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Cheers to a Happier, Healthier Holiday Season

Quick: What’s your favorite holiday dish? Maybe you’re a fan of turkey, mashed potatoes, the side dishes (cranberry sauce, anyone?) or the desserts.

More importantly, can you think of fun ways to make those dishes a little bit healthier?

Yes, we know. The holiday season isn’t exactly prime time for dieting — in fact, for most people, it’s the opposite: Americans could consume as much as 4,500 calories at holiday dinners, according to the Calorie Control Council. That’s more than double the recommended amount for most adults.

Does that actually translate to major weight gain? Not in one year, but it adds up over time. Experts estimate that most people gain a pound or two each holiday season — but then never really lose it. Think of all the Thanksgivings and winter holidays you’ve celebrated, and that extra weight adds up fast.

But don’t let these facts sour your holiday mood. We’ve got plenty of tips to help you stay happy, healthy and in a celebratory mood.

The best holiday centerpiece: Healthier choices

Search long enough and you’ll find a bunch of crash diets that tell you weight loss is possible only with complicated routines or specific foods.

But really, managing your weight comes down to two things: Calories in, and calories out.

The first part of that equation opens up a whole menu of possibilities. There are many ways to whip your holiday menu into shape without sacrificing on tradition or flavor.

The first ingredient: A great plan

The holidays are a busy time, but slowing down a minute to plan your menu can go a long way toward making it healthier.

Besides the meat and potatoes, make sure you’ve got plenty of fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy. And as an added bonus: Good menu planning can help you save at the grocery store, too!

Appetizers: Live on the lighter side

Cooking the main dish can take hours, so what do we do in the meantime? Most families dig into some tasty starters. But while those can be loaded with flavor, you can make some calorie-saving choices.

Instead of heavy sauces and dips, try something lighter (and fun!) like veggies with low-fat yogurt dip, vegetable skewers (everyone builds their own!) or even a shrimp cocktail.

Swap out fasting for snacking instead

The best way to prep for your big meal actually isn’t to starve yourself. Surprising as it sounds, snacking can actually be your savior on a big day.

Eating regular meals and small snacks before the family feast can help you avoid taking (much) more than you should.

Vary it up with veggies

Yes, we know. Great food stories usually don’t start with a single stalk of celery. But, adding a fun dip or hummus means you get all the flavor while snacking sensibly.

Veggie benefits go beyond the appetizers. Green bean casserole, for example, is tradition, but what if you tried fresh green beans or a healthy soup this year?

Easy tricks to trim calories

If that’s too much, try swapping in whole-grain cereal in place of fried onions. You might be surprised at how easy it is to make healthy changes.

Other healthy hacks like chicken, stock, light cream cheese and low-fat milk can make your dish a star with stressing your guests’ waistlines.

Here’s a tried-and-true but sneaky one: Swap out cooking oil in baked goods for applesauce instead. Your guests probably won’t notice the difference, but you’ll know you’re dishing up healthy goodness.

Watch the booze and desserts

This one sounds obvious, but it’s tricky. Turning down an extra slice of pie or yet another eggnog? Just consider it. It’s tradition to indulge, but that often comes with regret later (sometimes just on the bathroom scale). This year, let’s change it up and feel great about the choices we made at the table.

Slow down and savor

Another annual custom (for many) is the stress of the holidays — from crazy travel schedules to last-minute cooking mishaps. But when you do finally settle down for your family meal, allow yourself to truly relax and treasure each dish.

It takes about 20 minutes for your body to figure out it’s full when you’re eating. So eat slowly and mentally pause to ask yourself how full you feel. Holiday eating is a custom, not a competition. Plus, if you eat sensibly now, you’ll have plenty of tasty leftovers.

Add a side of exercise to avoid packing on pounds

Again, scheduling = success

Turns out planning ahead can yield double benefits for your holiday season. Your holiday schedule might seem jam-packed (and maybe it is), but taking a minute to really look at your day can help you find hidden workout opportunties.

Consider a morning workout before all the guests arrive or, once everyone is there, consider a fun family walk while everything is cooking — just make sure to leave an adult at home to supervise the oven and make sure nothing burns.

Use a fitness tracker

This one’s easy; the main tool could be right on your phone. Most smartphones or watches can track your steps throughout the day.

All you have to do is keep your phone or watch with you so that it can track your movement. You can then go into your health app and actually see your progress. You’re doing great, even on a hectic holiday.

And it turns out, you don’t need to hit 10,000 steps to be doing well. Just do what works for you and keep an eye on it.

Space out the workouts

Let’s be real: The holidays probably aren’t the best time to be running marathons (unless you’re into that, in which case, major kudos).

For most of us, just 30 minutes a day of exercise is plenty — and it doesn’t have to be all at once. Consider doing 15 to 20 minutes in the morning and then getting some in the afternoon. It all adds up to a healthier you!

Flying? Forget just sitting and waiting

Millions of people hit the road for the holidays and many more take to the skies. If you’re in the latter group, that’s a fitness opportunity right there.

You’ll probably be doing quite a bit of walking to your departure gate and then to baggage claim. But what about while you wait? Consider walking a few laps back and forth to the end of the terminal after you get through security. You don’t have to be obvious about it. Take it at a leisurely pace and check out all the shops that you’d normally hustle past. Just make sure you get back to your gate in time for boarding!

And for dessert: Fighting off the flu and other illnesses

Here’s hoping that your holiday season will be an exclusively happy one. But if something does come up (like food poisioning, cold, flu and COVID, or minor kitchen injuries), we’re here for you.

For almost everyone, the holiday season means one thing: Being around other people (family and friends, of course, but also everyone at the airport and the grocery store).

Seeing loved ones is one of the best parts of holidays, but you’ll want to make sure you protect yourself (and them) from germs that could put a damper on the holiday season.

If you haven’t already, hurry into a CareSpot or MedPost location near you, and get your flu shot today. For maximum convenience, you can schedule your visit online — or simply walk right in whenever you’re ready. Bring the whole family! We’re happy to help keep you and everyone you love safe this holiday season.

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