As we head into the holiday season, the biggest health challenge will be to make sure that we stay healthy while still being able to partake in holiday festivities. So how can we do that?

Many of my patients at my integrative medicine clinic in San Jose, CA, talk about their holiday diet concerns. The types of questions that come up probably are very similar to yours:

I’ve got parties to go to almost every night next week, how do I eat healthy when there’s so many parties?

I’m just doing Thanksgiving with my family but they eat things I don’t eat and they’re not going to like my healthier food options I bring to dinner. How can I make it more palatable so they’re not mad at me?

I’m just spending holidays by myself, how can I make a meal at home or order takeout in a way where I feel like I’m still enjoying the holidays but stay on track with healthy meals. How do I make enough for just one person and not waste it and it’s healthy for me?

These are the more common ones that come up that I feel like might pertain most to you all so let’s tackle each one together…

If you have multiple parties for the holidays, the key is to eat a big salad before each party. This way, you’ve already accomplished your quota for healthy anti-inflammatory vegetables for that meal and it’s high in fiber and nutrients and will help you stay fuller longer so that you don’t pick poor choices at the party. Once you get to the party, ask the bartender or host/hostess to make your drinks light on alcohol and mix it with sparkling water or water like a white wine spritzer or tequila in sparkling water with a wedge of lime. The water will keep you hydrated and lessen hangover risk as well as keep you full and help you not consume too many calories from drinks. With one hand holding a drink, keep the food plate to a small appetizer plate and pick vegetables and protein options first and by the time that you do all this, you’ll be less tempted by the inflammatory unhealthy foods that make you gain weight. Make sure that you circle the party and stand and walk so that you also burn calories.

Now if you are having to potluck for your family’s holiday dinner and everyone except you are into fattier foods or unhealthier foods, the way you can compromise and still not create drama by making other people there resent you for bringing food they won’t eat, is to bring traditional holiday foods that are still healthy but not too out of the norm. For example, offer to bring drinks or bring string bean with bacon bits or creamed spinach or roasted brussel sprouts with bacon bits. The best option that’s worked out well for my patients are to bring a roasted or sautéed vegetable with healthier nitrite-free bacon bits or bring mashed sweet potato or bring a roasted chicken or bring ham since some people might not like turkey. By bringing these healthier options that are still pretty much the norm for holiday food options, you’ll then have healthy options to eat for yourself and there won’t be drama surrounding the food choices.

If you are laying low this holiday season but still want to enjoy the traditional holiday meals and are worried about what to eat and how to make it for one and not waste leftovers, there are a couple options. You can get the smallest size turkey your nearest grocer can give you and make the turkey and if you use the leftovers in sandwiches by making a turkey salad sandwich or turkey sandwich or putting it into soups or stir fries instead of chicken or make turkey pot pies, you should be able to use that up in 3 days. I wouldn’t recommend keeping the leftover foods for more than 2-3 days unless you freeze it so as to avoid having bad bacterial/mold growth in old food. The other option is to get a pre-made roasted chicken from your grocery store and then the rest of the options for sides like mashed cauliflower or mashed sweet potato or roasted brussel sprouts or sautéed green beans will be easier to portion out for individual serving sizes as you would with any other meal.

Sometimes the holidays can be really stressful, let’s try to keep food as not one of those things that stress you out. Try to enjoy the time you have with friends and family and just remember that if you typically eat healthy, it just takes a few tweaks here and there to adjust it for holiday fares or events.

Happy holidays everyone!