Eat, Drink and Be Healthy: 8 Tips for Holiday Indulgence

Aerial view of healthy holiday table spread.

For many, the lavish meals and sweet treats that accompany holiday gatherings can come with a sense of guilt about unhealthy choices. Maryann Ludlow, RD, CD, CDE, a registered dietitian at the University of Vermont Medical Center, provides some easy tips and recipes to help keep a healthy balance:

  1. Don’t stress. The notion that most people gain excessive weight over the holidays is a myth. The average for holiday weight gain is about one pound, according to several studies, including one published by the New England Journal of Medicine. You can avoid the extra pound by being mindful about what you eat and drink and making a little extra effort to move your body.
  2. Start with water. Drinking a glass of water before you visit the table will help fill you up and hydrate your body. Dehydration can accompany the excess sodium often found in appetizers, entrees and alcohol.
  3. Use a smaller plate. Smaller plates means greater portion control. Savor every bite, and then pause for five to 10 minutes to let that food satisfy you. Other tricks include leaving space between the foods on your plate, and avoiding stacking or piling foods.
  4. Explore, then sample. Browse the buffet table to see what’s available before diving in. Take small portions of three or four foods that really appeal to you. Don’t take the boring dinner roll just because it’s there. Remember, the first few bites offer the greatest experience. After that, your taste buds become less sensitive to the flavors.
  5. Stay fresh. Start your plate with 50 percent salad, vegetables and/or fruit. These foods bring nutritional value, fiber and water, which can help to satisfy you and keep you feeling full longer. Not sure you’ll find any at the gathering? Bring a healthy salad, vegetable or fruit dish as your contribution to the table.
  6. Turn cocktail into mocktail. If you drink alcohol, limit alcoholic beverages to only one or two during a gathering. Try mocktails – creative non-alcoholic beverages – to enjoy seasonal flavors. You can also enjoy sparkling water with fruit, herbs or other tasty additions to cut down on unnecessary calories.
  7. Move it. Adding just a few more minutes of movement each day, can help minimize the physical impact of holiday indulgence. Here are a few ideas:
    • Stand instead of sit at holiday gatherings.
    • Invite others for a short walk after your meal.
    • Play your favorite music and dance while you do clean up.
    • Park the car a little farther away from work or the store than you typically do.
    • Walk every aisle in the grocery store two or three times during your visits.
    • Walk the mall during your holiday shopping.
    • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  8. Keep temptation out of reach. The closer we are to food, the more we eat. At work or home, designate a break room or other space – away from where you sit – as the place for all holiday treats. Specify one time each day when you can visit that space to enjoy one small treat and a full glass of water. Then really enjoy it!

While holidays can be a time of indulgence, it’s how you choose to indulge that makes a difference. To help you make healthy choices, try one of these tasty recipes from UVM Medical Center Chef Leah Pryor for your next holiday gathering.

Spiced Candied Walnuts


  • 2 cups walnuts, rough chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Place walnuts into a bowl. Add melted butter, brown sugar and spices. Toss well.
  3. On a sheet pan with parchment paper, spread walnut mixture evenly.
  4. Cook until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes.
  5. Cool nuts before serving. Enjoy!


Curry Red Lentil Dip

Yield: 2 cups


  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup red lentils, rinsed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder


  1. Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan and add in the rinsed red lentils and sea salt. Reduce heat to a simmer, cooking for 10 minutes or until water is absorbed and lentils are tender. 
  2. Let the lentils cool slightly before transferring into a food processor.
  3. Add olive oil, lemon juice and curry powder. Process until fully incorporated and smooth. Taste and add additional liquid and sea salt, if necessary, to achieve desired taste and consistency. 
  4. Enjoy with vegetables, corn chips or as a sandwich spread.


*Variation: Add a cup of fresh herbs and omit curry. You can also change the type of lentils to yellow, brown or green, following the same cooking instructions.

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