Can healthy eating and holidays go together? YES!

Maybe you’ve worked hard to get into healthy eating habits and now, as the holidays approach, you fear all that planning and effort will be wasted.  Or maybe you haven’t started yet, but think that there’s no point in starting an attempt to improve your eating habits with the holidays this close.  You might think “Wouldn’t it be easier to wait until January?”  It’s not just a coincidence that Diabetes Awareness Month occurs as we enter the holiday eating season. 

Easier?  Maybe.  It’s often “easier” to grab junk food, regardless of the time of year.  However, even with the pot lucks and parties that will soon fill your social calendar, you CAN make healthy choices and begin or continue on your path to a lifestyle that includes healthy eating. Besides, when you eat well, your body will be better fueled so that you can be at your best for all your get-togethers and activities of the season!

Consumer Reports experts offer some advice on making healthy eating choices, anytime, that are easy enough to do even when juggling fall and winter festivities.

Make good choices at the grocery store

There are so many options in the grocery store that it’s easy to get confused on which one is really a good choice.  Labels help, provided you know what you are looking for.

When shopping for meat, look for items marked “organic” or “raised without antibiotics”.  There is considerable concern that excessive antibiotic usage in livestock contributes to antibiotic resistance in humans.  Additionally, certified organic products, such as dairy goods, do not contain genetically engineered growth hormones.

For produce, there are several options including organic, and local.  Since some nutrients begin to break down with time, local produce, with its shorter travel time may be a good option.  As with meat, organic produce is grown without the use of most pesticides or chemical fertilizers and isn’t genetically engineered.  Depending on your location, budget and personal preferences, you may choose to stick with conventional produce.  In this case, washing the food by rubbing it under running water will help remove some pesticide residue.  However, some types of pesticide will remain on the surface and some may be systemic – they penetrate the skin and cannot be washed away.

Use spices wisely.  “Sodium is used as a preservative in many canned and packaged foods,” says Lauri Wright, Ph.D., R.D., an assistant professor of nutrition at the University of South Florida. “So they have much more than if it was added just for taste.”  Look for products that are considered low-sodium (140mg or less per serving).  Choose fruits packaged in their own juice to avoid added sugars.  When you can, utilize fresh fruits and vegetables to avoid the excessive additives.

Make Food Safety a Priority

You may be more rushed, have more food to prepare than normal or you may have a small army of people all bustling around your kitchen preparing various dishes, but this is no time to cut corners when it comes to food safety.

  • Prepare in advance – Before you begin, clean out your refrigerator and freezer. This gives you room for all the extra dishes of food.  It also prevents you, or anyone else, from grabbing an outdated product.  This will also allow you to do a quick inventory of what you have and save you money by not purchasing things you have already.  Always keep meat and poultry separate from the rest of your food – from the grocery cart, to your grocery bags to the refrigerator.
  • Thaw food the right way – Marianne H. Gravely, M.S., a food-safety specialist with the Department of Agriculture’s Meat and Poultry Hotline warns that food-poisoning bacteria enjoy room temperature where “in 2 hours they can reach dangerous levels and develop toxins that can’t be killed with cooking.”  Thawing meat should be done in the refrigerator.  Place it in a dish that is deep enough to catch any juice that leaks out while it thaws.  Note that turkey thaws at a rate of approximately 5 lbs per day.  If you are in charge of the main course, be sure to plan ahead.
  • Skip the turkey shower – According to a Drexel University study, rinsing poultry can result in bacteria being splattered to surrounding surfaces.
  • Cross contamination isn’t just a newbie mistake – Even in the rush, using a separate plate for raw/cooked meat is a precaution you can’t skip. It may seem simplistic, but proper handwashing is a must!  A Kansas State University study revealed that the most contaminated surface tested was the kitchen towel!  Using the same towel to wipe off a counter and dry hands after merely rinsing, rather than fully washing them, produces a haven for bacteria.  And don’t forget your cell phone or tablet.  If you touch something during food preparation, wash your hands again before resuming working with food.
  • Get it hot! – In order to kill bacteria in beef and pork roasts or fresh ham, the meat should reach 145̊. Turkey should reach 165̊ in the breast, thickest part of the thigh, and the wing.  If you cook the stuffing in the bird, it should also reach 165̊ before you remove it from the oven.
  • 2nd time around – To enjoy those tasty favorites, place leftovers in the refrigerator within 2 hours of cooking. To cool food quickly, pack it in small, shallow containers.  Always remove the meat from the bones of a turkey as it will take too long to reach a safe cool temperature if it is left intact.  And have your fridge set just under 40̊ to keep your food safe for your meal of “encores”.

Set the Table

While it’s a common theme to overindulge on holiday meals, you can enjoy eating well without going to extremes.  Rather than pressuring yourself to “eat less”, try to focus on having a balance.  Here are some tips for doing just that without feeling deprived.

Use a smaller plate

We eat with our eyes first.   “When using a 9½- to 10-inch-diameter plate, people typically serve themselves 20 percent less than they do on an oversized plate,” says Brian Wansink, Ph.D., director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab.  Additionally, using regular size kitchen spoons results in a 14% reduction in food consumed.

Plan your food placement

When you think of holiday family dinner, what image pops into your head?  A table laden with large bowls of delicious foods that are passed around for everyone to take a heaping serving?  Well, research showed that having all the food on the table served family style actually increased the amount people ate by about 20%.  Here’s an idea.  Instead, plan your table so that the healthiest foods are served at the table.  Then place more indulgent foods at a different location.  It doesn’t have to be a different room – just enough that people have to get up to get seconds.

Eat what you love

“Gobble ‘til you wobble,” “Holiday calories don’t count,” and “The hardest meal to limit is the one from Halloween to New Year’s” are all common memes and wisecracks this time of year.  Everywhere we turn, there are messages about overeating during the holidays.  It has become a competition among some to see how many plates of food they can consume in a day.

This creates an expectation of overindulgence.  But it IS possible to enjoy holiday meals without going overboard.  Rather than getting a large portion of everything on the table, scale it back to just a few bites per food.  You don’t have to have 2 or 3 servings of foods that you don’t love.  If there is a favorite that you’ve been looking forward to, go ahead and have some of it.  Rather than having a huge portion, keep it to a moderate serving and ask the cook if you can take some home for the next day.

With some conscientious planning, attention to food safety, and putting in place a few strategies for navigating nutritional pitfalls, the holidays can still be a time of staying healthy and enjoying our favorite traditions.  Remember – being sick due to overindulgence, food poisoning and increasing risks of diabetes are NOT quality family time!  This year, eat well AND enjoy the holidays.  

For more information on diabetes, or Diabetes Month events in your local community, visit

Don’t forget, your chiropractor is also great source of information on nutrition and healthy eating habits which may help reduce the risk for diabetes.


SOURCE: “How to Eat Healthier Over the Holidays – Tips for smart and safe meals for you and your guests” By Sally Wadyka November 15, 2016 (Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the November 2016 issue of Consumer Reports On Health.)