Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too: Healthy Living Over the Holidays

6 years ago
This article was written by a member of the SheKnows Community. It has not been edited, vetted or reviewed by our editorial staff, and any opinions expressed herein are the writer’s own.

Many of us may have overindulged a bit more than planned on Thanksgiving, but by now the turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy are all gone. Let go of any leftover guilt you might be carrying from that day, too. It’s not too late to have a healthy holiday season. You’re probably in the frenzy of gift shopping, vacation planning, and parties at the office, school and at the homes of friends and family. While it should be a time of joy and celebration, the holiday season can also bring on weight gain, stress, and the holiday blues. How to celebrate and not regret it? Don’t wait until New Year’s Day to make a fresh start—follow these simple tips and you won’t need to.

1) Don’t deprive yourself of special indulgent foods—A lot of favorite holiday foods are high in saturated fat, carbohydrates and sodium. But if you would be sad not to have that cup of eggnog or that latke that reminds you of this time of year, have a taste, or a small portion, to satisfy your craving. Complete deprivation may make you binge.

2) Pre-eat—Before heading over to those parties, snack on something healthy (fruit, water) so you’re not as hungry at the buffet. Having a slightly full stomach won't leave you as much room for gorging on those calorie-laden goodies.

3) Eat mindfully, choose carefully—At the buffet, start with fruits and vegetables before moving onto less healthy appetizers and sweets. Or consider skipping appetizers and enjoying just the entree instead, using the proportions of the healthy plate (50% vegetables and fruits, 25% lean protein, 25% whole grains.)

4) Think before you drink—Minimize your intake of alcohol and other high-calorie, low-nutrition liquid calories. You could save room for a bite of dessert instead! For your reference, here are some calorie counts that might guide your decision:

eggnog 8 oz, 343 cal
hot chocolate 8 oz, 222 cal
Pinot Noir 5 oz, 121 cal
glass of champagne, 89 cal
water, any amount 0 cal

If you want something more festive than plain water, make your own infused spa water! (recipe below).

5) Don’t forget to exercise—play sports, go for a family walk, hike or bike ride after the big meal, or consider participating in a holiday race or other exercise event.

6) Get enough sleep—sleep deprivation can lead to elevated blood pressure and weight gain. Adults should aim 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.

For some specific ideas, here are two healthy and delicious recipes to add to your holiday buffet. The first is a vegetarian appetizer that is packed with flavor from spices and olive oil, and also full of vitamins, minerals and fiber. The second is a simple formula for zesting up water into a festive beverage. Both recipes emphasize creating bold and satisfying flavor by using herbs and spices instead of large amounts of salt or sugar.

Pistachio Dukkah with Crudités and Whole Wheat Flatbread Triangles

Dukkah is an Egyptian spice and nut blend used with olive oil as a dip for bread and crudités. It’s also excellent as a spice rub for meats and fish. Olive oil contains healthy unsaturated fats, and when used in small amounts, rounds out flavors without an excess of calories.

Yield: 1 cup


1 cup roasted pistachios, finely chopped
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/3 cup coriander seeds
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
For serving: Your choice of bite-sized raw vegetables (crudités), whole wheat flatbread, pita, or tortillas, and extra virgin olive oil for dipping.


1. Toast sesame seeds and coriander seeds separately in a dry pan over moderate heat for 3 minutes, until fragrant.

2. Grind toasted coriander in a spice grinder until fine. Add to a bowl along with pistachios and sesame seeds.

3. Grind cumin, salt, and sugar together in spice grinder until fine. Add to bowl, stir, adjust seasonings to taste.

4. Serve with a separate bowl of extra virgin olive oil and a platter of cut raw vegetables and warmed whole wheat pita, flatbread or tortillas cut into triangles (8 triangles per pita). Dip triangles or vegetables first into the olive oil, then into the dukkah.

Recipe for dukkah from Chef John Ash, as presented at the Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives Conference at the Culinary Institute of America, St. Helena, California. March, 2012.

Spa Water


A pitcher or glass of tap or mineral water
Any combination of the following, mix and match to taste:
Citrus fruit (lemons, limes, clementines) sliced into thin rounds
Thinly sliced cucumber
Fresh sprigs of mint or other herbs such as basil and thyme
Ice cubes


Add selected fruit slices or herbs to a pitcher or glass of water. Allow to sit for at least ten minutes, or to drink immediately, muddle or crush slightly with a spoon. Serve over ice. Cheers!

Dr. Linda Shiue is an internal medicine physician in the San Francisco Bay Area who believes that the best medicine is prevention, based upon healthy food and a healthy lifestyle. She is also a culinary enthusiast whose recipes and writing have appeared in national and international publications and on her food and travel blog, Spicebox Travels. She has recently begun to combine her interests in medicine and food by teaching cooking to patients. She dreams of one day having a community teaching kitchen open to doctors, nutritionists and patients to have hands-on learning experiences about healthy cooking as a building block of health.

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