Skip to Content

Publications

Got Leftovers? Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

Focused on Health - December 2011

holiday foods weight gainby Dawn Dorsey

Wondering how to nibble and nosh your way through the holidays — without loosening your belt or playing the Grinch?

If you pay attention to serving sizes and get smart about leftovers, you may find you still can zip your favorite jeans when January 2 rolls around. And, that’s good news because most people gain a little more than a pound during the holidays.

That weight gain doesn’t usually come from just one or two meals. It’s from feasting on leftovers, which can pack on hundreds of extra calories for days or even weeks.

“Most people don’t shed the extra holiday weight and just keep adding pounds year after year,” says Mary Ellen Herndon, wellness dietitian at MD Anderson. “And, unhealthy weight gain can put you at greater risk for diseases like cancer.”

Luckily, a little common sense and planning can help reign in the leftover monster. Herndon offers these tips to help you stay on track this holiday season.

Keep servings small

leftover storageWhether you’re eating a holiday meal, snacking on appetizers at a party or indulging in leftovers, keeping off the extra pounds starts with portion control. It’s okay to savor a taste of foods you’ve waited for all year, but keep servings small.

To figure out what a healthy portion is, it helps to visualize a similar size item. For instance:

  • Gravy or cranberry sauce: golf ball (one-fourth cup)
  • Turkey (white meat): deck of cards (3 ounces)
  • Stuffing: ice cream scoop (one-half cup)
  • Pie: light bulb (one-eighth of a 9-inch pie)

Women should try to keep each meal to around 500 calories; men should strive for 700. Before the holiday feeding frenzy begins, find the calorie counts and serving sizes for your favorite holiday foods by using our Serving Size Cheat Sheet or the USDA’s MyFood-a-Pedia.

Make a game plan for leftovers

Making plans for your leftovers can help you stay in control of your calories after the main meal has ended.

“Right after a holiday meal, divide all leftovers into one-half cup servings,” Herndon says. “Refrigerate enough for a day or two and freeze the rest.”

Leftovers aren’t just for reheating. Turn holiday leftovers into new healthy dishes by reusing these foods.

White turkey meat

  • Whip up your favorite chili recipe, but sneak in turkey instead of ground beef.
  • Wrap turkey, spinach leaves and two tablespoons of cranberry sauce in a whole wheat tortilla.

Mashed potatoes

  • Mix in a healthy helping of cooked vegetables for a new twist on this side. Try cauliflower, broccoli, green beans and/or carrots.

stuffingSweet potatoes

  • Make a protein-packed sandwich spread or veggie dip by pureeing one-half cup sweet potatoes with one-half cup chickpeas. Eat only one or two tablespoons at a time.

Stuffing

  • Use stuffing instead of bread crumbs to make a meatloaf dish. Be careful not to eat more than one medium slice (about 3 ounces or the size of a deck of cards).

Share the bounty

One surefire way to avoid overindulging is to get leftovers out of your sight. Here’s how:

  • Give guests “doggie bags.” Have containers ready to speed up the process.
  • Give leftovers to relatives or friends who don’t cook or join the festivities.
  • Donate canned or boxed foods, as well as unopened store-bought baked goods to a food bank or homeless shelter.

Pick and choose foods carefully

“At every meal, choose one dish from each category of food,” Herndon says. “For example, eat one side item, one main dish and one dessert. Keep each serving to around one-half cup and make fruits and vegetables the biggest part of your meal.”

You’ll thank yourself for the gift of trimmer holiday meals in January — and quite possibly for years to come.

Related Links
MyFood-a-pedia (USDA)
Thanksgiving Serving Size Cheat Sheet (MD Anderson)
Control Your Holiday Hunger (MD Anderson)

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get the latest on protecting your body from cancer. 

     

Show You Care!

Cancer Risk Check

Could you be more likely to get cancer?

Find out by taking MD Anderson’s Cancer Risk Check.

Focused on Health on Twitter


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center