Holiday Eating and Traditions December 2020

By Jeannie Versagli, R.D., LDN

While it looks like we’ve got a quiet holiday season in store without get togethers and limiting time with friends and family, there’s still a need to be mindful of what you’re eating – especially if you’re planning on keeping some of your favorite holiday food traditions just to your household this year!

HAC’s Dietitian, Jeannie Versagli, has put together a number of tips for keeping healthy this holiday season.

Healthy Holiday Nutrition Tips

  • Do not skip meals because you might be eating a big meal or takeout later in the day, this results in overeating.
  • Try to choose healthy dishes as sides or mains – lighten up traditional dishes that contain calorie dense ingredients such as brown sugar or butter. (See the next section for tips!)
  • Choose your splurges wisely and try to consume smaller portions.
  • Think Color when making selections with fruits and vegetables.
  • Choose drinks wisely, drink beverages that do not add additional sugars and or and fats.
  • Make sure you’re eating when you’re hungry, not out of boredom or desire.
  • Savor seasonal treats. Eat smaller portions and enjoy every bite.
  • Make exercise a priority over the holidays.
  • About an 60-90 minutes prior to a large meal, eat a small healthy snack, to curb hunger.
  • Engage in mindful eating, listening to your body to know when you are full.

Creating healthy recipes and keeping family traditions.  

Healthy substitutions reduce the amount of fat, calories, and salt in recipes while increasing the nutritional content.

  • To reduce the amount of fat in baking use half the amount of butter, shortening or oil and replace it with applesauce, mashed banana, or prune puree.  Grocery store carries fruit-based fat replacers as well, look for them in the baking aisle. Look to using low fat dairy products when making creamed sauces, use a combination of white and whole wheat flours.
  • To reduce the amount of sugar, decrease the amount of sugar in the recipe by one-third to            one-half or look to natural sweeteners such as stevia, xylitol, or erythritol.
  • Reduce salt intake for main dishes, soups, salad dressings. Often these dishes you can reduce the salt intake in half without compromising flavor.
  • Eliminate toppings by instead consider using nutmeg, cocoa powder, or powdered sugar.
  • Eliminate condiments byusing fresh berries to replace jellies, and plain Greek yogurt for mayonnaise is salads.

Before making your holiday recipe, take a moment to review the list of ingredients to see where you may be able to cut back and or substitutes ingredients to create a healthier recipe. Remember to use spices and herbs to flavor your favorite holiday recipe.  Spice and herbs not only add flavor but provide additional nutritional benefits.

How to Avoid Emotional Eating over the Holidays

If the holidays sometimes leave you feeling stressed and overwhelmed, learn to take care of yourself to stay well.  Keep healthy habits. Make a commitment to maintain your routine of exercising and healthy eating.

  • Learn to say no if you find things are piling up for you.  Take a break read, listen to music, take a walk, meditate.  Find the activity that brings you back into harmony. Look to healthy recipes and scale down the holiday menu choices.  Be realistic in the offerings and the amounts prepared.
  • Maintain good sleeping habits aim for 7–9 hours of sleep each night to stay healthy. Nap if you need to, but only do so for 30 minutes, set your alarm to not oversleep.

Foods to Avoid when Stressed

  • Sugar is one of the hardest things to avoid when feeling stressed because your body at times may crave sugary foods such as ice cream, pastries, desserts, and chocolate. Look to eating fresh fruits to curb your sweet tooth.
  • Simple refined carbohydrates. Like crackers, chips, low fiber foods, high sugar refined cereals.
  • Alcohol.
  • Excess caffeine intake.  Look to keep caffeine intake to 400 milligrams or less.

Food safety over the Holidays

  • Cook protein foods to their proper temperature.  Meats should rest 3 minutes after you remove from the oven before slicing and or serving.  Use a thermometer to ensure meat is cooked to a safe internal temperature. Use this link to find the meat chart for proper cooking temperatures.
  • Keep foods out of the danger zone. Bacteria grows rapidly in the danger zone between 40°F and 140°F. After food is cooked, keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Refrigerate any leftovers at 40°F or freeze them at or below 0°F.
  • Use pasteurized eggs for recipes calling for raw eggs.
  • Keep foods separated . Keep meat, chicken, turkey, seafood, and eggs separated from other foods in the refrigerator.  It is important to prevent juices from meat, chicken, turkey, and seafood from dripping or leaking onto other foods by keeping them in containers or sealed plastic bags. If juices leak onto other foods, there is a great potential for food borne illness to occur.
  • Thaw your turkey safely Turkey needs to be thawed in the refrigerator, in a sink of cold water (change the water every 30 minutes).
  • Cook stuffing separately not in the turkey. Not cooking it in the turkey keep the turkey within safer cooking temperatures while roasting.
  • The turkey’s internal temperature should read 165 degrees for doneness.
  • Refrigerate protein foods within two hours of cooking.  This prevents food borne illnesses from developing.

Home-made low-fat Eggnog

Eggnog, Traditional Christmas Drink, Homemade Cocktail with Cinnamon and Nutmeg for Winter Holidays, Top View

Yields:  4 servings


  • 2 cups low-fat milk (or milk substitute)
  • 2 egg whites plus one egg preferable pasteurized egg
  • 1/3 cup honey, stevia, or swerve (per preference)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Fresh ground nutmeg


Place milk in medium saucepan over medium-low heat.  Slowly bring to a simmer.  Wisk together eggs and sweetener in a separate bowl.

Carefully pour ¼ of heated milk into egg mixture bowl, whisking mixture as you pour. Take egg/milk mixture and pour into saucepan with heated milk, whisking to combine both mixtures. Stir frequently for 8 minutes. Once the egg mixture has been cooked and stirred, remove from heat and place in container and refrigerate.  As the eggnog cools it will thicken.

Just before serving, grate fresh nutmeg on top of the eggnog.

Nutritional information.  Calories 166; Fat 9 g, Carbohydrates 30 g, (Sugar 30 g), Protein 7 g;  if sugar substitute is used, the recipe is 81 calories, 6 grams of Carbohydrates, 7 g of Protein and 9 g of Fat.

Bon appétite!

Stay well and enjoy the Holidays!


Hockessin Athletic Club opened its doors on June 10 2007. Boasting over 100,000 sq. ft., a 5-pool aquatics complex, and over 200+ weekly group and aqua fitness classes, it is Delaware's premier fitness destination. 100 Fitness Way, Hockessin, DE ·

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