Navigating Holiday Feasts: 6 Ways To Make Healthy Eating Choices, with Insights from Dietician Gemma Saylor

by Smriti Sinha

The holiday season is a time of joy, celebration, and, let's face it, lots of delicious food. It's easy to get swept up in the festive spirit and indulge more than we might usually do. But fear not! With a little planning and mindfulness, you can enjoy the holiday feasts without compromising your health. Let's explore how we can enjoy a healthier and happier holiday season.

1. Eating in Moderation: Finding the Balance

The key to enjoying holiday meals while maintaining a healthy lifestyle is moderation. It's not about depriving yourself; it's about enjoying your favorite foods in sensible amounts.

  • Start Small: When you begin with smaller portions, you give yourself the chance to assess your hunger levels. You can always take more if you're still hungry, but starting small helps prevent overeating. This strategy is also backed by the American Heart Association 1 
  • Savor the Flavors: Slow down and really taste your food. This not only enhances the dining experience but also helps you recognize when you're full.
  • Balance Your Plate: Aim for a balance of macronutrients – carbohydrates, proteins, and fats – in your meals. This ensures you're getting a variety of nutrients while enjoying your meal.

2. Crafting a Balanced Plate: A Visual Guide

Visual cues can be extremely helpful in portioning your plate, as recommended by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

  • Half of Your Plate: Fruits and Vegetables – These are high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and low in calories. They should fill about half of your plate.
  • One-Quarter of Your Plate: Lean Proteins – Think grilled chicken, turkey, tofu, or legumes. Protein is crucial for building and repairing tissues.
  • One-Quarter of Your Plate: Whole Grains or Starchy Vegetables – Options like whole grain bread, brown rice, quinoa, or starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes provide essential energy.

3. Mindful Eating: Enjoying Every Bite

Mindful eating is about being fully present during meals, paying attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of your food, and listening to your body's hunger and fullness cues.

  • Limit Distractions: Try to eat away from screens and other distractions. This helps you focus on your meal and your body’s signals.
  • Check-in with Yourself: Regularly ask yourself how you're feeling. Are you still eating because you're hungry, or are you just eating because there's food on your plate?
  • Enjoy the Company: The holidays are a time to connect with loved ones. Engaging in conversations can naturally slow down your eating pace and add to the enjoyment of the meal.

4. Staying Active: Balancing the Scales

Staying active is just as important as what you put on your plate. It can help manage stress, boost your mood, and balance out some of the extra calories that come with holiday eating.

  • Incorporate Family Activities: Go for walks, play a game of football, or have a dance party. Make movement a part of the holiday fun.
  • Schedule Your Workouts: Mark them on your calendar just like any other important appointment.
  • Every Bit Counts: Even short bursts of activity, like a 10-minute walk, can make a difference.

5. Multivitamins: An Added Support

While there's no substitute for a balanced diet, multivitamins can play a supportive role in your overall health strategy, especially during the holiday season. Here's a guide to key nutrients, supported by medical sources, to help you stay healthy during this busy time.

  • Vitamin C: Essential for immune health, Vitamin C's role is highlighted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) 2. It acts as an antioxidant and is vital for combating stress and common colds prevalent in winter.
  • Vitamin D: The Mayo Clinic notes the importance of Vitamin D during shorter days and less sunlight. It supports bone health, immune function, and mood regulation, which are especially crucial during the holidays.
  • B Vitamins: B vitamins, including B6, B12, and folic acid, are crucial for energy production and nervous system function, as per Harvard Health Publishing. These vitamins can help manage the holiday rush and stress.
  • Iron: Iron's role in maintaining energy levels and supporting immune health is emphasized by the World Health Organization (WHO). It's especially important to maintain iron levels to stay energized during the holiday season.
  • Magnesium: The importance of magnesium for relaxation and sleep is noted by the Sleep Foundation. It also plays a crucial role in muscle function, which can be beneficial for holiday activities.
  • Zinc: As per the NIH, zinc is vital for immune function, wound healing, and cell growth, making it an important mineral during the cold and flu season.
  • Calcium: The importance of calcium for bone health is highlighted by the NIH. Adequate calcium intake is necessary, especially if your diet lacks dairy products, to stay active during the holidays.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: The American Heart Association emphasizes the importance of omega-3 fatty acids for heart health. They can also aid in managing holiday stress and are available in fish oil supplements or plant-based options like flaxseed oil.

While these vitamins and minerals can offer added support, they should complement a balanced diet. It’s crucial to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen, particularly if you have pre-existing health conditions or take other medications. With the right balance of nutrients, you can enjoy a healthy and vibrant holiday season.

6. Embrace the Joy, Not Just the Food

The holiday season is about so much more than food. It's a time for gratitude, love, and reflection. By making mindful choices about what and how you eat, you can fully enjoy the season without compromising your well-being. Remember, it's all about balance, not perfection. 

As we navigate the festive maze of holiday feasting, who better to guide us than an expert in the field? That's why we turned to Gemma Saylor, a seasoned Registered Dietitian Nutritionist whose extensive experience spans over a decade in diverse settings like hospitals, public health, and private practice. Gemma isn't just an expert in her field; she's a passionate advocate for nurturing healthy eating habits in families. Eager to share her treasure trove of knowledge, Gemma has offered some invaluable insight tailored for the holiday season. Get ready to dive into Gemma’s top tips that promise to blend festive cheer with healthful wisdom, ensuring your family's holiday table is both joyful and nutritionally savvy!

Top Tips from Gemma Saylor, RDN

If it’s hard for you to navigate the holiday season, just imagine how hard it is for children to resist all the extra temptations.  Here’s a few easy things to keep mind:

  1. Limit Sugary Drinks: Excess calories (and sugar) can add up fast with drinks.  While you want to steer clear of the egg nog, you might want your kids and teens to avoid swinging by coffeeshops for peppermint mochas, frothy frappuccinos and creamy hot chocolates.  As much as possible keep them hydrated with water this holiday season.
  2. Cookie Baking: This is a favorite family tradition but before you start baking think about what you are going to do with all those cookies?  Plan a list of people you will give them away to and talk about how many you are going to keep for yourself.  If you don’t have this plan in place you could easily find yourself keeping a batch of 48 cookies at home… and guess who is going to eat them?
  3. Movie Nights: When sitting down as a family for holiday movie nights, try to get into a habit of watching movies without eating at the same time (it’s harder than you think) or limit yourself to some plain, lightly salted, popcorn.
  4. Rethink Holiday Gifts and Stocking Stuffers: It’s easy (and inexpensive) to load up on holiday chocolates, candy canes and themed marshmallow treats but get creative with non-food items like grow your own veggie seed packets, silly socks, and face paints. 
  5. Bring Fresh Fruit to School Parties: If you find yourself on a sign-up list for a school party - offer to bring in some fruit.  That way at least you know the children have something healthy on their plates.

We hope you feel inspired to make healthier choices this holiday season. With the practical tips from Gemma, combined with the strategies we've explored, embracing a balanced and joyful approach to holiday eating is within reach. Remember, the holiday season is not just a time for indulgence, but also a period for nurturing wellbeing, sharing love, and creating cherished memories with loved ones. By integrating mindful eating, balanced nutrition, and active living, you can enjoy the festive season to its fullest, savoring every moment without sacrificing your health. Cheers to a delightful, nutritious, and heartwarming holiday season!

By: Smriti Sinha

Expert Nutrition Tips are provided by Gemma Saylor. Gemma is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with more than a decade of experience working in hospitals, public health and private practice. She is an experienced and engaging speaker, hosts sought-after nutrition workshops and offers weight management counseling for families. She is passionate about offering a holistic approach to nutrition for children and families. To schedule a fun and dynamic presentation that is geared towards parents contact Gemma at

Medically Reviewed - our posts are medically reviewed and fact checked by a board certified RN to ensure that all factual statements about medical conditions, symptoms, treatments, procedures and tests, standards of care, etc. are accurate and reflect current guidelines as well as the latest research.

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