Holiday meals can be just as healthy as they are happy with a few recipe fixes.

How to Eat for Health While Enjoying Holiday Celebrations

The holidays are traditionally a time for joy and celebration, and for meals with all the trimmings. But unfortunately, those extra side dishes and festive treats come with a lot of extra calories. And those calories are less likely to get burned off while we’re all spending more time at home during the pandemic.

Even in normal years, the holiday season can bring on weight gain, added stress, and the holiday blues, and that’s even more true during this time of uncertainty. On average, Americans gain about one pound a year during the winter holidays, while people who are already overweight or obese gain much as five pounds. While modest weight holiday weight gain isn’t a serious concern, research shows that these added pounds tend to accumulate over time, contributing to obesity later in life. And this incremental increase in body weight can lead to a wide range of health problems down the road.

While I wouldn’t recommend that you try to lose weight over the holidays, watching what you eat will help you maintain your overall health and decrease your risk for developing obesity and other health conditions.

The good news is that there are lots of ways to make the right food choices and enjoy a healthy holiday season. It helps to think of healthy eating in terms of both quantity and quality. Downsize your portion size as much as you’re comfortable and eat more plants and fewer processed foods and animal products to tune up your diet.

Here are five tips to consider when planning your holiday meals.

1. Pre-eat before big holiday meals. Having a slightly full stomach will make it easier not to gorge on those calorie-laden goodies.

2. Think before you drink. Is that holiday beverage worth it? Decide whether you prefer your calories in solid or liquid form. Some helpful figures to aid your decision:

  • Pinot Noir – 5 oz = 121 calories
  • Eggnog – 8 oz = 343 calories
  • Hot Chocolate – 8 oz = 222 calories
  • Champagne – 8 oz = 89 calories

3. Don’t deprive yourself. If it makes you sad not to have that cup of eggnog or that latke that reminds you of the holiday season, have a taste, or a small portion. Complete deprivation may make you binge.

4. Keep up your fitness routine. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. If rain or cold weather keeps you indoors, you can do this simple workout at home, even while enjoying your favorite holiday movie.

5. Get those Z’s. Don’t forget to get plenty of sleep, which helps boost your immune season as well as your spirits. These sleep tips can help.

Linda Shiue, MD, is a primary care doctor and professionally trained chef who believes that the best medicine is prevention, based upon a healthy lifestyle. As Director of Culinary Medicine at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco, she is developing a teaching kitchen to empower patients with a new set of skills and knowledge to improve their health and wellness--nutrition applied through cooking skills. Classes are offered through the Health Education Department at (415) 833-3450. In addition to seeing patients, Dr. Shiue offers cooking demonstrations and hands-on workshops in which students learn to prepare seasonal produce lavishly flavored with spices and fresh herbs. Her food writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, Remedy Quarterly, Salon, Culinate, and online editions of The New York Times and Smithsonian Magazine. She also has her own website,