Healthy Eating through the Holidays

by Brittany Lightsey, MS, RD, LD

Beginning with Halloween, the last few months of the year are a time of indulgence for many.  From the abundance of candy from trick-or-treating to pumpkin pies and our grandmothers’ casseroles, families eat many sugar- and fat-laden, calorie-dense foods.  Here are a few tips and tricks to keep your family on track this holiday season.

First of all, keep in mind that these holiday foods are OK in moderation.  There is a balance between letting your family enjoy the treats of the season and not going overboard. Role model healthy eating behaviors for your children in what you are eating, but also what you provide them. Remember that every time you buy, prepare, or eat food, you are more than likely influencing your children.  For example, try not to buy sweets and candy too far in advance. This increases the chances that you (and your children!) will indulge before the holiday and need to buy more. 

When the day of celebration does arrive, eat a healthy snack or breakfast as you would on a typical day before the big meal. Do not skip meals to control calories. You can also drink a glass of water to help curb cravings and stay hydrated.

At these parties and holiday meals, help your child scan the many foods for lighter options while continuing to strive for filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables! Loading up on vegetables and fruits that have been prepared without too much added fat or sugar will curb that sweet tooth by keeping you full on fiber. You and your child will less likely have room in your tummies for a high-calorie dessert. Also, don’t forget to be portion-size wise.  You can take control of your kids’ portions by preparing their plates yourself. We all know how grandparents and other family members like to spoil our little ones.

Health Eating with FamilyMake seasonal drinks treats and not an everyday habit. There are many kid-friendly drinks out there for the holidays that are delicious – apple cider, eggnog, and hot chocolate to name a few.  However, these can also be full of sugar, fat and calories. One simple packet of hot cocoa mix prepared with hot water adds up to around 150 calories with over 28 grams of sugar. That is without the added whipped cream, or marshmallows. Limit the portions of these beverages to 6-8 oz. and to an occasion.  Even that hot apple cider topped with whipped cream that you picked up for your kiddo on-the-go  could have 200 calories for an 8 oz. portion with a whopping 35 grams of sugar – that’s nearing the amount of sugar in a candy cane!

Focus on physical activity. Do not let eating be the focus of every holiday. It is very typical for families to eat a large meal then sit in front of the TV together to watch football, a movie or a favorite television show. After mealtimes this holiday season, take a walk around the neighborhood in the cool fall air or encourage everybody to get up and play a game of charades or a video game that involves moving your body to break a sweat. You will set a great example and your body will thank you, too!

Adopting just a few of these tips can lead your family toward a happy, healthy life this holiday season and beyond!

Better Mac and Cheese
Courtesy of Kids Eat Right

Give a healthy twist to comfort foods! Sneak in vegetables to “healthify” some of your kids’ favorite recipes this holiday season. This Mac and Cheese has a secret ingredient and is sure to be a crowd-pleaser!

Servings: 4 (1 cup per serving)

8 ounces whole grain macaroni noodles, uncooked
1 tablespoon trans-fat free butter spread
1 tablespoon whole wheat flour
10 ounce bag (2 cups) cubed frozen butternut squash, thawed
2 ounces (½ cup packed) reduced-fat cheddar cheese
Sea salt, to taste


  1. Boil noodles according to directions. Drain and reserve 2 cups pasta water.
  2. In pot over medium heat cook butter spread with flour for 1-2 minutes.
  3. Whisk in 1 cup pasta water.
  4. Add squash and cook/mash until smooth. (Note: Add more pasta water as needed for a smooth cheese-like consistency.)
  5. Add cheese and stir until melted.
  6. Fold in cooked noodles until combined and season with salt.

Per 1 cup serving, this recipe contains 300 calories, and approximately 15% of the % Daily Value of Vitamin A, 4% of the % Daily Value of Vitamin C,  15% of the % Daily Value of calcium, and 15% of the % Daily Value of iron.

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your needs may be higher or lower, depending on your individual calorie needs.

Be sure to check out our articles monthly on the School Food and Nutrition Website found on These articles will highlight tips, tricks, and recipes to keep your family happy and healthy!