As a dietitian, I frequently get asked about how to stay healthy over the holidays. Because as joyful and delicious as the holiday season is supposed to be, many people feel stressed about the food—namely how to navigate the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day without feeling like their health has been completely derailed.

But I’m not going to tell you how to give your holiday pie a healthy makeover or turn your sweet potato casserole “skinny”. Frankly, I’m not on board with that line of thought when it comes to holiday foods. In fact, what I suggest may sound downright radical:

Enjoy your favorite holiday foods!

I mean your mother-in-law’s peanut butter fudge. Your sister’s famous chestnut stuffing. And the rest of those once-a-year dishes. Because it’s okay to celebrate the holidays with special foods—and in my book, those dishes should be enjoyed to their fullest.

Want to do this without the kind of guilt or regret you may have felt in holidays past? Here’s my advice:

  • Prioritize your favorites. Put a value on the holiday foods that mean the most to you. Have these foods and savor them. But don’t waste valuable dinner plate real estate (or your appetite) on the stuff that doesn’t, like the ho-hum store-bought dinner rolls or the mashed potatoes that are just okay.
  • Put it into perspective. The holiday season lasts many weeks, but there are only a handful of actual holiday dinners and parties. On those occasions, celebrate with special foods and appreciate them. Treat the time between those meals and gatherings as regular days, following the kind of eating and exercise habits that make you feel good physically and mentally. That’s easier to do if you keep your home stocked with the kinds of nutritious and nourishing foods you love, like a bowl of beautiful fresh fruit stationed on the counter and pre-washed greens in the fridge for easy salads.
  • Fuel well. The holidays require a lot from you, so be sure you’re feeding your body the kinds of foods that will give you energy and stamina. The best kinds of snacks combine protein and carbohydrates, such as sliced pears with cheese or nut butter spread on apples. Arranging a beautiful fruit plate makes a healthy snack just as inviting as holiday buffet foods.
  • Be kind to yourself. There may be occasions during the holidays when you overeat. Accept that it’s normal on a holiday, move forward, and don’t let any emotion about it trickle over to the next meal or the next day. The holidays should be about enjoyment, not regret!

–Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD