Make Healthy Choices When Dining From a Holiday Spread

Trying to eat healthfully during the holidays can be a challenge for anyone, but attending the various family get-togethers and seasonal parties may require more consideration than normal for an expectant mom. Certain beverages, hors d’oeuvres, main courses and desserts may need to be avoided since they can contain substances that could be harmful to the baby or bring on a raging case of heartburn or indigestion for Mom.

Two nutritional experts offer advice on the best way to tackle holiday eating without forgoing your favorite piece of pie.

Which foods are safe and which should you avoid?

If you find yourself eyeing that shrimp cocktail on the buffet table but are worried about going overboard with mercury levels, you’re probably OK to nibble, according to Mary D. Brown, a registered dietician and licensed dietician nutritionist with Budding Baby, a practice that specializes in nutrition care of women and children.

“You can eat up to 12 ounces a week hot off the grill or on ice,” she says. “Shrimp is considered a safe seafood as long as it is kept hot or cold to avoid bacteria from developing.”

As for beverages, alcohol should be avoided meticulously and caffeine consumption limited to 200 milligrams a day since it has the potential to cause miscarriage or inhibit fetal growth. Steer clear of desserts cooked with or baked in alcohol because the alcohol does not completely evaporate during the cooking process.

Wondering if that nonalcoholic eggnog is safe? Brown says the commercially made versions are fine because the eggs in the product are pasteurized. Longing for a cup of hot apple cider? That’s another beverage safe to consume only if it has been pasteurized.

Sidestep any imported, soft cheeses, such as feta and Roquefort; they may have bacterial contamination. If you are craving a cheese selection at the holiday buffet, make sure it is cooked completely. Check to see that every dairy product you purchase or consume is clearly marked “pasteurized.”

Brown also advises keeping an eye out for meat, pork and poultry, as well as lunch meats, that aren’t cooked thoroughly. Stuffing cooked inside the turkey is not considered safe because the inside of the turkey’s cavity doesn’t get hot enough to kill harmful bacteria.

Careful with the calories

Contrary to popular belief, pregnancy is not the time to be “eating for two,” and only 300 extra healthy calories a day are recommended during pregnancy. Dawn Saks, a registered dietician in private practice in New York City, says 6 ounces of stuffing with gravy contains almost 300 calories and 15 grams of fat. Substitute a baked sweet potato for only 160 calories, less than 1 gram of fat and 5 grams of fiber.

If you’re worried about heading to a dinner or party where there won’t be a lot of healthy options, offer to bring a fruit salad or low-fat side dish. As with everything else in life, moderation is the key during this time. Choose one dessert instead of sampling several different varieties. Try the mashed potatoes as a side, but forgo the macaroni and cheese. Eat pumpkin pie instead of pecan, which is topped with high-calorie nuts.

Feeling like a stuffed turkey

If you’re attending dinner at someone else’s home, Saks recommends eating a small snack, such as fruit and yogurt or cottage cheese, a few hours before you go. Brown strongly encourages grazing at holiday meals and parties so as not to cause the inevitable heartburn and indigestion that many expectant women face during the later months of pregnancy.

“Avoid large meals, which can increase gastric pressure and increase risks of reflux. Also avoid high-fat foods, caffeine, spicy foods, peppermint, onion, spearmint and citrus, which includes juice and tomatoes,” she says, emphasizing many people don’t realize that self-basting turkeys are injected with a lot of fat to add additional flavor.

Making a conscious effort not to overeat during this busy time of year can help minimize weight gain that can occur during these months due to excessive eating. If you’re attending a cocktail party later in the evening, try not to eat a large meal close to bedtime.

The frenetic pace of the holidays can take their toll on a mom focused on providing proper nourishment to her baby, but you can have your cake and eat it too, so to speak, if you pay attention to how much — and what — you indulge in. Whatever the case, don’t let a quest for healthy eating dampen your holiday spirits.

“I think it is important to also remember this is a time to celebrate and enjoy time with family and friends,” Brown says. “You can enjoy the foods that are safe to eat — and do not put Mom and baby at risk — without going overboard with servings. I recommend enjoying the meal and eating super healthy the next few days.”

Renee Roberson is a freelance writer and former Charlotte Parent associate editor.


Healthy Substitutions For Your Favorite Dishes:


Ingredient: 1 egg
Substitution: 2 egg whites or ¼-cup egg substitute for each whole egg

Ingredient: 1 ounce of chocolate
Substitution: 3 tablespoons cocoa

Ingredient: sour cream
Substitution: fat-free sour cream

Ingredient: heavy cream
Substitution: Greek yogurt or evaporated skim milk

Ingredient: milk-based soups
Substitution: mashed potato flakes, pureed carrots, potatoes or tofu for thickening agents

Categories: Exceptional Child, Health, Health and Development, New Parent, Preg Health & Wellness, Pregnancy, Special Topics