It’s that time again. The Christmas music is inescapable, and the peppermint chocolate patties abound on every shop counter. In addition to shopping for presents, attending holiday parties, and planning special holiday menus, food can often add another layer of stress this time of year. It can be difficult to stay on a healthy track between Thanksgiving and New Year’s when food plays such a dominant role in our celebrations and so many less-than-healthy foods are available. But instead of throwing in the towel and giving in to the seemingly “inevitable” weight gain that can happen during this time, why not consider an alternative? Following are some tips to help you nourish yourself during the holidays.

Eat regular meals. Some do best with three squares a day. Others thrive on smaller, more frequent meals. Whichever works best for you, keep doing it during the holidays. Starving yourself the whole day so that you can eat more at a special meal is a recipe for disaster. “Saving” your calories during the day for one big feast can make your blood sugar plunge. This will often lead to mood issues and foggy thinking, but it will also put you on the path to being ravenous, leading to overeating. Better to eat regularly and allow enough time to develop a healthy, normal appetite for the special meal.

Balance meals and snacks. A balanced meal contains protein, fat, and carbohydrate. Make sure to get enough of each at every meal to help you feel satiated, or satisfied, at each meal. This feeling helps you know when to stop eating so you can get up and do something else, such as be active. An example of a balanced meal would include a piece of roast chicken, sweet potato with grass-fed butter, and sautéed collard greens. A balanced snack might include an apple with cheese wedges with or without whole grain crackers. The food can be simple or complex. Just make sure all of the pieces are there.

Do not bring it home. Leave the junk food in the store. While holiday-themed junk food may be tempting this time of year, it’s still junk food. If it comes into the house, it will eventually end up in someone’s mouth. The minute you display it, you will most likely be tempted to eat it. Why make life more difficult for yourself? Leave it in the store, and you won’t have the option to eat it at home.

Nostalgia foods. What about those family recipes that you gave up on because they were so unhealthy (even though they tasted delicious)? Take, for example, grandmother’s apple pie recipe with the double crust made with lots of shortening. While giving up on the shortening is a good idea (trans fats), you don’t have to throw out the baby with the bathwater. It is possible to substitute grass-fed butter, ghee, or coconut oil for the shortening. Maybe one crust, as opposed to a double crust, would suffice. Sugar can often be halved in recipes with no ill effect, and you can often substitute it with maple syrup or honey. Some recipes don’t even need a crust. Pumpkin pie, for example, tastes delicious as a pumpkin custard with no crust at all. Apple pie can be converted to apple crisp. Your old favorite recipes can be resurrected by giving them a healthier twist.

The holiday party. First, eat well before heading off to that party (see above). Being ravenous makes it impossible to make healthy food choices. Ask the host if you may bring a dish to share. Bring a dish that you find both healthy and satisfying. That way there will be at least one healthy option. While at the party, choose a smaller plate, take what looks good, then step away from the food. Standing away from the food will help keep you focused on what you really came there for — to connect with other people.

Connection. Remember what the holidays are really about: connecting with friends and loved ones. No matter how important food is to you, your relationships are at least as important, right? Spend time with people you like. Talk to them. Cherish them. While you are at it, why not take the dog for a walk around the neighborhood, or go for a hike together. Remember that food does not have to be the focus of every encounter.

Start over. Last, we are all imperfect. Slipups happen. Maybe you have been unhappy with your eating lately and feel like it’s too late to change now. Stop. Take a step back. Remember every meal is a chance to start over. Think of every plate as a clean slate. We are all on a journey with both successes and setbacks. Take the setbacks as an opportunity to start over in eating in a way that truly nourishes you, one plate at a time.

The information provided in this article is intended for general use only and is not to be used in place of medical advice from a licensed health professional.