Food for (Mindful) Thought During the Holidays

Author: Molly McKendry, MS, RD, LDN

Like many, I grew up in a household that puts a lot of time and effort into what’s on the menu for large family get togethers like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Planning the menu, making lists, grocery shopping, prepping ingredients, and creating an “in the oven by” schedule were (and still are) part of the holiday meal process. Although it’s a lot of fun doing this together, it always generates a little bit of stress on the day-of. Sound familiar to anyone?

It occurred to me several years ago that there was another form of food stress I was feeling around the holidays that did not have to do with cooking a labor-intensive, delicious meal — it was eating it. When it came time to sit down for Christmas dinner, I would silently stress about how much I should eat and what I should eat in order to “be healthy”, the result of which was more stress and then guilt. Fast forward many years later, I now have a very different perspective around these meals, and yet I know this sort of love-hate relationship with food around the holidays is experienced by many.

So how can we start to move away from that mindset that promotes stress and enjoy the food and conversation fully when it comes time to sit down for a holiday meal? Below are a couple ideas:

  • Allow yourself permission to eat what appeals to you. If you don’t give yourself permission to have something, this could lead to thinking and stressing about it more than if did allow yourself to enjoy some of that particular dish, dessert, etc.
  • Satisfy your taste buds, too. If you’re deciding between a traditional version of a recipe and one that includes “healthy swaps” for things like butter, sugar, salt, full-fat dairy, etc. consider your intention behind this decision and whether the swap is worthwhile. Will making it “healthier” make it more or less enjoyable? If the answer is less, you may find yourself feeling unsatisfied and wanting more than if you went with the traditional version to begin with. Side note: Of course modifying recipes to accommodate food allergies, special dietary needs, and health conditions is a different situation and should be done as needed.
  • Take a moment to savor what you’re chewing on. Dinner tables can be chaotic, especially when there are five different conversations going on at the same time and a baby crying, but I urge you to take a moment to pause and soak it all in — the flavor and smells of the foods, the conversation, the bantering, whatever it may be! This doesn’t happen all year long, might as well sit back and enjoy it.

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