The 30-Day Holiday Season Meal Plan

The three weeks between Thanksgiving and the Christmas holiday break can be rough when it comes to nutrition and meal prep. Parties, libations and celebrations can give your goals a hangover, but this 30-day plan will keep you on track while still allowing you to partake in the season’s eatings.

Keep Calm and Party On

Word to the wise: This is not the time of year to be hardcore about losing weight or shedding body fat. It’s far more realistic — and achievable — to focus on maintenance. This 30-day plan covers the toughest parts of the holiday season and has you eating healthy and clean most of the time, but a built-in “party clause” allows you to enjoy the holidays without guilt or worry.

As the plan is written, your daily totals land between 1,500 and 1,700 calories, which is on the lower end of the active-gal spectrum for maintenance, leaving some wiggle room within your week for one or two “freebie” meals. Compare your social calendar to the meal-plan chart, and on the days you have a party or an event to attend, trade out a scheduled meal for a freebie. Keep your indulgences reasonable — e.g., one slice rather than one half of grandma’s apple pie — and you’ll be fine. Remember: One meal won’t make you fat, just like one meal won’t make you fit.

Damage Control

If you’re a social butterfly and quickly use up your allotment of freebies for the week (and then some), don’t beat yourself up. Instead, be proactive and look ahead at your calendar: Perhaps limit your socializing to one event per week, or volunteer to be the designated driver for another. If you have multiple events lined up, spread your freebie calories across the board, having a small indulgence here and there rather than blowing it all on one meal or happy hour. Eat as clean and healthy as possible on days when you aren’t celebrating, and, of course, stick to your regular workout routine.

Simple Swaps

Not all holiday meals need to be gut bombs. Use these easy ingredient swaps or smart(er) treat choices to stay in the fit lane.

  • Choose no-calorie, flavored seltzers as cocktail mixers over juice or soda and save your sugar “allowance” for holiday treats.
  • Opt for pumpkin over pecan pie and save 14 grams of fat and 180 calories (⅛ of pie).
  • Instead of goopy green-bean casserole, drizzle steamed green beans with olive oil and sprinkle with slivered almonds, salt and pepper to save countless calories and eliminate a shaker’s worth of sodium.
  • Sub almond or coconut milk for cream in eggnog to slim down a holiday favorite. Or trade eggnog out completely for hot cider and save 100 calories and 11 grams of fat per cup.
  • Replace half the mashed potatoes with mashed turnips or cauliflower to reduce the calories by a third and add a bounty of immune-boosting vitamin C.
  • Enjoy a baked cinnamon apple instead of apple pie and save 200 calories and 13 grams of fat (⅙ of pie).

The Recipes

Roasted Turkey Breast

Cauliflower Gratin

Overnight Maple Cinnamon French Toast Bake

Chocolate-Drizzled Popcorn

Sheet-Pan Potato Pancakes

Kick-the-Can Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce is the quintessential side dish for holiday meals, but most “jellied” versions that come in a can contain high-fructose corn syrup and other added sugars. Impress your guests this year by making your own:

To a medium saucepan, add 1 1⁄4 cups water, 1⁄4 cup maple syrup, 12 ounces fresh or frozen cranberries, 1 teaspoon grated orange peel, 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract and a dash kosher sea salt (optional). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, about 20 minutes. Serve warm or chilled.

The 30-Day Holiday Season Meal Plan

Use this plan to stay on track with you nutrition — and your goals!

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