5 Ways to Maintain a Semblance of a Balanced Diet During the Holidays

mason jar salads can help with meal prep

Piotr Marcinski / EyeEm / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Eating balanced meals can be challenging for people who are juggling the demands and obligations of holiday festivities.
  • Certain habits and hacks can help people include important nutrients in their holiday diet with very little effort.
  • Taking steps to minimize potential nutritional gaps can positively affect immune health, mental health, and overall health.

Between cookies in the office and boozy eggnog at happy hour, the holiday season is ripe for indulgence. It seems to be human nature to associate celebration with sugar, and during December, sugar is everywhere.

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with an occasional indulgence, having all of these items at our fingertips for weeks on end often means forgoing balanced meals and missing out on some important nutrients.

Of course, it’s easy to fill up on gingerbread, especially if it’s just sitting right there. But leaning on treats and skipping meals as a result can leave people feeling unsatisfied. Plus, missing out on food groups like fruits and veggies can negatively affect a person’s immune health, mental health, and overall health.

 Making sure you are getting in important nutrients during the hectic holiday season is simple to do with a little know-how. You just need to plan ahead. Here are five ways that you can continue to enjoy the flavors of the holiday season and eat a balanced diet at the same time.

Prep Mason Jar Salads for a Grab-and-Go Meal

A mason jar salad is prepared ahead of time by layering specific ingredients in a certain order to maximize their freshness. Dressing comprises the bottom layer, and more delicate ingredients (like greens) sit on top to avoid sogginess once the salad is ready to be enjoyed.

One quick search on Pinterest using the search words “mason jar salad” will present you with a slew of recipes to try. Having pre-prepped salads in your fridge can make healthy holiday eating a bit easier, especially when the days get too busy to cook.

Swap Sugar for Nutrient-Dense Ingredients While Baking

What is the holiday season without homemade cookies, muffins, and breads? Classic holiday treats are a staple in many homes. But as delicious as they are, many tend to be made with ingredients that don’t offer much in the nutrition department. From sugar to veggie oil, these ingredients can add calories and not much else.

One simple hack to boost the nutrition in homemade muffins, cookies, or brownies is to use prune puree. You can make it yourself by blending 16 ounces of pitted California prunes with ½ cup of warm water. This puree can be used in recipes instead of sugar, eggs, or fats, like oil.

To swap for sugar, use prune purée to replace anywhere from one-third to half of the sugar in a recipe. And to cut down on fat, replace up to half of the butter or oil with an equal amount of prune purée.

Why prunes? These fruits are naturally sweet with no added sugar. And unlike table sugar, prunes have a low glycemic index, meaning that eating them won’t result in a blood sugar spike. Data also suggests that eating prunes may be linked to bone health benefits, especially among postmenopausal women.

Keep Ingredients on Hand

During your next trip to the grocery store, be sure to toss some meal-friendly ingredients in your cart, even if you don't think you need them. Frozen veggies and meats can be excellent to have on hand for nutrients in a pinch and to avoid having your food spoil quickly.

Make Sippable Soups

Pureed soups can be a simple solution for getting in a serving of veggies, especially if you are running around and don’t have time to sit down for a full meal. Consider pouring a hearty roasted red pepper soup or a a creamy mushroom soup into a travel mug.

Schedule Time for Meals

Keep in mind that carving out 15 minutes to eat a quick salad or sandwich may be all it takes to stay fueled throughout the season. Block out meal times—however brief—on your calendar and commit to sitting down for a meal instead of picking on snacks all day long. It will be well worth the time investment.

What This Means For You

Attempting to eat balanced meals and a nutritious diet can be challenging during the holiday season. But by incorporating some simple habits and swaps, you can fuel your body with important nutrition during this time of the year, which may help you stay healthy energized.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Głąbska D, Guzek D, Groele B, Gutkowska K. Fruit and vegetable intake and mental health in adults: a systematic review. Nutrients. 2020;12(1):115. doi:10.3390/nu12010115

  3. Pourrostami K, Heshmat R, Hemati Z, et al. Association of fruit and vegetable intake with meal skipping in children and adolescents: the CASPIAN-V study. Eat Weight Disord. 2020;25(4):903-910. doi:10.1007/s40519-019-00704-w

  4. De Souza MJ, Strock NCA, Williams NI, et al. Prunes preserve hip bone mineral density in a 12-month randomized controlled trial in postmenopausal women: the Prune Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2022;116(4):897-910. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqac189