A Playbook for Holiday Eating

Vadel Shivers

By Vadel Shivers, M.S., R.D.

During the holidays, eating can be challenging for cancer patients. Concerns about weight gain or weight loss can cause anxiety especially during treatment and recovery. But with a game plan, you can score at the dinner table. Here are a few tips that can help you take guess work out of holiday eating.

If concerned about preventing weight gain:

  • Start small – Use a smaller plate, saucer, or bowl for meals to help ensure your keep portions of food in check.  Or place a handful of one item in a beverage napkin to focus on one portion at a time.
  • Value veggies – Vegetables, such as carrot sticks, cucumber slices, bell pepper pieces, or zucchini sticks offer an assortment of phytochemicals and antioxidants which can help protect your immune system.  Aim for at least three servings daily.
  • Look for low calorie liquids – Choosing water, caffeine-free unsweet herbal tea, coconut water, or beverages without added sugar can be hydrating, help keep your appetite under control, and provide a sense of fullness. 
  • Favor Fruit – Naturally sweet fruit, such as blueberries, figs, apples, oranges, pineapples, and cranberries, will help curve that craving for something sweet without all the added sugars, fats, and calories.  They contain valuable vitamin and minerals from a natural source (not processed).
  • Fit in Fiber – Side dishes or appetizers like pear salads, oatmeal-peanut butter energy bites, or bean dips can provide a sense of fullness and may be lower in calories.  

If concerned about preventing weight loss:

  • Decadent dips – High calorie fruit and vegetable dips can be a quick source of calories without appearing overwhelming.   Greek yogurt or hummus dips flavored with olive oil, avocado oil, turmeric, basil, or garlic may wake up your taste buds.
  • Pack in Protein – Almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, low fat cheese cubes, and deviled eggs all can provide protein and some fat.  Seek sources that are more natural and have minimally been processed.
  • Full bodied beverages – Eggnog can provide calories and help get you in the mood for the holiday season.  Sparkling fruit juice can provide a good non-alcoholic substitute for champagne and can awaken flat taste buds.
  • Capture the crunch – Whole grain crackers and granola can provide a crunch and some fiber.  They pair well with a lot of dips, Greek yogurt, or cheeses. Because of their size, they may not visually be overwhelming and can encourage intake.
  • Snack on schedule – Eating small amounts of food frequently throughout the day can prevent skipping meals, especially if you don’t have the urge to eat.  Timing meals and snacks can help you meet nutrition requirements and goals.

For more ideas of healthy holiday recipes, visit the American Institute for Cancer Research’s Holiday Recipes page.