Nutrition Tips to Enjoy Holiday Foods and Festivities

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Before for Your Next Holiday Get Together...

In addition to the delicious recipes suggested by our dietitians in each month’s wellness tips, there is always some wisdom about nutritious food being just one part of the overarching goal of a healthy lifestyle. Even with the holiday season and the various once-a-year treats and feasts and parties that come with it, Bethany Say and Stefanie Arblaster from Meadville Medical Center’s Mind-Body Wellness Center prove it’s not always about what you do or don’t eat, but how you eat your meals (and sweets!) and if you allow yourself to enjoy them! Our registered dietitians offer some advice and recipes for navigating the holiday season.

Have an Allowance

Bethany Say, RD, LDN, CDES:

Women with fork enjoying her meal
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I encourage clients to set an allowance for themselves with sweets during the holidays. They can plan them as a treat, rather than feel like they are “cheating” on their lifestyle goals. I also suggest being curious and experimenting in the kitchen with lightened up versions of classic favorites, for example: pumpkin mousse with cool whip and a sprinkle of graham cracker crumbs in place of traditional pumpkin pie. When you do enjoy a treat, allow yourself to savor it.  Focus on letting yourself slow down and experience the flavor of it, which can help you feel satisfied and decrease the urge to go back for more.

Know When to Take Your Cue

Stefanie Arblaster, RD, LDN:

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I like to think of our hunger and fullness cues as a scale of 1-10: 1 being ravenously hungry and 10 being too full to the point of physical discomfort. I always encourage others to stop eating at around a 7 or 8 on this scale to avoid this discomfort. Some tips to help differentiate these include eating and chewing slowly. This allows us to:

  1. enjoy the food we are eating and
  2. slow down to differentiate mental vs. physical hunger


Additionally, if you find yourself always going for a second or third plate during the holidays, I would encourage waiting 10-15 minutes between these plates, if you desire. This will give your body some time to digest the food and will make you more aware of mental versus physical hunger.

Pre-Game with a Good Breakfast

Another important tip for mindful eating during the holidays is to eat a balanced breakfast, particularly if you eat a Christmas or other holiday dinner later in the day. This helps to stabilize hunger and blood sugar levels to avoid that “hangry” feeling when we get to that larger meal. When we save all of our calories for one meal, we are more likely to overeat on foods that provide us with quick energy such as starches and sweets. Although it is important to enjoy these foods on holidays and honor our cravings, eating a balanced breakfast can help combat physical discomfort and overeating.

Add a Shot of Something Healthier to Your Drink

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Even if NWPA weather does not (yet?) look like the typical holiday season, there are sure to be some chilly days and night during which some sweetened, hot drinks will really hit the spot! Stefanie Arblaster’s tips for healthier winter drinks include:

Hot Chocolate at Home:

  • If making drinks at home, use an option like Swiss Miss reduced calorie or other no-sugar-added mixes to make hot chocolate at home
  • Utilize water, unsweetened vanilla almond milk, or skim milk to lower calorie and fat content
  • For homemade lower sugar hot chocolate (this makes 10 servings), use:
    • 1 cup cocoa powder
    • 1 ¼ cup sweetener alternative (monk fruit, Stevia, etc.)
    • ¼ cup powdered creamer or milk
    • Mix 2 tbsp of mix with cup of hot water and enjoy!


When Ordering Coffee :

  • Order your drink with almond milk will help to lower caloric content (for example, 1 cup almond milk has 30-60 calories and 1 cup whole milk has 120 calories)
  • Order your drink “half-sweet”, which means the employee will put half the amount of syrup pumps in the drink compared to their original recipe
  • The tips above can be applied to any of your favorite holiday drinks or your regular coffee order!

Selected Holiday Recipes

Curated by Bethany Say, RD, LDN, CDES!

Ginger, Pear, Vanilla Cider

Ginger Pear Cider

Fresh ginger and pear combined with vanilla — this drink is the essence of winter cozy!

View the recipe on:
Sober Sangria Mocktail

Sangria Mocktail

No alcohol — just the right fruits and spices to help get you into the Christmas spirit!

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Strawberry Basil Smash drink

Strawberry Basil Smash

The strawberries give this drink tons of flavor (and vitamin C) while fragrant basil enchants multiple senses.

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AHA Green Bean Casserole

Green Bean Casserole

We keep bringing this back because it’s an oldie but goodie! This version comes from the American Heart Association.

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Mom's Roasted Turkey

Roasted Turkey

This is probably different than your Thanksgiving bird— one that includes butternut squash and asparagus!

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Maple-Spiced Pecans

Maple-Spiced Pecans

Great as a snack or to keep you full until your holiday party, pecans are chock full of antioxidants and fiber!

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AHA Snickerdoodle


This version of the classic cookie is notable because it contains less sugar than most others.

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Apple Bread Pudding

Apple Bread Pudding

A very versatile dish for multiple occasions and one made healthier by using whole grain bread and dried fruit!

View the recipe at:

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