on a slice of whole grain toast
Smoothie with 1 tablespoon peanut butter, ½ cup yogurt, ½ cup low-fat milk and a small banana
2 tablespoons peanut butter on a whole grain English muffin
¾ cup oatmeal with 2 tablespoons each of peanuts and dried blueberries
“Ideally, try to eat and hydrate about 60 minutes before exercise,” Bonci says. “However, for early morning workouts, you may need to shorten that time frame so you don’t compromise sleep. Post work-out fueling, either a snack or meal, and hydration should start within 15-30 minutes of completing a workout.”
Practice moderation, try out some delicious recipes that are packed with nutrients, stay active and you’ll be free to enjoy everything you love about the holidays while still maintaining a healthy lifestyle.