Tips for eating healthy while still enjoying the holidays

November 20, 2023 Providence Nutrition Team


In this article: 

  • You can use the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate symbol to help you make decisions about what to eat at holiday events.

  • At Thanksgiving, try to make healthy choices and fill at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables.

  • Because alcohol is a toxin, you should drink it in moderation at holiday events.

Did you read the headline for this article and laugh?

Come on — healthy eating during the holiday season? You’re probably thinking that’s an impossible task. Between Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and the other holidays and family gatherings that take place in November and December, it seems like gaining at least 10 pounds is unavoidable at this time of year.

That’s not exactly true, according to Megann Karch, RDN, CD, a registered dietitian at Providence Swedish Cherry Hill Campus in Seattle, Washington. While Thanksgiving probably isn’t going to be the healthiest day of the year for you, there are still opportunities to make good choices and eat healthy dishes.


Karch encourages you to use the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate as a guideline for what kinds of foods you should be eating — even during the holidays. MyPlate is the updated version of the food pyramid, and serves as the official symbol of the five food groups.

“While you are probably eating different kinds of foods at Thanksgiving, you can still look to MyPlate as a format to inform your decisions,” Karch said.

Let’s take a look at the different components of MyPlate:

Fruits and vegetables

Even when you’re faced with a delicious Thanksgiving spread, MyPlate guidelines say that you should fill half your plate with fruits and veggies. That could include green bean casserole, cranberry salad, lettuce salad, sweet potatoes or other vegetables that show up on your Thanksgiving table.

“Of course, that changes for people with diabetes,” said Karch. “They have to monitor their blood sugar and the number of carbohydrates in every meal, so they should pay special attention to starchy vegetables like corn, sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes. Really, what that means is that a quarter of your plate is starchy or sugary plants such as fruits and potatoes, and a quarter is non-starchy vegetables, such as lettuce, carrots or green beans.”


According to MyPlate, you should fill a quarter of your plate with grains, particularly whole grains. If you’re not the one who’s cooking the Thanksgiving dinner, you may not have much choice about whether the grains are whole or refined. But if you do have some say in the menu, look for whole-grain rolls, brown rice and other healthier options for your meal.


Finally, you should reserve a quarter of your plate for protein. If your family serves turkey for Thanksgiving, that’s an easy win. Other examples of good proteins include beans, nuts and tofu.


In the MyPlate symbol, dairy is considered separate from the “plate” because you can drink a glass of milk along with your holiday meal. Try to consume low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt. At a holiday meal, the dairy portion of your food may be the cream soup used in the green bean casserole or the cheese on potatoes. It could also be a treat like cheesecake or ice cream.

One of the biggest challenges of a Thanksgiving meal is overeating — simply because there are so many rich foods to eat! Karch suggests taking enough of each dish for just two or three bites. “Then, you’ll have room to try all the different things,” she said. “If you’re truly hungry, you can go back for seconds.”

Managing holiday parties

Of course, after Thanksgiving is over, there are even more food choice temptations — in the form of holiday parties. Karch’s most important piece of advice? Don’t show up hungry.

“When people don’t eat for hours, they think they are saving their calories for the party,” Karch said. “But if you have not properly nourished your body leading up to this event, you’re less likely to make good decisions. Instead, eat normal meals so you’re not starving by the time you arrive.”

Also, it’s important to remember that food is not the only potentially unhealthy thing you could put into your body at a holiday party. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that men limit themselves to two alcoholic drinks or fewer per day, and women limit themselves to one drink or fewer.

“Frankly, alcohol is a toxin, and it’s hard for your body to deal with it on top of overeating and feeling the stress of the holidays,” said Karch.

Karch also suggests that you limit the amount of sweetened drinks you consume, such as hot apple cider, hot chocolate and punch. Flavored seltzer water is a good choice; even if it has a splash of juice or punch in it for more flavor, it’s better than drinking only juice. You can add a garnish to make it feel fancier, like a mocktail.

“Nobody’s perfect with their holiday eating, but people should at least have some awareness of what they are putting into their body,” Karch said.

Contributing caregiver


Megann Karch is a registered dietitian at Providence Swedish Cherry Hill Campus in Seattle, Washington.

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Related resources

Hear Me Now podcast: Food as medicine

Food for better heart health

Diabetes prevention: Lifestyle choices for a healthier future

Start the new year with healthy habits

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

About the Author

We are all about food! The Providence Nutrition Team loves to talk about and share our expertise on how to help you find the right diet, food types and maintenance tactics to help you live life to the fullest...while also enjoying the best foods that mother nature has to offer.

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