Ask the Experts: What Do You Eat When? Holiday Edition Back »

Written by Whitney Blindert (Midwest Dairy Council). Shared on iGrow by Ann Schwader.


The holiday season has arrived which means tasty treats are lurking around every corner. Food plays an important role at every family gathering, holiday party or special event. Healthful habits can be tricky during the holidays, but we asked Midwest Dairy’s registered dietitian nutritionists to share their strategies for celebrating the holidays in a healthful, yet indulgent way. See what they had to say about how their families eat, drink and enjoy dairy!

When attending a holiday event, what dish or appetizer do you typically bring?

  • WHITNEY: I bring a spinach and artichoke dip made with parmesan cheese. I serve it with red and green fresh vegetables – and arranged them in the shape of a Christmas tree if I’m really feeling festive!
  • BETH: I like to bring something new I see on Pinterest that looks yummy. Corn casserole and cheesy potato casserole are definitely family favorites.
  • JEN: I love to have grapes and cheese for a snack prior to meals or when my family is just doing appetizers and hanging out. Plus, it’s easy to slice or purchase pre-sliced cheese if I’m in a time crunch.
  • JULIE: I bring a meat and cheese platter which includes my favorite cow’s milk cheeses, sliced meats, dried fruits and olives.

How do you prevent yourself from over indulging at holiday parties or meals?

  • ALYSON: I like to practice the MyPlate goals. I fill my plate first with fruits and veggies, then add more indulging food items. I also use a salad plate instead of a dinner plate to keep my portions in check.
  • MOLLY: I start the day with breakfast and then have a light noon meal. Skipping meals only lowers your willpower when the festivities start. Also, I remember the party is about the people, not the food. I have a conversation with as many people as possible instead of focusing on the appetizers.
  • ALEX: I put a lot of effort into exercising daily during the holidays so I don’t worry too much about over-indulging. I stick to one plate of food so I have room for dessert. I also put the food away quickly after the meal to prevent nibbling when I’m already full.

What’s your favorite holiday snack and/or treat?

  • JEN: My family has a tradition of making Brandy Alexanders for a treat after our Christmas Eve meal. It’s my favorite because we do it once-a-year and have done so most Christmases. I love that it is an ice cream drink, so we can make non-alcoholic versions for the kiddos.
  • ALEX: I have two favorites. First, gingerbread cut-out cookies, using my grandma’s recipe from her 1970’s Betty Crocker Cookbook. Second, homemade caramels my mom and I make as gifts, but always end up eating quite a few ourselves! They’re made with a ridiculous amount of butter and sugar, and they’re heavenly.
  • BETH: Anything with pumpkin. Although it’s available year-round, I only eat it during the holidays. Also, my mom makes homemade Snickers bars that are to die for.
  • ALYSON: I love mint hot chocolate during the holidays. It warms me right up!
  • JESSICA: My grandmother made the BEST sugar cookies. She kept them hidden in a closet in an old Christmas tin so my grandpa couldn’t find them. Once I found where she hid them, my sisters and I would sneak in the closet when my grandma wasn’t looking and eat the perfectly iced and decorated cookies. Then we would run to the fridge for a glass of ice cold milk!

What’s your favorite holiday recipe hack for cutting calories?

  • MOLLY: Substitute lower calorie ingredients when you can. Lower fat yogurts, light cream cheese and low-fat milk help. In baked goods, I often use non-fat yogurt or apple sauce instead of oil.
  • ALYSON: I love to bake during the holidays! My favorite way to cut calories is replacing fats and oils with Greek yogurt. It’s a staple in my fridge.
  • JESSICA: When making a boxed brownie mix, I add canned pumpkin instead of oil and eggs. It cuts back on calories, fat and even adds some fiber. The “brownies” turn out almost fudge-like and my family can’t tell the difference.

How do you incorporate dairy into holiday meals, dishes or desserts?

  • WHITNEY: Homemade ice cream is a Christmas tradition in my family.
  • BETH: We love to try new cheese flavors such as pepper jack, tomato basil or garlic. My family also likes homemade cheesecake. Plus, one of my favorite desserts is a strawberry pretzel dish that has a sweet and salty flavor.
  • MOLLY: Hot chocolate made from scratch makes everyone think you went the extra mile – and it’s easy to make!
  • JEN: My family doesn’t always do the traditional holiday meal. In the past, we’ve had lasagna, or mashed potatoes baked with cheese inside. I also like to have milk with my desserts because it makes me feel more satisfied.

How do you incorporate dairy into gift giving during the holidays?

  • WHITNEY: Specialty or artisan cheeses paired with wine or beer make great gifts for adults.
  • ALEX: I recently introduced my mom to really good cheese varieties. I have my eye on a delicious Minnesota-made cheddar that I’d like to give her.
  • MOLLY: A holiday mug with instant cocoa mix you make yourself using non-fat dairy milk is always a nice touch.
  • JULIE: I love to give (and receive) cheese! It’s everyone’s favorite and there are no returns!

How does your family make healthier eating decisions while still enjoying baked goods, sweets and other holiday treats? Tell us!

Want additional dairy information for the holidays? Check out How to Melt Cheese for Soups, Sauces, and Fondue and Deck the Halls with These Festive #DairyTraditions.

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