Healthy Eating During the Holidays

As a child, I thought the best thing about Thanksgiving was the food: my grandmother’s green bean casserole, mashed potatoes with gravy, bread rolls, candied yams with marshmallows, pecan pie and turkey. When I reminisce about those traditions, I realize that I really didn’t care for the food; what I really loved was the tradition of spending time with my loved ones. Now, with a family of my own, I want to create our own traditions that my children will have fond memories of. As a mom, and health and wellness professional, it’s important to me that food not only taste good, but nourishes your body as well. If you are looking to create new traditions for your family, or need to know how to serve a healthy meal to your guests, here are some nutritious and delicious meal ideas for a healthy feast:

  • Swap Green Bean Casserole for Roasted Brussels Sprouts. Butter isn't the only way to add flavor to your veggie dishes. When roasting Brussels Sprouts, try tossing them in olive oil and adding lemon juice and parmesan when finished roasting, you'll save calories and fat in favor of a nutty, light, appetizing stand-in.
  • Swap your Candied Yams with Marshmallows for Roasted Sweet Potatoes. Sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamins A and C and are naturally sweet. After boiling sweet potatoes, toss in a mixture of maple syrup, butter, and chile powder for a sweet and spicy side dish without the chemicals and additives from the marshmallow topping.
  • Swap Mashed Potatoes with Mashed Cauliflower. The butter and cream that is whipped with mashed potatoes makes them heavy in calories. After steaming cauliflower, blend with milk, butter, chives, and parsley for a light, creamy and delicious alternative.
  • Swap Cranberry Jelly for Cranberry Relish. Cranberries are loaded with antioxidants called anthocyanins, which have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer and Parkinson's, but that can of cranberry sauce you open at Thanksgiving is full of sugar, corn syrup, and other added sweeteners. Making your own is quick and easy with fresh cranberries, stevia, water and nutmeg.
  • Swap Pecan Pie for Pumpkin Pie. Pumpkins are an amazing source of vitamin A, carotenoids, and fiber. Switching from pecan to pumpkin pie not only reduces inflammation, boosts your immune system, and fills you up, but also saves you a ton of calories, so you can have your pie and eat it too!


The average American consumes approximately 2,500 calories during their holiday meal, and that’s not including breakfast or snacks! While you shouldn’t deprive yourself of all of your Thanksgiving favorites, cutting back and making smart swaps can help maintain a healthy balance. In addition, check out these other tips for a healthy holiday:

  • Get some Exercise. Incorporating activity into your Thanksgiving Day helps burn off some of those extra calories as well as keeps your energized. Start your day with a long walk, find a local Turkey Trot, or head to your nearest YMCA, most are open from 7-11 am on Thanksgiving. After the main meal, invite friends and family on a walk through the neighborhood, head to the park for a game of flag football, or (my favorite) put together a scavenger hunt.
  • Eat Before the Meal. Showing up for the celebration with a grumbling tummy is a definite recipe for over-eating. Instead, have a small, yet nutritious, breakfast can help prevent you from overindulging. Think scrambled eggs and bacon, oatmeal with nuts and berries, or yogurt and berry smoothie.
  • Hydrate. Be sure to drink enough water throughout the day in order for you to stay hydrated. Lack of water can cause you to believe you need to eat when really you need to drink. Aim for half your body weight in ounces of water daily.
  • Volunteer to Help Clean Up. Instead of helping yourself to seconds (or thirds) or settling in on the couch, offer to help clean up. Your host will appreciate the help and physically removing yourself from the leftovers will take away the temptation as well as help get the food moving through your digestive system. And you’ll burn some extra calories!

Best wishes to you and your family and friends this Thanksgiving!

Written by: Corey Bivins, Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach at the South City YMCA. Corey also holds a Masters in Applied Clinical Nutrition

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