Festive food: Healthy habits for happy holidays

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brittany Paerschke-O'Brien
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Warm turkey, savory stuffing, rich green bean casserole -- and don't forget pumpkin pie. With the holiday season on the horizon and all of the food that comes along with it, it is important to know what, and how much, we are eating.

Many people often overlook healthy eating habits during the holidays, potentially packing on pounds for the new year. By following a few helpful tips, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be easier than some may think.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Ann Wilkins, 633rd Medical Group clinical dietetics chief, suggests planning and cooking as ways to maintain current body composition, explaining healthy eating habits and food preparation should be practiced year-round, not just during the holiday season. With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, Wilkins suggests not skipping meals in order to avoid overindulging.

"Some people skip meals in order to allow 'room' for that big dinner, or party and as a result, wind up overindulging more than if they had eaten healthy meal prior [to the event]," said Wilkins. "Being prepared for unexpected situations will reduce rash decisions and unhealthy choices. Carrying a healthy snack, such as mixed nuts or a protein bar, can satisfy hunger until the next meal, reducing weight-gain."

While grocery shopping, make sure to eat a snack as people tend to buy more when they are hungry, said Wilkins. Eating a balanced meal or snack before shopping, and every three to four hours, typically improves weight loss and reduces unplanned eating.

"Our bodies are like a high-performance vehicle. If you put bad fuel in a Ferrari, it isn't going to run well," said Wilkins. "Similarly, if you put bad fuel into your body, it will not run as well as you would like it to."

A helpful guideline for cooking healthier versions of comfort foods is to find alternative ingredients, such as baking with healthier oils or oil replacements like sugar-free applesauce, said Wilkins. If recipe alteration is not an option, smaller portions can also support healthy choices.

"Options such as stuffing or macaroni and cheese baked in a muffin cup will produce a tasty, [and healthier], individual portion," said Wilkins.

Portion control is important when trying to stay in shape, said Wilkins. Each meal should include protein, vegetables, fruits and a grain, which should each be the size of a small fist. By simply controlling portions and holding true to basic healthly eating choices, you can prevent overeating, she said.

"Sometimes, even when we control portions we graze due to distractions; reducing the feeling of being full," said Wilkins. "When you eat too fast you can barely remember what you ate. Enjoy your meal and save some for leftovers instead of [eating] all at one time. It is easy to get off track during the holidays. We want to fill the plate but by remembering that we can go back for leftovers in three to four hours will allow us to control our portions and what we intake."

Maintaining health through the holiday season is important, and planning physical activities is a fun and healthy way to spend time with one another, said Wilkins. Standing while visiting, taking family walks or playing a football game in the backyard are all ways to get exercise during the holiday season.

"We should think of the holidays as 'weight maintenance,'" said Wilkins. "Overcoming all the challenges of delicious comfort foods and being able to maintain your weight is a huge accomplishment. I recommend you allow yourself to indulge but control the portion and have it be a part of your balanced meal."

Traveling or hosting family from out of town also shouldn't prevent diners from making healthy choices, she said. If it does change them, let it be the exception, not the rule. Healthy habits and a healthy body composition is a lifelong journey, said Wilkins.

With these helpful tips, being healthy during the holidays can be easy, allowing health and fitness goals to stay on track and get a jump on next year's resolutions.