The holidays can be tough for seniors who are trying to watch what they eat.

It’s so easy to be tempted by sweet treats and meals high in calories and fat. The result for those few days of indulgence – a belly ache and a few extra pounds that can be tough to shed. With so much going on, it is often hard to focus on healthy holiday eating.

According to Serafina Ranieri, Bethesda’s Regional Director of Nutrition, Health, and Wellness, older Americans don’t have to miss out to keep from packing on extra pounds. They just need to be sensible when it comes to holiday meal time.

“The holidays naturally are a time of year when we ‘treat’ ourselves and indulge in foods we enjoy,” Serafina says. “It’s okay to enjoy favorite foods in moderation. All adults, including seniors, should plan ahead if they want to avoid overeating at the holiday table.”

How to avoid holiday over-indulgence

  • Don’t come to the holiday meal hungry. Eat regularly prior to your gathering in order to avoid over-eating. Sometimes people try to “save” their calories throughout the day so they can have one splurge meal. The problem is that they are so hungry when that meal finally comes, they eat way too much.
  • Consider eating lower fat and lower calorie meals the days before and after the holiday, knowing you will be eating a festive meal. Big picture, your diet will remain balanced.
  • Consider eating a higher fiber breakfast the day of your holiday meal, such as oatmeal, shredded wheat or whole grain cereals. High-fiber food makes you feel full longer.
  • Once at the meal, don’t deny yourself, but eat small portions – and try to do without those items you don’t really want. There is no reason to eat the extra calories just because the food is in front of you.
  • Stay active. It not only burns off the extra calories – it keeps you busy and, when you’re not bored, you’re less likely to graze on food. Include activities at the party besides the meal. Singing Christmas songs or playing board games are fun winter activities.

Don’t go hungry, go healthy

To have a healthy holiday, make sure your party menu is full of healthy choices. Planning a menu full of healthier options is easier than you think. Make simple swaps at the grocery store to make your holiday favorites healthier.

Roast turkey is a popular dish that is low in calories and fat, especially when you eat it without the skin. Roast beef, baked ham, beans and some types of fish, including cod or flounder, are lean protein choices. Beef and pork can be made healthier by trimming the fat when cooking those meats. Whole-grain crackers with hummus work well as an appetizer. Try unsalted nuts and black beans in a green-leaf salad.For dessert, try baked apples with cinnamon and a sprinkle of sugar instead of apple pie.

Give your holiday recipes a healthy makeover

In addition to practicing good eating habits at the table, Serafina offered many health conscious tips during meal preparation that will help keep from adding extra pounds to your waistline.

  • Use low-fat alternatives instead of cream or cheese-based sauces. Consider making sauce from scratch, which allows you to control what goes into it as opposed to buying store-bought sauce.
  • Use 1% or skim milk in place of cream, heavy cream or whole milk when preparing your favorite recipes.
  • Use low-fat sour cream or plain yogurt in place of regular sour cream. One cup of reduced fat sour cream has 416 calories, 32 grams of fat and 16 grams of carbohydrates. Meanwhile, one cup full-fat type yogurt has 300 calories, 23 grams of fat and 7 grams of carbohydrates. Non-fat Greek yogurt has just 133 calories per cup, 1 gram of fat and 8 grams of carbohydrates.
  • Drain the fat from meats prior to using the drippings for making gravy.
  • Use low-sodium broth in place of regular broth or drippings when basting meats including ham, beef or turkey.
  • Season vegetables with herbs and spices instead of fats including butter, oil or margarine.
  • Replace oil in baking with applesauce or plain yogurt. This will make your cake or brownies denser, but they’ll still be moist.

A Healthy Holiday is a Happy Holiday

Seniors – and their caregivers – need to stay on top of what they eat because they are more sensitive to the consequences of eating high calorie and high fat holiday foods. This especially holds true for seniors who have dietary restrictions due to diabetes. If you have diabetes, remember to check your blood sugar faithfully during the holidays to avoid any problems due to changes in your food intake and dining schedule.

If you have a plan and stick to it, you can enjoy holiday fare without compromising your health.

At Bethesda, we believe the foundations of great health begin with great nutrition! Check out our other health and wellness articles for more ways to stay healthy all year.