By Alyssa Rolnick, RD

Many of us fall into two eating patterns over the holiday season: we either overindulge thinking we will get back on track in the New Year (which is difficult to do), or we go on a diet in the days leading up to the holidays in hopes of compensating for the foods we will be eating. However, no matter how hard we try, we still usually gain those unwanted pounds, as we tend to eat more than we normally would and not always make the healthiest choices.

My gift to you for this festive season – whether you celebrate Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year or Christmas – is a series of tips on how to eat, cook and be active so that you can maintain a healthy way of eating before, during and after the holidays.


The holidays are filled with decadent foods at family dinners and office parties. Try these tips to help you eat healthy while still allowing yourself to enjoy yourself.

Create a colourful plate Fill your plate first with the Four Food Groups, two thirds of which should be vegetables, especially orange and green vegetables – they will fill you up with few calories. Add small samplings of the calorie-laden foods such as mashed potatoes with gravy, fried plantains, latkes or crispy beef if you wish. After the main meal, you should feel satisfied, which means you’ll be less tempted to eat a lot of rich desserts such as shortbread cookies, trifle and chocolates. If you do indulge, make it a bite-size portion.

A deck of cards and a hockey puck The calories in a single holiday dinner can often total almost a whole day’s worth. Enjoy your favourite holiday dishes but choose appropriate portion sizes. One serving size of turkey should be 75 g (2 ½ oz.) or the size of a deck of cards. A serving of mashed potatoes should be ½ cup or the size of a hockey puck. A day before your celebration, you might want to review the recommended serving sizes in Canada’s Food Guide. Link to the Food Guide’s portion sizes page.

Cheat sheet Make wise food choices to decrease calories and fat. For example, go for white over dark turkey meat (without skin) topped with just a sprinkling of gravy or cranberry sauce, and you can reduce your calories by almost half.

Nogs and ciders Drinking alcohol or anything sugary before a meal can actually make you feel hungrier. Then when you sit down to eat, you may heap more on your plate than you had planned. Not only that, but alcohol contains a lot of calories and little nutritious content. For example, a four-ounce glass of wine has 100 calories and one regular beer 151 calories. Instead, drink a mineral water before dinner, and then have just one alcoholic beverage with your meal, if you wish. Sip on it slowly to make it last.


It’s easy to take a healthy holiday meal and instantly turn it into a high-calorie, high-fat trap. Follow these tips to turn your traditional recipes into heart-healthy ones:

Cook healthier Choose alternative ways of preparing your holiday dishes by broiling or roasting instead of frying. Here are some ingredient substitutions to help you make more, heart-healthier choices.

Go easy on the extras Instead of dressing up your foods with gravy, sour cream, butter, margarine or cream-based sauces, try using herbs, spices, lemon juice, garlic, low-sodium broths and vinaigrettes to add flavour to potatoes, vegetables and meat dishes.

Calm the munchies Cooking when hungry or going to a party starving can often lead to overeating. Drink a low-sodium, 100% vegetable juice or eat a healthy light snack such as low-fat yogurt or a small handful of unsalted nuts before you cook or go out to avoid sampling your recipes and eating more than you should.

Keeping up your regular physical activities during the holidays is more important than ever. These tips might help you stay the course.

Double up Increase your activity during December. For example, if you go to the gym three times a week, increase it to four. If you play tennis once a week, make it twice. You will not only feel better about yourself, but burn more calories, too. (Try to avoid the “I-worked-out-so-I-get-to-eat-more syndrome.” You’ll cancel out your efforts if you do.)

Sign up now Many people resolve to start a physical activity routine in January. Don’t wait. Sign up for that yoga or spinning class this month. That way you’ll be well on your way after the holidays are over. Make a commitment to start a walking program, too.

Play Before your holiday meal or party, throw snowballs, go skating, or take in a long, brisk walk with family and friends. It’s a great way to socialize (without nibbling and drinking) and to catch up on family news.

If you keep your eating habits on track during the holiday season you’ll be one step closer to keeping yourself healthier in the New Year. Stay tuned for our January column which will help you resolve to keep eating healthy and being active.

Try our holiday menu for a heart-healthy way to celebrate with family and friends.

Food Guide’s portion sizes page