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Six Plan-ahead Tips to Eat Smarter This Holiday Season

woman chooses grapes at holiday buffet

This holiday season, you might be planning on being part of a small or big gathering. Whether you are hosting or not, with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s best to check with your local community leaders for guidance about precautionary measures that may be needed for social gatherings, such as wearing a mask, being vaccinated, or practicing social distancing. If you are a guest at a gathering, it’s also a good idea to check with the host or venue for any safety precautions so you can arrive prepared.

Sticking to your healthy eating goals can be a lot harder this time of year. But with a little planning, you can enjoy every minute of this season’s festivities without going overboard on anything like fat, alcohol, calories, or sweets.

Following these 6 tips can help you enjoy the festivities this holiday season has to offer, without having to pay for it later.

  1. Don't go hungry. Snack on healthy, filling foods before you leave home. You'll be less tempted by high-calorie options if your stomach isn't growling. Some examples of healthy snacks or foods include a handful of nuts, cheese and whole grain crackers, hummus and veggies, yogurt, natural nut butters, or half a bean wrap.
  2. Get water first. Once you arrive, drink a glass of water to help you feel full and avoid over-indulging. And don’t head straight for the food; make a point of greeting friends or introducing yourself to new people.
  3. Load up on the good stuff. When it does come time to eat, fill at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables (and go easy on the dip).
  4. Indulge last. Leave just a little space on your plate for a small sample of whatever unhealthy treat you're craving, but eat that last, after you've filled up on the more nutritious offerings.
  5. Position yourself for success. If you're standing by the buffet table or facing the food while seated, you'll be tempted to “graze.” Turn your back to the table, and focus on having fun, not having food.
  6. Limit alcohol. Not only are alcoholic drinks loaded with calories, but they also tend to weaken your resolve to eat better. If you do indulge, avoid high-calorie holiday drinks and stick with a light beer or a glass of wine instead.

Be a healthy host

If you are planning a gathering, include options that allow your health-conscious guests to make smart choices. Offer water and other non-alcoholic beverages. Include healthy, low-fat choices such as fresh fruits and vegetables on your buffet table. And substitute healthy ingredients to make lighter versions of your favorite holiday dishes.

  • Use whole-wheat flour to replace half of the white flour called for in a recipe.
  • Use evaporated skim milk instead of whole milk or cream in baked goods, sauces, and soups.
  • Use reduced-fat yogurt to replace all or part of the sour cream or mayonnaise in a recipe.

Read all our tips to make your homemade favorites healthier.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.