Ask Transylvania Cooperative Extension: Eating in Moderation Over the Holidays?

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Ask N.C. Cooperative Extension – Transylvania County Center

Question: Hey Erin, I really try to [employ] moderation over the holidays. I know it would be really easy to overindulge. My favorite holiday foods are pecan rolls and Jane Parker Fruitcakes. Do you have any tips on healthy ways to manage the holidays?

Answer: Holiday eating is a tricky topic. Everyone has a different approach to handling nutrition during the holiday season. For some, overindulging is expected. These special foods are only offered once a year, so why not eat everything and all you want? Others try to stick to a defined diet and only eat the foods specified in their diet even during celebrations. For example, instead of mashed potatoes, one might eat only 100% mashed cauliflower and skip all the sweets. These two thoughts about handling holiday eating are very extreme. I would agree however, that moderation, including during the holidays, is key to healthy eating. Below are 3 rules that I like to follow to moderate holiday eating.

One: Always enjoy nostalgic favorites. 

If you do not enjoy your favorite holiday foods during the holidays, will you miss them year round? Will togetherness time feel quite the same? Is there a dish that brings you joy every year? Is there that one food that reminds you of home and you would miss it if it did not show up on the table? I always look forward to my grandmother’s stuffing. Funnily enough, it is not a culinary masterpiece, just StoveTop stuffing and Bunny bread. Please gasp at the processed bread in my stuffing, but it tastes like a warm hug and reminds me of my grandmother in the kitchen in the early morning. For me, Thanksgiving would not be the same without this dish.

If you enjoy Jane Parker Fruitcake, be sure it is on the menu. Have a slice after your holiday meal or maybe even a couple over the course of the week. I would not encourage you to eat the whole cake in one sitting though. Also consider pausing when eating to reflect on your level of satisfaction with your food. Are you waiting for discomfort to let you know you are done? Try relying on your belly, not your plate, for those cues. Listening to your hunger cues is arguably one of the most important parts of following a healthy diet.

Two: Try to get a non-starchy vegetable on the table. 

Thanksgiving is a time of year when we eat mostly starches. This includes stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, rolls, cornbread, cranberry sauce, and all the fun desserts. While these foods contain many wonderful vitamins and minerals, they are also higher in calories than non-starchy vegetables. If you’re concerned about weight maintenance, consider adding a non-starchy vegetable which can lower total calorie intake whilst keeping you full with fiber and water. In the last four years, my household has adopted cauliflower into our mashed potatoes. It still retains the classic taste by including Yukon Gold potatoes plus butter and milk, but to cut down on carbohydrate intake, we add 2 heads of cauliflower into the mx. Some other scrumptious vegetables side kicks include sauteed green beans, roasted brussels sprouts, or roasted asparagus. Consider making this vegetable an addition to your spread, or replace a dish that you would not miss. See an easy recipe below courtesy of EFNEP.

Oven Roasted Asparagus


1.5 pounds fresh asparagus1 tsp. olive oil,

1 tsp. chopped garlic (or garlic powder)

¼ tsp. pepper

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese (optional)

slivered almonds(Optional).


  1. Thoroughly rinse the asparagus
  2. Snap off and discard tough ends of asparagus.
  3. Place asparagus in a bowl and drizzle evenly with olive oil
  4. Sprinkle asparagus with garlic (or garlic powder) and pepper. Gently coast to toss.
  5. Spread asparagus evenly on a cookie sheet.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes, or to desired tenderness. Transfer asparagus to a serving dish; sprinkle with parmesan cheese and/or slivered almonds.

Three: Remember to stay active! 

Tryptophan, a protein building block, is abundant in turkey. This is the culprit for making us so sleepy after Thanksgiving. Carbohydrate digestion plus happiness absorbed from family togetherness also adds to our exhaustion after a large meal. You might be tired afterwards and want to sit and visit, but staying active gets your blood pumping and oxygenates your entire body! Being active will also help maintain a healthy weight. The current recommendation for heart health is to be active at least 150 minutes a week, or 30 minutes for 5 days of the week. Consider the options below:

  • 15 minute stroll down the road after your meal.
  • Friendly game of tag football on the lawn
  • Intense game of table tennis
  • 20 minutes of Zumba on YouTube to tire out the kids or adults
  • Pre-meal holiday hike in our beautiful Pisgah Forest

Whatever your method for moderation during the holiday season, I hope you enjoy these months celebrating togetherness and reminiscing of pleasant memories. Happy holidays from Transylvania County Cooperative Extension!

Erin Massey in Transylvania Counties’ Family and Consumer Science Agent (FCS) as

well as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Erin provides families and community

members with workshops, classes, and demonstrations related to food and nutrition.

Erin’s expertise ranges from food safety and cooking skills to specific dietary restriction

and disease specific nutritional needs.

Have a nutrition or other food-related question? Ask Erin at 828.884.3109 or visit

Check out our website for current news and ongoing classes within N.C. Cooperative Extension, Transylvania County Center.