Happy Health-idays! 5 Tips to Stay on Track This Season

'Tis the season … to be busy, stressed and exhausted. It's amazing how the happiest time of year can simultaneously be the most chaotic time of year. Between holiday shopping, family and work obligations, and nonstop events, it's a miracle we don't all snap — or at least give up on our healthiest habits.

Here are five healthy food solutions to stay on track during the holidays.

Problem #1: The Food Court at the Mall

Eating before going and packing healthy snacks are usually your best bets when going to the mall to shop for presents. But, eating at the mall food court doesn't have to mean bad choices. While food courts typically consist of many popular chain restaurants offering lots of unhealthy options — many of these places also post their nutrition information in easily accessible locations. You should be able to find it posted on the menu, in a brochure or on the company's website. Look for a meal that is under 500 calories and provides vegetables and protein to give you the energy you need to keep shopping and get home.

Problem #2:  Eating on the Road

Just like at the food court, you can easily find nutrition information from chain restaurants. But what if where you're planning to eat is a local spot or a place in the airport? You may not have nutrition information at your fingertips, but you can still make a good choice. Scope out the menu and look for nutritious options such as proteins that are grilled or baked instead of fried, and vegetables. Or, if you prefer, opt to split an entrée and get a small salad on the side.

Problem #3: Ordering Delivery or Take-out

I hate to repeat myself, but, again, many restaurants post their nutrition information on-site and online. Or, if you're ordering from a local establishment, make the best choices you can. For instance, when ordering pizza, opt for a thin crust, ask to go light on the cheese and load it up with veggies. For Chinese food, stick with clear soups (such as vegetable, egg drop and wonton), steamed veggies and lean proteins such as chicken and shrimp. Also, go easy on the rice, add flavor with just a little soy sauce, and limit how much you eat by serving yourself and eating off of a plate, not out of the containers. For Mexican food, choose fajitas or soft tacos and fill them up with veggies and beans. Use cheese, sour cream and guacamole sparingly  you only need a little to add a ton of flavor.

Problem #4: Quick Packaged Meals at Home

After a busy day, it's easy to rely on a frozen meal or box of pasta and a jar of tomato sauce for dinner. Make a pasta dinner healthier by cooking less, using whole-grain noodles, and adding vegetables and lean protein. Frozen packaged meals can be a healthy choice too, as long as you're reading the label for calorie and sodium counts. Just like with pasta, you can add more veggies to these meals, too. It makes it more filling, because you'll get a bigger portion but all you're adding is veggies!

Problem #5: Cookies, Cookies Everywhere

Sometimes, it seems as if everywhere you turn during the holidays you run into a plate of cookies, cupcakes or holiday candy. You can't get away from them! The good news is you don't have to avoid sweets completely during the holiday season. (In fact, I suggest you shouldn't avoid them; if you feel restricted, you may be more likely to overindulge at another time.) But you should limit yourself to one to two small treats each day, and watch what you eat the rest of the day. Stick with only those things you absolutely love — don't just eat a sweet treat because it's in front of you. Why waste calories on a tasteless cookie or an old piece of candy? It just isn't worth it.

Now that you have one less thing to worry about this holiday season, get out there be healthy, happy and merry!

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Jamila René Lepore
Jamila René Lepore, MS, RDN, is a Florida-based registered dietitian nutritionist and food scientist with a passion for food, nutrition and overall wellness. Read her blog, No Nonsense Nutritionist, and connect with her on Twitter and Pinterest.