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Have Yourself a Healthy Holiday

Have Yourself a Healthy Holiday

The holiday season is a fun, but often busy time of year, creating many changes to daily routines.  Endless parties combined with children out of school and colder weather keeping everyone inside, can result in less time to get to the gym and more time to fill up on high-calorie and high-sugar foods and drinks. 

Your health goal during the holiday season should be to enjoy this special time of year…just not too much.  Try these simple tips to help you and your family maintain a healthy lifestyle during the holidays.

1) Stay Structured  

We are bombarded with a lot during the holidays and routines and schedules often get off track.  However, maintaining structure with your diet is one way to help reduce the amount of highcalorie and high-sugar foods and drinks that come our way during the holidays. Maintain normal meal and snack schedules for both yourself and your family.  Make sure you include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy at mealtime.  This combination of foods provides your body with protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals that will keep you full and help you avoid over eating at parties later.  Visit for tips and tricks on creating a healthier plate.
2) Move More
Let’s be honest, going to the gym gets pushed way down the list of priorities when there are presents to be bought, parties to get ready for or decorations to be put in the right place. If you can’t make it to the gym, try to take more steps throughout the day by parking at the back of the parking lot while holiday shopping or taking the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator. Also consider making movement a family affair by getting the kids involved. Find local activities where you can get in a few extra steps while the kids have a good time. Since we live in the South, the temperatures during the holidays often allow for nice outdoor activities.  Go for a bike ride, play football or take a nature walk. 
3) Avoid Added Sugar
As a registered dietitian, I advocate to consume desserts and sweets in moderation and to pay attention to portion control. That is because I know all too well the negative affect too much added sugar can have on one’s health. In fact, the average American consumes 3 pounds of added sugar each week.  That equals 156 pounds in a year, which is equivalent to another person! Cut back on added sugar during the holidays by choosing desserts that are naturally
sweetened with fruit like an ambrosia or fruit and yogurt trifle. Fruits contain natural, not added sugars. 
Another way to keep sugar in check is to combine sweet and savory foods, like mixing almonds with mini chocolate chips. You will get the health benefits of almonds while satisfying your sweet tooth with chocolate. You can also control portions by making bite sized sweets, like the recipe below for Chocolate Mint Cheesecake Bites. And again, eat regular meals throughout the day, staying structured, so you will stay full and avoid over indulging later. 

4)  Substitute and Swap

You can make simple swaps in your holiday baking and cooking to help cut calories, fat and sugar but not the flavor. I use these swaps in recipes all throughout the year and my family never notices. 

  • Mashed Banana – Swap 1 cup of fat (butter, oil or shortening) for 1 cup of mashed banana. Remember that bananas are a fruit, containing natural sugars, so try reducing the amount of sugar in the recipe too. 
  • Avocado –  Avocadoes are also a 1:1 swap in baking recipes. You can swap 1 cup of butter for 1 cup of avocado.
  • Applesauce – Unsweetened applesauce can be used to replace both sugar and fat in baking recipes. If you are using it to replace sugar, swap 1 cup of sugar for 1 cup of applesauce but remember to reduce the liquid in your recipe by ¼ since applesauce contains liquid. If you are using applesauce to replace the fat in your recipe, swap 1 cup of fat (butter, oil or shortening) for ½ cup of applesauce + ½ cup of avocado.
  • Reduced Fat Cheese – Use reduced fat cheese instead of full fat cheese in savory dishes to help cut fat and calories without sacrificing flavor.  Using a combination of light and regular cheeses in your holiday dishes is a great way to save on calories and fat, while keeping the family favorite flavor of the original dish. 
  • Greek Yogurt – Greek yogurt provides high quality lean protein and much needed nutrients such as calcium and potassium, making it a great swap in recipes. Greek yogurt is a 1:1 swap in savory dips and casseroles: swap 1 cup mayo for 1 cup plain Greek yogurt. You can also use Greek yogurt in place of some of the butter and cream in dessert recipes, like the one below for Lemon Cheesecake Bars.   

For more healthy eating tips and holiday recipes visit  


Chocolate Mint Cheesecake Bites


• 1 1/2 cups chocolate sandwich cookie crumbs 

• 3 tablespoons melted butter

• 2 (8-ounce) blocks cream cheese

• 1/2 cup sugar

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

• 1 teaspoon peppermint extract

• 1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint

• 2 large eggs

• 1 fresh mint sprig (optional)


Preheat oven to 325°. 

Combine cookie crumbs and melted butter in medium bowl until mixture resembles sand. Press firmly into the bottom of 36 paper-lined mini-muffin pans or 36 mini muffin cups coated with cooking spray. 

Beat cream cheese, sugar, vanilla extract, peppermint extract and chopped mint until smooth in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down sides of the bowl after additions. 

Spoon 1 tablespoon of filling into prepared muffin cups and bake for 15-18 minutes or until centers are almost set.
Cool completely. Cover and chill at least 2 hours. Garnish with fresh mint sprigs just before serving, if desired.

Lemon Greek Yogurt Cheesecake Bars with Berry Swirl


• 8 graham cracker sheets

• 4 tablespoons butter, melted

• 2 large eggs

• 1 cup 2% low-fat plain Greek yogurt

• 1/2 cup granulated sugar

• 4 ounces 1/3-less-fat fat cream cheese, softened

• 1 teaspoon vanilla

• 1 tablespoon cornstarch

• 3 tablespoons lemon juice

• Zest of one lemon

• 1 cup sliced raspberries or strawberries 

• 1 teaspoon granulated sugar


Preheat oven to 350˚. 

In a food processor, pulse graham crackers until crumbs form. Add melted butter; pulse to combine and press into the bottom of a greased 8-x-8-inch baking dish. Wipe food processor clean; add eggs and remaining bar ingredients (not berries). Process just until smooth (do not over process). Pour mixture into pan on top of crust. 

In a medium bowl, combine berries and sugar; cover with a paper towel and microwave for 90 seconds. 

Pour berry mixture into clean food processor and process until smooth; let cool. 

Pour berry mixture into 4-5 lines across filling in pan. Use a knife to swirl into top of filling. 

Bake 35-40 minutes or until crust starts to pull away from edges of pan and edges of filling are mostly set (center will still be slightly jiggly). 

Once cooled, place in refrigerator and chill 3-4 hours. Cut into bars and serve.


By Stephanie Yow

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