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Holiday Eating

What types of food to fill up on first?

Holiday eating can feel overwhelming, especially with different food options! Stay on track by starting each meal with a protein source and some veggies. The fiber in vegetables helps fill you up and the protein balances your blood sugar. You may even want to eat a small meal that includes protein and a glass of water a couple of hours before the big meal. 

What is the advised serving size?

When it comes to portions, be mindful of your body’s cues to hunger and fullness. Take a drink of a calorie-free beverage between every couple of bites to help you slow down. It can take 20 minutes for your brain to tell your stomach you’ve eaten your fill. Remember, this is a time to celebrate the season! Take your time to eat that roasted turkey and stuffing… and don’t forget the pecan pie.

What about food splurges during the holiday? Can I still treat myself?

It’s the holidays!  That means time to gather with family and friends and loads of your favorite holiday fare. From sweet potato casserole to smoked turkey to the finale of all those decadent desserts. Take this time to enjoy food.  If you do overindulge, forget about it and move on. This is not a time to diet or feel guilty for enjoying the season’s finest cuisine. 

What are some healthy-eating alternatives?

Whether you are cooking the meal or going to someone’s house to eat, you can always prepare a healthier dish. Grandma’s mashed potatoes can still be on the menu but include lighter items as well.  Think of a colorful fruit salad, such as a grapefruit, endive and arugula masterpiece! In lieu of the canned cranberry sauce, substitute with naturally sweetened cranberry sauce.  Lighten up the green bean casserole with a lemony green bean almondine side. Bust out the roasting pan, and put that broiler to good use. Load it with veggies like brussel sprouts, peppers and butternut squash.

What are some holiday pitfalls, and what should I avoid?

During the holidays you will come face-to-face with endless tables of sugar cookies, calorie-rich cornbread stuffing and perhaps a holiday beverage or two. Don’t despair! Instead, prepare for what’s ahead.  Here are a few tips to avoid those holiday pitfalls:

1. Over-indulging:

With so many goodies to choose from, keep the high-calorie, high saturated fat items to a one- to two-thumb serving size. Don’t avoid those foods. Satisfy your craving, then fill up on the other lower-calorie foods that are more forgiving.

2. The pre-meal warm-up: Appetizer overload

Now you know there are going to be platters of finger foods, cheeses, dips and chips. The game plan is to save room for the main event. Don’t go famished to your celebration, unless you want to feel like a food-filled piñata at the end of the evening. Prepare by eating a small snack of string cheese, Greek yogurt or half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so you can keep your hunger level in check.

3. “Holidaze” stress

The holidays are meant to bring joy and happiness; however, the truth is this can also be a time of added stress.  Stress tends to increase that little hormone we call cortisol. Cortisol increases our feelings of hunger. Plan for a little “me” time — even just an hour. De-stress with a warm bath, a pedicure or a short stroll.  

What is food-guilt, and how can I avoid it?

It’s been said the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach – but overeating can also lead to feelings of guilt and shame when we overeat. Try to think of food as neither good nor bad, but neutral.  Telling yourself “I shouldn’t have eaten that pie” or “why did I let myself eat so much” only makes you feel bad. Instead, when feeling bored, emotional or stressed, journal your thoughts, go for a bike ride, call a friend or color!


Natalie Roberts, MS, RDN, LD, is a clinical dietician who works with patients at the UT Health East Texas Long-Term Acute Care (LTAC) hospital to create healthy meals that aid in their recovery. Since 1994, LTAC cares for patients who have experienced catastrophic injury or illnesses and who require complex medical care. For more information about the LTAC hospital and the services they offer, visit