Improve Your Plate: Eating Healthy During the Holidays

Eating healthy during the holidays is a challenge when many not-so-healthy treats are frequent and meal plates are overflowing.

The staples of a healthy diet include lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy, along with practicing portion control. Simple modifications in the way you place the food on your plate can make a big difference in limiting calories and maximizing nutrients during the holidays and at any time, says Cathy Clark-Reyes, a registered dietitian with Baptist Health Primary Care. (Watch the video below for tips on improving your plate from Ms. Clark-Reyes.)

One trick to making sure your meal is balanced when it comes to calories and nutrients is to start with vegetables. On average, U.S. diets are too low in vegetables, fruits and whole grains  — and too high in calories. This trend has prompted U.S. health agencies to recommend less “added sugars” and more “plant-based foods,” such as fruits and vegetables.

“Try filing half of the plate with vegetables first,” says Clark-Reyes. “This will help to reduce the serving size of the other foods.”

The American Heart Association recommends making the following “healthy smart substitutions” for your favorite holiday meals:


  • Instead of butter, substitute equal parts unsweetened applesauce.
  • Use a lower-calorie sugar substitute.
  • Substitute low-fat or skim milk instead of whole or heavy cream.
  • Instead of using only white flour, use half white and half whole-wheat flour.
  • Instead of adding chocolate chips or candies, use dried fruit, like cranberries or cherries.
  • Use extracts like vanilla, almond and peppermint to add flavor, instead of sugar or butter.


  • Use vegetable oils or soft margarine instead of butter.
  • Use whole-grain breads, rice and pasta instead of white.
  • Bake, grill or steam vegetables instead of frying.
  • Instead of whole milk or heavy cream, substitute low-fat or fat-free/skim milk.
  • Compare labels of your holiday ingredients, and choose products with lower amounts of sodium and added sugars.


  • Instead of alcohol in mixed drinks, use club soda.
  • Mix 100-percent juice with water or use freshly squeezed juice instead of adding sugar to mixed drinks.
  • Instead of using heavy cream or whole milk in dairy-based drinks, use low-fat or skim milk.
  • Use spices and fruit, like cinnamon, cloves and cranberries instead of using sugar to sweeten cider.

New U.S. government dietary guidelines urge Americans to consumer less than 10 percent of calories per day from “added sugars,” which are sugars and syrups mixed into foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared.

Overall, the guidelines also suggest Americans should consume:

  • A variety of vegetables, including dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy and other vegetables.
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits.
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains.
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages.
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), soy products, and nuts and seeds.
  • Oils, including those from plants: canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, and sunflower. Oils also are naturally present in nuts, seeds, seafood, olives, and avocados.

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