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Healthy eating during the holiday season

Healthy eating during the holiday season

Thanksgiving is a time to be surrounded by family, friends, and delicious food. However, the holiday can present some challenges for older adults because bodies might not metabolize foods as well as they did at a younger age.

While it’s important for everyone to eat a well-balanced meal, older adults need to be especially mindful of their eating habits during the holidays. Below are some tips from Sarah Irvin, ElderServe’s Wellness Programs Coordinator, for a healthier Thanksgiving!!


Q: Do you have any general advice for cooking meals this holiday season?

  • To cut back on sodium, try seasoning meals without salt and instead use spices or herbs like garlic, basil, or rosemary. Instead of using canned foods, try using fresh, frozen, or dried. If you do use canned foods, drain and rinse in a colander to help remove excess sodium.
  • Instead of using butter when baking sweets, substitute equal parts unsweetened applesauce. If a recipe calls for all-purpose flour, you can substitute up to half the amount with whole wheat flour.
  • Compare food labels when buying ingredients and choose products with lower calories, fat, sugar, and sodium. Using the 5-20 rule when reading food labels can be a quick way to compare items when grocery shopping. If the Daily Value percentage is 5% or less then that would be low for the nutrient and if closer to 20% or more then it would be high. For example, if the food label says the saturated fat is 18% of the Daily Value then this is high. If the saturated fat is 4% then that would be low. On the flip side if you want something high in fiber than you would look for the Daily Value percentage to be high or closer to 20% or more.
  • Instead of frying, bake, grill, or steam meats and vegetables.


Q: How can I communicate or prepare for my nutritional needs when attending holiday functions?


  • In preparation for a holiday party, don’t skip meals earlier in the day as that can lead to overeating later. Try to eat snacks or small meals that include good sources of fiber and protein throughout the day. For example, eat a well-balanced breakfast like oatmeal with fruit or whole wheat toast with an egg. Try a snack of vegetables with hummus or a handful of almonds with fruit.
  • Before dinner, have conversations with friends and family away from appetizers to avoid mindlessly snacking as you talk.
  • Look over all the food options before you make your plate. Decide on what items are worth eating and which ones you can do without.
  • Leave some space between helpings on your plate. You’ll end up with smaller portion sizes.
  • Eat slowly and savor every bite so your body has a chance to feel full. Wait 10 minutes before going back for seconds to see if you are still hungry.
  • Calories from beverages can add up quickly. Swap sodas or alcohol for water, unsweet tea, or club soda. Drinking a glass of water before you eat a meal can help fill you up as well as help with digestion. To enjoy the desserts, sample a portion couple of items, rather than having a full serving of each.


Q: Is it OK to indulge or break our diet rules a little? If so, in what circumstance?

  • The average American gains about 1-2 pounds over the holiday season that is typically never lost and adds up over the years. Instead of focusing on weight loss during the holidays, aim to maintain your weight.
  • Indulge without overdoing it by being prepared, making healthy substitutes to our recipes, and watching our portion sizes.


Q: Do you have any advice for people with diabetes during the holiday season?

  • Eat regular meals/snacks earlier in the day and don’t “save carbs” for the holiday gathering later. Skipping meals makes it harder to keep your blood sugar stable all day.
  • Limit the amount of starchy servings, like mashed potatoes, corn casserole, or rolls, and either choose just one of them or a small spoonful of each.
  • Select vegetables that are grilled, steamed, or raw and avoid the ones in creams or butter.
  • Take smaller portions of the desserts.
  • After the meal, take a walk with family or friends. Exercise is a great way to lower blood sugar levels.


Q: What exercises can be done inside if it’s too cold outside?

On a nice day, take a walk with family before or after the meal.  If the weather is bad, put on some fun music and have a dance party. Or, once you are home, try strength training with resistance bands, canned food or free-weights. Marching in place, stretching or dancing can also help. Your local library might also have a selection of exercise DVDs that you can try for free.

If you overindulge during the holidays, don’t worry! Make a plan, write down your goals, and begin again the following day. E-mail Sarah at sirvin@elderserveinc.org to learn more about ElderServe’s Wellness programs.

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