Patch Pro: How to Eat Healthy During the Holidays

How can a person eat healthy during the holidays? We don't know either. That's why we invited some experts for you to ask.

With the holiday season in full swing, eating healthy may seem impossible.

With that in mind, for two days at Patch, we have five pros who will answer your questions and offer some advice about avoiding gastric-gluttony during the holidays.

This week, our pros are:

  • Jeannemarie Beiseigel, PhD, RD, is a registered dietitian with a doctorate in human nutrition, foods, and exercise. She shares her knowledge as Zestar's Director of Nutrition. You can find more of Jeannemarie's blog posts at zestarapp.com.
  • Also joining the discussion is Gina Love, deli, meat and cheese manager for Just Food Co-op in Northfield.
  • Brian Coleman and Ramar Harper own Derived Beings, a gym in Oakdale that offers nutrition consultation, CrossFit, yoga and mental toughness. 
  • Barb Miller of Oakdale who blogs about recipes in her blog, "Cooking with the Kitchen Diva" on Oakdale Patch. Miller is a Blue Ribbon award winner on Just A Pinch Recipes for her innovative recipes and cooking tips. Miller has also authored several cookbooks.
  • Last, but not least, Deb Preachuk, BRS, BPE, Certified Posture Alignment Specialist, and ACE Group Fitness is a 20+ year veteran of the fitness, health and wellness field. The owner of Pain Free Posture MN in Lakeville and 5 Star Group Fitness Instructor for LifeTime Fitness, Deb has a passion to motivate and encourage people to take ownership of their health and fitness in mind-body-and-spirit. You can find more on Deb's blog at Achieving a Pain Free Life and Living

On Tuesday, Dec. 11, and Wednesday, Dec. 12, our experts will take questions from Patch users about healthy eating during the holidays. 

So go ahead and ask away! Leave your questions in the comments area below and they’ll check back regularly through Wednesday to answer your questions.

Editor's note: The contents of this post and comments are for informational and educational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional psychological, psychiatric or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. 

Derrick Williams (Editor) December 11, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Straight up: what are some tips to avoid destroying the holiday spread at Christmas? I'm a grazer—so I eat a little of everything and it adds up fast.
Becky Glander (Editor) December 11, 2012 at 06:33 PM
Can you provide ideas for some easy dishes to bring with to holiday parties that are both on the healthier side and tasty?
Gina Love December 11, 2012 at 08:18 PM
Portion control! That is probably your best bet. Grab a small plate, cut things in half, share with a friend or family member and when you are feeling like eating everything in sight because it all looks so great, graze on the fruit and vegetable platters. Enjoy yourself and make sure you drink plenty of water to suppress the appetite and play in the snow to burn those calories!
Barbara J. Miller December 11, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Hi Derek!! Thank you for submitting this question and a good question it is! I am sure that there are other people on your page as well. I have several thoughts on this that I can share with you: You have already told me that you are a grazer ... and since you are a grazer, initiate a plan! If your Christmas dinner is at 3:00 P.M., graze the morning and early afternoon away on high fiber, low calorie tidbits such as fruit and veggies and drink lots of water! By 3:00 in the afternoon I guarantee you will cut down on your intake of those dubious little holiday high calorie morsels. Here is another one Derek: Stay away from the holiday cheer (alcoholic beverages) until AFTER the Christmas meal. Alcohol generates a ravenous fake appetite in most people and that is a train wreck during the holiday season. Try not to fall asleep in one of those holiday induced "power naps" before the meal. Not all, but most people will be on the search for something to devour the minute they wake up... blame the lower blood sugar! Last but not least.... here is a little humor! Keep the chewing gum in your mouth... no one wants to mess up their chewing gum with food for goodness sakes! I hope I have given you a couple of good tips for controlling the holiday food intake Derrick. Blessings and enjoy the holiday!
Gina Love December 11, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Here at Just Food we have some wonderful platter ideas. Our mezza platter is a fun idea with olives, hummus, feta cheese, whole wheat pita bread, and Dolmas (stuffed grape leaves). We have a delicious and hearty walnut pecan pate that is a protein rich spread chock full of walnuts, pecans, and tofu. Don't forget a wonderfully decorated fruit and veggie platter is always a hit as well at most households!
Barbara J. Miller December 11, 2012 at 09:04 PM
Hi Becky! Great question from you as well! For me at least, simplicity has become where it is at! I used to slave for hours trying to make the dish that would out shine all others on the table, even if it was for a food day at work. Well, people become oblivious to the mass spread of food on the table eventually anyway. Now days it is either "cash and carry out" or "light, easy and tasty" ... so, yes! I can give you some ideas. I can even go so far as to tell you what the most popular take along items are these days. Bruschettas... Greek, Italian or any other ethnicity, these are in demand at parties. I am a huge fan of Greek Shrimp Bruschetta, made with tomatoes, onion, feta cheese, cilantro, shrimp, Greek seasoning and olive oil... all on a little baguette slice. Here you go... light, healthy and tasty! Meat skewers with a dipping sauce... hugely popular and healthy at the same time. I love chicken skewers with a peanut dipping sauce. I will blog some "take along to party" recipes, so look out for them in my blog on this site called "Dining With The Kitchen Diva". There are literally dozens of ways to make these skewers and they are all light, easy to make, even ahead of time, and healthy ... all at the same time. Coconut Shrimp on cocktail toothpicks with a marmalade or a pina' colada dipping sauce is also one of my favorite things to bring. Hope this helps Becky! Have a great holiday! Be sure to watch for my blog on easy to bring dishes!
Wendy Erlien December 11, 2012 at 09:06 PM
When it comes to holiday eating, what foods are the worst offenders when it comes to unhealthy eating? What foods should we absolutely avoid?
Jeannemarie Beiseigel, PhD, RD December 11, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Hi Derrick, Great question! Holiday parties are set up for grazing - there's always lots to choose from and usually in smaller bite-size portions so there's enough to go around. Unfortunately, there's a lot of calories that come with them and they tend to stick around! My suggestions: grab a small-sized plate and survey the food layout to see what's there. Add to your plate only items you really, really want and that you don't get often - even if it is higher in calories and fat, take a small serving and enjoy it. Skip anything that you aren't strongly desiring or that you can have any 'ol time (like crackers, rolls, summer sausage, cheese slices, etc.). Fill any remaining space with fresh veggies and then move away from the food table to enoy your goodies!
Jeannemarie Beiseigel, PhD, RD December 11, 2012 at 09:39 PM
Hi Becky, Good question! I'm big on bringing something a little sweeter so I often rely on chocolate-covered strawberries. I know strawberries aren't necessarily in season right now, but you can still find them in most grocery stores. You can make these with almond bark, but since most has a lot of trans-fat, I suggest looking for a variety that doesn't have hydrogenated oils or simply melting some chocolate chips of your choice. I like use a double boiler to prevent the chocolate from burning. Then you can dip the strawberries and leave them dry on a sheet of wax paper. You can get craftsy and drizzle with melted white chocolate or roll them in sprinkles. They are always a big hit. I also will add some chocolate-covered pretzels to the plate too. Other options are to make traditional recipes healthier by substituting in lower-fat ingredients, using less oil and butter than a recipe suggests, and cutting sugar by about 1/4th. If you're bringing hummus or a dip, bring fresh cut veggies along and not just crackers or chips. And check out the Zestar page on Pinterest where we are constantly posting new healthy recipes that we love!
Derived Beings December 11, 2012 at 09:52 PM
Hey Derrick - I think the first step is identifying what stuff just simply isn't healthy. I think most people have an idea of what these things are (twinkie vs broccoli; deep fried chicken vs skinless chicken breast). Not saying don't touch those things during the holiday season, but if you are really trying to watch your waistline, you'll need to keep them to a minimum. Next step is to find what IS healthy AND what you like. This is usually the more difficult challenge. I think on this post you will find some different perspectives. Our approach is try to eat good protein (lean meats, fish, eggs), good carbs (veggies, some tubars and fruit) and good fats (nuts, seeds, avocados, olive / coconut oils). Areas of difficulty, especially during the holidays, are sugar, alcohol and high saturated fat foods. Try to avoid in your grazing! I can give some perspective on grazing too if you'd like! Would need to know a little more about your grazing tactics Take Care, Brian - Derived Beings / CrossFit Initium
Derived Beings December 11, 2012 at 09:52 PM
Hey Becky - I am a big fan of a few sites that I have made some amazing things from (at least to me). My favorite though would be Everyday Paleo (everydaypaleo.com). It is primarily based on the Paleo diet but it has some really good things in there that I have made for many occasions. Take a peek through there. Some of my favorites are right on the dinner page (http://everydaypaleo.com/category/food/dinner/) Take Care, Brian - Derived Beings / CrossFit Initium
Barbara J. Miller December 11, 2012 at 09:56 PM
Hi Wendy! This will probably not be good news to hear but in reality the very essence of the holiday season equals excessive fat grams, carbs, calories and extra pounds unless you stick to a plan. Having said that though... there are two routes you can take. The first way is to enjoy every minute of the holiday season and hit it hard in January ... or..... Your best line of defense is knowledge. There are are a lot of tasty, healthy foods to eat through the holidays that won't leave you feeling like you have been shorted anything or couldn't join in on the fun. Here is a list of the good: Green beans, turkey, cranberries, sweet potatoes (plain that is), veggie trays, fruit platters, all lean meats, fish, seafood, shrimp cocktail, scallops, salads and there are a host of flavorful desserts made with *splenda with reduced fat and calories. Worst holiday food offenders: Foods to totally avoid unless using sensibility! Ooooh nooo.... ranking #1 on the "no-no" list... PECAN PIE... so sad but true ... Mashed potatoes marshmallow and sugar laden sweet potatoes Gravy Eggs Benedict Breakfast casserole Eggnog Muffins, cinnamon rolls Cheese cake, cakes, bars ... pretty much all sweets Biscuits and gravy Cream pies, berry pies I hope that this list helps you navigate through the holiday eating "goods" and "bads". Blessings and have a great holiday season.
Jeannemarie Beiseigel, PhD, RD December 11, 2012 at 10:03 PM
Hi Wendy, While there's no short list of foods that we can blame for holiday weight gain, there are a few you may certainly benefit from skipping. Pecan pie is one. Despite the health attributes of pecans, the high sugar, fat and calorie content of this pie makes it a disaster (have a sliver of pumpkin pie or a baked apple instead). Egg nog is another one that is extremely high in calories and fat, whether homemade or store bought, egg nog is not a diet-friendly drink. Cinnamon buns and caramel rolls, commonly served at holiday breakfasts (or at the mall food court), are calorie, sugar and fat disaters. And of course, alcohol. Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum and stick with wine (red, white or blush) or beer (preferably light) instead of mixed cocktails that carry a lot of calories and slide down easier as the night continues.
Liala Helal December 12, 2012 at 04:05 AM
What's the biggest detriment of not paying attention to eating "healthy" during the holidays? Are the holidays even a long enough time to have a negative affect on your health if you just eat whatever sounds good at that time, since it's not an every day, all year-round thing?
Barbara J. Miller December 12, 2012 at 06:02 AM
First of all... some people can eat anything they want during the holidays and come out of it, seemingly unscathed in the weight gain department. If you fit into that category... congratulations! The rest of us are not that fortunate. I am not a physician or a nutritionist so that leaves me out of the medical loop, but I can give you a few no brainers... Too much sodium is not a good thing. This can cause water retention in a big way if you are sensitive to it. You can easily triple your daily intake during holiday feasts. Eating the unhealthy refined carbs in abundance can leave you feeling bloated and lethargic. Not consuming enough fiber in healthy unrefined carbs and not drinking enough water during the holidays can leave you.... well.... constipated and wishing you had done things differently. On a side note, if you are young, healthy, active, and you have no medical concerns such as diabetes... I am going to guess you will do just fine during the holidays.
Becky Glander (Editor) December 12, 2012 at 06:45 AM
Yay! I love bruschetta (with feta)! It's my go-to dish with pita and tortilla chips. Thanks for the ideas- exactly what I was looking for!
Jeannemarie Beiseigel, PhD, RD December 12, 2012 at 12:40 PM
Hi Liala, Great question. For some people, relaxing a little of their diet and exercise routine for a week or two around the holiday won’t have a lasting negative impact and may even revive their healthy routine come New Years. And then there’s rest of us who use the “it’s the holidays” excuse anytime between Halloween and New Years (or Superbowl, or Valentine’s Day) as a reason to over indulge. Believe it or not, many people find themselves 5 lbs heavier come spring, and those pounds are still there come next Thanksgiving. So my best advice is to “relax” your diet and possibly your exercise routine during the holidays by allowing yourself to enjoy some of whatever treats are available (that you truly desire) while at social gatherings but keep it healthy at every other eating occasion. Remain active. This will not only help negate some of the excess calories you consume but believe it or not, it will help you be more in-tuned with your hunger cues and keep your stress level low, which often triggers us to over eat. By sticking with your healthy eating and exercise habits as much as possible throughout the season, it’ll be easier to keep the habits going past the New Year when everyone else is struggling to adapt new health habits.
Gina Love December 12, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Thank you for your question Wendy and I will have to agree with the expert panel on this question. Complex carbohydrates, trans fats, and refined sugars are a good thing to avoid whether it is the holiday season or not! Here is a great list of ingredients to use as a guideline for what to avoid: http://www.earthfare.com/sitecore/content/EarthFare/FoodPhilosophy/~/media/9-7_New%20Boot%20List.pdf. Enjoy and Happy Holiday Eating!
Deb Preachuk December 12, 2012 at 08:36 PM
Veggies and dip and a fruit tray are always nutritious and delicious. If you're looking for something a bit fancier, try homemade hummus as a dip, or try baking Kale chips.
Deb Preachuk December 12, 2012 at 08:40 PM
Foods that I personally recommend that you avoid at all costs (over the holidays and beyond) are what I call super-abnormally charged offenders. Pretty much anything that is processed or comes out of a package. Another to avoid is anything made with Genetically Modified grains/hormones. Also I'd encourage you to stay away from artificial flavors, food coloring and sweeteners.
Deb Preachuk December 12, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Liala - I'd like to encourage you to maintain a mindful approach to holiday eating by eating your regular meals throughout the day. Avoid foods/dishes that you know cause a disruption to your system, and healthfully add a favorite holiday dish to your plate. Focus while you are eating it, enjoy the taste and sensation and be mindful of how it actually tastes. Allow yourself to then ask important questions such as: 1. Am I still hungry? 2. Am I eating just because it's available? 3. Is this food giving my body nutrient dense calories, or is this empty nutrition. Depending on your answer you might choose one way or another. It's important to understand that you can easily undo a year or mores worth of good habit instillation by letting it all go over the holidays (or any other time for that matter). When we eat super-abnormally charged food items that trigger our brain into that easy sugar and fat dependent trap it's much like a drug addict or alcoholic who takes just one drink and ends up back at square one again. Ask yourself if you're willing to go through all that again. And if you are gluten sensitive for example, it can take weeks for your body to recover from the damage caused to your intestinal wall and autoimmune response. My advice? Go into the holidays with a plan of eating mindful of your goals.
Deb Preachuk December 12, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Derrick - You are ahead of the game because you know yourself well. Eating a little of everything over the holidays (depending on the choices you make) can be dangerous and add to the waistline. My advice to you is this: 1. Stay hydrated throughout your day. This helps with decreasing hunger dramatically. Best choice is always water, or water with slices of lemon or lime. 2. Maintain a regular meal plan if possible. Instead of skipping meals only to gorge at a buffet or party platter line is a dangerous practice. Your insulin level take a serious hit throughout the day, and you're more likely to over-indulge and eat way past the point of satiation. By eating your regular meals throughout the day, you're less likely to over eat period. 3. Ask yourself if you are actually hungry. Before you open your mouth to swallow "just one more bon-bon" stop and check if you are really hungry. If you could eat a steamed fish and broccolli, then go for it! But if you think again, you're eating just because it's available. Put the chocolate down, pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself on noticing and practicing the difference between eating for hunger and eating just because you can. There's a big difference. 4. Fill up on veggies and protein first. With the higher nutrition and fiber content, your much more likely to experience satiation and satiety than if you eat nutrient poor processed foods. Hope these little tips help!
Heyitsme December 13, 2012 at 10:56 PM
Unless you have some type of disease, like diabetes, I don't think a once a year, eating a little bit unhealthy is going to damage the rest of the year's healthy eating. Treat yourself, and remember to go back to eating correctly the rest of the following year.
Jeannemarie Beiseigel, PhD, RD December 13, 2012 at 11:10 PM
Hi Heyitsme, I tend to agree - the holidays are about enjoying time with family & firends and they often involve unique, enjoyable, albeit less-than-healthy, food-related customs, traditions, and events. The trick is keeping holiday food indulgences to a few separate, memorable occasions scattered throughout the season and not a month (plus) string of over-the-top meal-to-meal excessiveness. So go ahead and enjoy and get back on track at the next meal. Happy Holidays!


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