Healthy eating for the holidays

Contact: Susan Nitzke,, 608-262-1692

Madison, Wis.–Holiday parties and special treats are oh-so-plentiful this time of year. But with some thoughtful planning, you don’t have to abandon the basics of good nutrition.

“A few simple rules can help you sail through the month of December without gaining weight,” says Susan Nitzke, Extension nutrition specialist and professor emerita of nutritional sciences at the UW-Madison.

“During special meals and holiday parties, we often encounter foods that are really high in fats, added sugars, and alcohol,” says Nitzke. Unless you have special medical restrictions, you don’t need to totally skip those foods and beverages, but you do need to think carefully about serving sizes. “For example, if a holiday meal is your once-a-year chance to have Uncle Tony’s eggnog or grandma’s fudge balls, take a small portion and give yourself permission to enjoy that special flavor,” says Nitzke. “Start with a small amount, eat it slowly to savor its taste, and then turn your attention to other things.” She says this advice is supported by research showing that flavor enjoyment is most intense for those first few sips or bites.

Timing is also important. If a meal or cocktail party is scheduled for late in the day, Nitzke recommends eating a little lighter than usual for breakfast and lunch. “But skipping those other meals could trigger overeating later,” says Nitzke. If it has been a long time since your last meal, have a light snack or low-fat appetizer an hour before to take the edge of your appetite.

When you go to a buffet, Nitzke says it’s best to survey all the options and limit your selections to a few of the more nutritious items. “Research shows that people tend to eat more when given lots of delicious choices,” says Nitzke. “So plan ahead to favor quality over quantity.”

Using a small plate is also helpful because small servings look larger and seem more satisfying when they fill a larger part of your plate.

Planning ahead is also important when it comes to exercise. Busy schedules and cold weather can make it harder to be physically active, so make sure every day includes some form of enjoyable exercise. Some people might walk the dog an extra few blocks while others might enjoy a half hour of brisk walking at the mall before they start shopping.

For more information on eating healthy over the holidays, check out the Families, Food and Fitness posting on the national eXtension website ( or contact your local county UW-Extension office. Contact information is available at



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