By Christine Zellers, MPP, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County, Family & Community Health Sciences
Portion control can be a challenge all year long but during the holiday season when comfort foods are plentiful watching portions can be even more difficult. Avoiding overeating is not easy but taking small steps to maintain a healthy weight even during the holidays is important to overall health. Be aware of easy pitfalls for overeating, large portions and foods that are high in calories, fat, sugar, and sodium while taking small steps to be healthy all year long.
There are ways to avoid portion pitfalls during the holidays while enjoying fun with family and friends. Even though gatherings may be smaller this year going to an event on an empty stomach may cause hunger to undermine reason so make sure to eat regular meals during the holidays. Bring or make a side dish or appetizer that is not high in sugar, fat, and calories so there is a healthy option to choose. It is easy to mindlessly nibble on a yummy appetizer so take a small plate and put a few snacks on the plate so there is still room for the main meal and overeating is a bit less likely. Holidays are a great time to enjoy special once a year foods but keeping the amount of food in check will ward off those extra pounds in the New Year.
Perception can easily mislead portion reality so before sitting down to a big holiday meal have an idea of how to avoid large portions. Knowing how much a portion is may help in avoiding large helpings that are more calories than perceived. The USDA recommends between 2.5-6 ounces of protein per day depending on a person’s age, gender, and physical activity level. As an example, one small half of a chicken breast is about 3 ounces. Piling ham or turkey on a plate could lead to eating an entire day’s worth of protein in one sitting. To avoid eating more than intended at a holiday meal research how much is ideal to maintain a healthy weight by looking at the USDA’s My Plate website. Little tricks can assist with keeping portions in check too. Try to avoid consuming alcohol before the meal so as not to overindulge or only have one drink before dinner. Eat from a smaller plate or salad plate, but do not pile food on the smaller plate rather use the smaller plate as a visual trick that the plate is full. Eat vegetables and low calorie nutrient dense foods first so there is less room for high calorie foods. Try to enjoy the meal and even joyful conversation, put down the fork between bites and chew thoroughly to avoid eating too much. After the meal consider going for a walk with a friend or family member or having a family game that involves physical activity to lighten up the holiday meal, it might add a nice tradition to the holidays. Celebrating the happiness of the season is important so rather than stressing about eating too much just be aware of how much is being eaten and make good choices. Try to enjoy the day and surroundings by making small changes for a happy holiday.