Fri | Dec 1, 2023

How to eat healthily during the holidays

Published:Wednesday | November 23, 2022 | 12:15 AMKeisha Hill/Senior Gleaner Writer

It can be difficult to stay healthy during the holidays. Thanksgiving is typically celebrated by feasting, followed by seconds, maybe thirds, and topped off with dessert. Of course, then you have the post-feast nap, and then an additional leftover sandwich and a slice of pumpkin pie.

Thanksgiving does not mean your good nutrition habits have to suffer or go completely off track. The traditional elements of a Thanksgiving dinner, when paired together, can be balanced – turkey, buttery green beans and sweet potatoes – but add the crusty bread, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, marshmallow salad and candied cranberries, and things will quickly get out of control.

It is likely that many people will return to their pre-pandemic traditions of gathering in large groups of friends and family for Thanksgiving dinner. You do not want to dampen the celebration by focusing too much on calories or avoiding certain foods. Still, it does not hurt to sneak a little nutrition into the meal. Some tweaks to your menu, recipes, or traditions can give you a health boost without affecting flavour.

According to Dr Julia Rowe-Porter, medical epidemiologist at the Non-Communicable Disease and Injury Prevention Unit with the Ministry of Health and Wellness, many Jamaicans are concerned that eating healthily means changing their diet to more expensive and tasteless food. However, she said several healthy meal options can taste and look more appealing.

“If you choose from a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, nutritious staples, healthy fats and oils, legumes and food from animals, all in the right proportions as per Jamaica’s food-based dietary guidelines, you can use healthier ways to prepare them,” Dr Rowe-Porter said.

“Additionally, backyard gardening is strongly encouraged to provide nutritious home-grown herbs, spices, vegetables and other ground provisions that can reduce your household’s food bill,” she added.

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you head out to, or host your own, feast:


Eat breakfast and have lunch, too, if your holiday meal will be served later in the day. You want to arrive at the Thanksgiving table hungry but not ravenous, which may lead to overeating.


Thanksgiving is a great time to serve family recipes, like grandma’s pumpkin pie or your dad’s dinner rolls. Do not mess with your favourite holiday dishes, but do try swapping or adding ingredients to less sacred one.

Skip the cream. Use Greek yogurt or whole milk instead in mashed potatoes, creamy soups, and creamed onion or spinach recipes.

Reduce the sugar. Cut back on sugar by 10 to 25 per cent in baking recipes. You will barely taste the difference.

Add some fibre. Replace 25 to 50 per cent of the all-purpose flour called for in recipes with wholewheat flour. Or try half all-purpose, half white wholewheat flour, a lighter, milder version of the whole grain. If your recipe calls for bread crumbs or panko, opt for whole wheat.

Upgrade the stuffing. Replace half the white bread with whole wheat, use low-sodium chicken broth, and add extra vegetables, such as carrots, mushrooms, and peppers.

Be sodium-savvy. Using the flavours of the season — thyme, sage, rosemary, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves — will cut the need for salt. Choose low-sodium broths and home-made dressings (which tend to be lower in sodium than many bottled ones).

Boost nutrition. Adding small but mighty nutrition powerhouses can make food healthier and more flavourful. Try pomegranate seeds, dried cranberries or chopped dried apricots in salads, and roasted pumpkin seeds or chopped nuts in stuffings.


Mindfulness can be the key to maximising your mealtime pleasure, so pay attention to the flavour and texture of each bite. It will make you appreciate each dish more, but that is not all; research shows that eating while distracted can lead you to consume more calories.


For some families, this is an annual tradition. But it is more than just a way of bonding with relatives and staying active. If you go straight from the meal to dessert, your brain may not have time to register how full you actually are, and you will probably enjoy dessert more if you are not completely stuffed.

SOURCE: Ministry of Health and Wellness (