Simple Strategies for a Healthier Holiday Season - U of I Extension

News Release

Simple Strategies for a Healthier Holiday Season

This article was originally published on December 11, 2017 and expired on January 15, 2018. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.

ST. CHARLES, Ill. – Americans gain one to two pounds between the Thanksgiving feast and the New Year’s countdown. Simple, smart strategies this holiday season can help avoid this annual obstacle and set up a positive start to 2018.

“The best approach for the holidays is to aim for weight maintenance,” said Laura Barr, Nutrition and Wellness Educator with University of Illinois Extension. “Weight loss initiatives are difficult to start at this time of year. Now is the time to focus not indulging, which is a success in itself with all the temptations of the season.”

When the New Year begins, shift that focus to your overall nutrition and exercise goals, added Barr.

“Fending off the holiday gain does not mean giving up your traditional favorites,” said Barr. “You can enjoy the celebrations, as well as stay fit and not have the added stress of a strict diet during this hectic time of year.”

Barr recommends some realistic strategies for healthier, and harmonious, holiday season:

Strategy 1: Amp Up Your Offense

“Sometimes the holiday bustle wreaks havoc on workout routines. It can be easy to let the schedule slide for a few weeks,” Barr said. “If you miss one, don’t fret, just get back on track. By making time for exercise this time of year, you will be better prepared for family time, shopping and all other festivities.”

Research shows that adults should exercise 150 minutes per week. The benefits include achieving a healthy weight, boosting immune function and mood, and building muscle, bone, and flexibility.

“If you aren’t in an exercise routine, cease some seasonal opportunities to get you moving,” Barr said. “Go sledding or take a walk to look at holiday lights in your neighborhood. Park your car farther away from the store when gift shopping, and opt for stairs over escalators at the mall.”

Strategy 2: Don’t Forget Your Defense

Many of us have packed calendars with family, friend and work parties, often featuring sweets and rich foods.

“Make a plan before you go, and you’ll be less likely overdo it,” Barr said. “For example, eat a salad or snack on vegetables before leaving; then, if there are no healthy choices at the party, you have already checked that box. The goal is not to deny yourself your favorite treats, but instead to help you enjoy less healthy items in moderation.”

Barr also recommends taking advantage of this time to slow down, enjoy food and company, and give your body time to register satiation at the holiday meals.

Strategy 3: Tweak the Game Plan

“If you are hosting or bringing a dish to pass, add a few simple vegetable and fruit options to the menu, instead of just rich and saucy choices,” Barr said. “For more traditional offerings, there are small, simple changes that can make a big difference to the total calories and fat. And, most people will not catch the difference in taste.”

  • Provide healthier appetizers like whole grain crackers and low-fat cheese, or shrimp cocktail.
  • Cut or replace sour cream in recipes with plain yogurt to add nutrition and decrease fat calories.
  • Use dry, unsalted nuts for flavor and texture. They pack nutrient and protein power and contain healthy fat in their natural state.
  • Choose to roast or grill meats, seafood and potatoes.
  • Use chicken stock, fat-free dairy products and light cream cheese to reduce fat in recipes.

Strategy 4: Stay Hydrated

With all the great tastes of the season, you may want to skip the sodas, and simply sample the punches and nogs.

“Soda, juice cocktails, sports or energy drinks, flavored creams and nogs all provide little or no nutritional content and really are just empty calories,” Barr said. “Choose water – flat or sparkling – instead. Infusing water with berries, citrus fruits, cucumber and/or mint will keep you hydrated and curb appetite and still feel festive.”

Strategy 5: Eyes on the Prize

“The holiday season means time with loved ones and preparing for the upcoming year,” Barr said. “If you do over-indulge at a celebration, push guilt away and start a new day. As you explore alternatives and adopt healthier habits, you will look and feel better over time.”

For more information on the University of Illinois Extension programs in your county, visit

University of Illinois Extension provides educational programs and research-based information to help Illinois residents improve their quality of life, develop skills and solve problems. University of Illinois Extension provides equal opportunities in programs and employment.

Source: Laura Barr, Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness,

Pull date: January 15, 2018