Oh, my hol-i-day diet is frightful,

I feel uncomfortably stuffed-full,

but as long as I love it so,

I let it go, let it go, have some mo...

Isn’t that how it goes this time of year?

Because the holidays just seem to offer a license to overdo, we asked Tara Gaines, a registered dietitian and wellness services professional with The Christ Hospital Health Network, for tips on how to manage this season of buffets and goodies.

Q. What guidelines do you give clients for healthy eating at Thanksgiving and during the holidays?

A: The holidays are a notoriously unhealthy time of year, so I often get many questions and concerns from clients regarding how to eat healthy and avoid weight gain during this time. Many holiday dishes, especially during Thanksgiving, are overloaded with simple carbs like mashed potatoes, stuffing/dressing, rolls and desserts. I almost always recommend filling half the plate with colorful vegetables, which will likely save on calories and will fill you up on more fiber while also making the meal more nutritious. Of course, it’s also important to include a source of protein at meals. Turkey breast is an excellent source of lean protein. One portion should not be any larger than the palm of your hand (about 3-4 ounces).

Many traditional holiday dishes are high in saturated fat. This is the fat that is solid at room temperature such as butter or lard. You can improve the nutritional value of many dishes by cutting back on the amount of added fat recipes call for or by using olive or canola oil instead of butter. Many casseroles call for creamed soups such as cream of mushroom or broccoli. Choosing the low fat varieties is another way to cut back on added fat.

Q. How can folks avoid over-indulging in food (multiple helpings), snacks or drinks? What do you tell them if they're prone to do so?

A: There are several strategies one can use to prevent over-eating during the Holidays and any time of year. First, I always recommend having three meals a day, even on Thanksgiving. Skipping meals makes it much more difficult to apply self-control at meals. That means not skipping out on breakfast and lunch to save up your calories for dinner. Instead include a light breakfast and lunch, with at least one serving of fruit or vegetable at each as well as a source of protein to help hold you over until your next meal.

Snacking done around mealtime can also be a major source of calorie intake. If you are prone to mindlessly snacking on appetizers before the main meal, try spending your time in a room that does not have appetizers available to avoid the temptation. If you have also had a small meal beforehand, you will be more likely to overcome temptations.

Many of the patients I meet with report being “fast eaters.” It takes about 20 minutes for our brain to register that the stomach has had enough to eat. Eating meals too quickly does not allow the brain sufficient time to catch up with the stomach, which often leads to overeating. Slowing down while eating and noticing the taste of your food is a great way to practice mindful eating. When we eat mindfully, we are left feeling more satisfied and less likely to eat more than we need. A practical way to try and slow down your eating is to put down your fork in between bites and to chew your food thoroughly.

Be mindful of the beverages you have during the Holidays, such as flavored lattes and eggnog, which can be laden with empty calories. Alcoholic drinks have 7 calories per gram of alcohol so limit these drinks to one per day for women and two per day for men. Instead, fill up on non-caloric beverages such as water or unsweetened tea. 

Q. What do you do if the children only eat rolls and mashed potatoes from their Thanksgiving plate? 

It is important that the dining experience is an enjoyable one for children. Forcing kids to eat something they don’t want to eat, even if in their best interest, can make them associate meals with an unpleasant experience. Children are more prone to want to try something if they helped to make it. Having kids help out in the kitchen is a great way to get them comfortable with unfamiliar foods while building confidence and self-esteem.

Q. What if you're feeding vegetarians, as well as meat-eaters, for Thanksgiving? What meatless offerings can replace a turkey entree?

Whether you are vegetarian, vegan or a meat lover, it is important to have a source of protein at every meal. Since Thanksgiving is often centered around a turkey, it may take some creativity to develop a meat-less alternative. Although there are some tasty varieties of “tofurkey” (tofu shaped like a turkey), this is not the only way to supply your vegetarians with some protein. Beans and lentils are an excellent source of protein and one of the best sources of fiber. Because fiber has so many health benefits, including a vegetarian dish such as this will not only serve your vegetarian guests but also your meat eaters as well. Ways to incorporate vegetarian protein might be through a bean salad or lentil shepherd’s pie. If your guests can consume dairy, you might also try including low-fat Greek yogurt, which is full of protein. You can incorporate low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese as a base to a typical cranberry salad recipe.