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Healthy Holidays! Tips for Navigating Holiday Meals

Karen Alexander, Licensed Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

December 2, 2020

The holiday season is around the corner, and this new season brings about a plethora of holiday meals. Two topics come to my mind when we talk about holiday meals: quality and quantity.

Quality of Holiday Meals

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, no single food can protect you against cancer. Think about an orchestra. The complexity of the sounds from different musical instruments is what makes a symphony a masterpiece. Similarly, the synergy of different phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals determines whether or not an eating pattern serves to protect one from cancer. 

Fortunately, holiday dishes are high in some of the most studied anticancer foods, including apples, asparagus, berries, broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussel sprouts, cranberries, garlic, spinach, and walnuts, among others. You can visit the American Institute for Cancer Research for a more detailed list of cancer-fighting foods.

Quantity of Holiday Meals

The average American will consume between 3500- 4,500 calories at dinner time during the holiday season. If 3500 calories is equal to one pound weight, this means we can gain more than 1 pound per each holiday dinner, not to mention all those days that we indulge ourselves with leftovers. Therefore, being mindful of our food choices during the holidays can help us to avoid gaining 2-4 pounds by January, if not more. According to experts, the extra weight will be present in 85 percent of people one year later.

In the past, we discussed that when a person’s weight falls into the overweight or obese category, it can increase the risk of developing twelve different cancers and can increase the risk of cancer coming back (cancer recurrence). However, I genuinely believe we can pursue health while still enjoying our holidays with friends and family. I have listed out some helpful tips in the following section.

Tips to Mindfully Enjoy Your Holidays

  1. Use smaller plates and bowls to help control your portion sizes.
  2. Make a clear broth, vegetable soup as a starter.
  3. Choose recipes with low-fat cooking methods, such as roasting, grilling, and steaming.
  4. Cut down your fats. Use less of the butter, oil, nuts, or dressing that the recipes call for. For homemade salad dressings, use less oil in proportion to other ingredients. For creamy dressings, add Greek yogurt to replace some of the oil.
  5. Cut down your starches. Take small portions of starches such as potatoes, sweet potato casserole, or rolls; instead, fill your plate with more non-root vegetables.
  6. Serve dressings and gravies with a tablespoon to give you control over how much you are putting on top of your foods.
  7. If you can’t resist the second helping, fill half your plate with non-root vegetables and other low-calorie choices. This will reduce your meal’s total calorie intake.
  8. Freeze your leftovers in small containers to reduce the chance of over-eating. You can eat them later, a little bit at a time, so you don’t impact your weight.
  9. Drink sparkling water between alcoholic beverages and choose beverages low in alcohol and sugar, so you can spare calories and leave room to enjoy sweet desserts.
  10. Don’t overdo sweets. Take a small sampling of the variety of desserts or share your dessert with somebody. Make sure you serve just once.
  11. Finally, consider eating a snack high in protein or drinking water one hour before dinner. This may help you to lessen your intake of unhealthy food options during dinner. Think about it, if you are not as hungry, you may eat smarter and smaller portions.

The recipe of the week comes via

Cranberry Walnut Spinach Salad in Honey Mustard Vinaigrette

Salad ingredients

5-7 oz bag/box baby spinach leaves (or 5 cups)

1/2 cup dried cranberries chopped

1/3 cup walnuts broken into pieces

Honey mustard vinaigrette ingredients

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

2 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 tbsp honey

1/3 cup olive oil (or 5-6 tbsp)

¼ tsp garlic powder or fresh (or finely minced for more cancer-fighting properties)

¼ tsp onion powder

¼ tsp sea salt


Arrange baby spinach leaves in the salad bowl (cut off ends if needed). Next, chop cranberries and add them on top. Finally, chop walnuts and add them to the mixture. Set the salad bowl aside.

Honey Mustard Vinaigrette: In a small bowl, first combine the vinegar and mustard, season with salt, garlic, and onion powder. Now whisk in honey. Next, slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking the ingredients together for about 1 minute. You will get a thick, creamy texture.

Add cranberries and walnuts to the bowl with spinach. Drizzle in the Honey Mustard Vinaigrette from step 2 and mix well.

Analysis of the cancer-fighting properties of this recipe

  • Spinach: beta-carotene, vitamin c, and dietary fiber along with a wide variety of phytochemicals.
  • Cranberries: Vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants (anthocyanins, flavonols, phenolic acids, tannins, terpenes).
  • Walnuts: Protein, fiber, potassium, magnesium, melatonin, alpha-tocopherol, polyphenols, alpha-linolenic acid, phytosterols, tannins (proanthocyanidins and ellagitannins), among others.
  • Garlic: Allium compounds. When you crush or chop garlic, allicin forms several oil-soluble allyl sulfur compounds.
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