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How to Enjoy a Healthy-ish Holiday Meal Blog Feature Image
November 14, 2023

How to Enjoy a Healthy-ish Holiday Meal 

by Molly Rapozo

Discover the secrets to a healthy-ish holiday meal from nutrition expert Molly Rapozo, MS, RDN, CD. Learn how to balance festive indulgence with brain-boosting choices, including low-carb veggies, mindful pre-event meals, hydration hacks, and the importance of savoring moments with loved ones.

Holiday meals provide the perfect setting to connect with our loved ones and enjoy family foods. These social events are very beneficial for our sense of connection and overall brain health. While I advocate for savoring traditional foods and truly enjoying this holiday season, overindulgence can lead to sleep disturbance, feelings of stress, and get in the way of your typical healthful behaviors, such as physical activity.  

When it comes to nutrition and cognitive health, research shows that diets high in saturated fat (from full fat dairy, red meats, and coconut) and refined carbohydrates (from sugar, sweet beverages, and white flour/rice/pasta) are associated with worse cognitive function. Alternatively, diets with high intakes of vegetables and fruit, limited meat consumption, moderate intake of alcohol, and use of olive oil as a primary fat source are associated with decreased risk of cognitive decline.

So, how do we balance festive indulgence with brain-boosting choices? Try these 4 tips for a healthy-ish holiday meal.

Roasted brussel sprouts

1. Include low carbohydrate vegetables

Holiday meals have an excess of carbohydrates with desserts, sweetened beverages or alcohol, bread products, and starchy vegetables like potatoes. Crowd out some of these choices by offering vegetables which are low in carbs and high in nutrients. It’s simple to do!

Start your gathering with a crudité platter of fresh vegetables and your favorite dip. Carrots, snap peas, cherry tomatoes, and small cucumbers are popular and require very little preparation. Include a green salad with your meal using pre-washed greens, fruit, and nuts. Pear wedges, hazelnuts, and pomegranate arils are a festive combination. And swap one of your high carb sides with a roasted vegetable like brussel sprouts.  

Man and woman eating a meal together

2. Eat your typical meals prior to the event

Avoid temptation to skip your regular meals. Breakfast or lunch prior to a holiday gathering is the perfect time to include brain-healthy foods. In addition, showing up ravenous may result in less control over your appetite. Eating a nutritious meal with protein and fiber before you arrive allows you to be more discriminating in your food and beverage choices. 

Person pouring pitcher of water into a cup

3. Stay hydrated

Recent studies have shown that water plays a crucial role in maintaining brain function. Even mild dehydration can affect mood, concentration, and reaction time. If you’re hosting, have a water pitcher available and sparkling water as a beverage choice. For those drinking alcohol, have a glass of water in between each serving of wine, beer, or liquor.

Two women hugging, twinkle lights in the background

4. Focus on family and friends

Holiday meals are about so much more than the bounty of food. It’s a time to cherish the people in our lives. So, eat slowly while enjoying conversation. Plan a group activity to keep you moving. Capture memories by taking photos. Savor all the joy this season can bring!

Tailored Nutrition Coaching for a Healthy Brain

Before you start any new diet, it’s important to assess your personal health concerns and goals. Luckily, the Brain Wellness & Lifestyle Program at Pacific Neuroscience Institute® (PNI®) offers evidence-based nutritional education tailored to your unique goals. Under the guidance of skilled brain health trainers, you’ll learn how to optimize your diet and nutrition, enhance physical fitness, manage stress, and promote cognitive well-being.

We understand that a healthy diet is a long-term lifestyle adjustment, not a quick fix. By making small, gradual changes over time, you can achieve significant improvements. Begin your journey to better brain health by joining PNI’s Lifestyle Program. Register now for our courses, as enrollment is currently open.

Virtual and in-person sessions are available. To learn more about participation, contact us: | 213-344-2037

As seen in the November issue of the Santa Monica Star Magazine.

About Molly Rapozo, MS, RDN, CD

Molly Rapozo

Molly Rapozo, MS, RDN, CD, is the Senior Nutrition & Health Educator at the Brain Wellness & Lifestyle Program at Pacific Neuroscience Institute. With years of experience counseling individuals and families, she provides nutrition coaching for those seeking to improve their cognitive wellness and overall health.

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About the Author

Molly Rapozo

Molly Rapozo

Molly Rapozo, MS, RDN, CD, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in Brain Health Coaching. She provides coaching for clinical research trials at the Pacific Brain Health Center at Pacific Neuroscience Institute, where she uses a personalized list of recommendations to coach participants in optimizing wellness and avoiding disease. Molly enjoys teaching people how to make good nutrition easy to do and delicious to eat. She also provides support with sleep, stress management and exercise.

Last updated: November 27th, 2023