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Tips for healthy holiday meals

healthy holidays
Eating healthy before, during and after cancer treatment may help patients feel better and stay stronger, and help fight infection.

Between the neighborhood get-togethers and office parties, the last-minute shopping and wrapping, and the cookie baking and exchanging, eating healthy during the holidays—when dips, desserts and casseroles often taken center stage—is challenging for most people. But for cancer patients, it’s especially important. Eating healthy before, during and after cancer treatment may help patients feel better and stay stronger, and help fight infection.

It's important to not only eat healthy during the holidays to maintain your nutritional status, but also to stay well.” - Crystal Langlois, RD, CSO, LD, Director of Nutrition at our hospital near Atlanta

When heading out to a gathering, Langlois has a few suggestions on how to make healthy choices.

Healthy eating tips:

  • Eat something small before you go, such as fruits with nut butters, yogurt with fruit, or vegetable sticks.
  • Use a salad plate, to encourage smaller portions.
  • Be picky and only take foods you feel like eating.
  • Fill up on high-fiber foods first, such as nuts, salads and whole grains.
  • Wait 20 minutes before getting seconds.
  • Mingle to reduce unconscious snacking.
  • Sip on water, which helps you feel full and digest your food.

Another key ingredient to eating healthy during the holidays is making sure your food is fully cooked and doesn’t spoil. “Many cancer treatments leave patients with impaired immune systems, so they are more prone to food-borne illnesses,” Langlois says. “That’s why it’s critical to practice food safety when dining out and reheating food.”

Langlois offered a number of tips she says may help guide your food care habits.

Food safety tips:

  • Refrigerate foods below 40 degrees Fahrenheit within two hours to prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying.
  • Use a meat thermometer to check internal temperatures.
  • Reheat leftover foods to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Modifying some family recipes so they’re healthier may help you stay on track, as well, Langlois says. Consider these recipes for oven-roasted turkey breast or grilled chicken with fresh herbs. For a side, swapping mashed potatoes for mashed cauliflower with light sour cream may cut calories. Also consider our recipes for black bean salad and sautéed eggplant for nutritious additions to holiday entrées. And for dessert, try chocolate vegan truffles and chocolate avocado mousse for healthier versions of party favorites.

Langlois also suggests making these changes to popular recipes.

Recipe modifications:

  • Use two egg whites in place of one egg to reduce the cholesterol without losing the taste.
  • Use low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth in mashed potatoes to add flavor, and cut back on butter or margarine.
  • Substitute applesauce for oil, margarine or butter in muffins and breads.
  • Use fat-free yogurt for dips, sauces and pie toppings.
  • Use sliced almonds for a crunchy topping, instead of fried onion rings.
  • Use reduced-fat or low-fat cheeses, such as mozzarella, for salads and casseroles.
  • Use vegetables or fruit for dipping, instead of crackers and chips.

Individual needs may vary. Always discuss your diet with your care team.

Find more healthy recipes for meals, snacks and desserts.