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An Intuitive Eating Guide to the Holidays & Side Dish Recipe

Content provided by Sarah Crowley, MS, RD, CSO – Capital Health Cancer Center Dietitian

The holidays can be a stressful time for those who are trying to eat healthier, control their new medical diagnosis, or lose weight. Here are some things to keep in mind from your friendly dietitian who understands the holidays should be enjoyed by everyone.

  • If your big holiday meal occurs in late afternoon, be sure to not skip breakfast to “save” calories. Start with a normal, balanced meal that contains a protein to make sure you are satisfied and avoid over-indulgence. Here are some ideas:
    • Non-fat Greek yogurt, topped with fresh fruit and unsalted nuts
    • Egg omelet with your favorite vegetables and whole grain toast
    • A whole wheat waffle topped with peanut butter and banana slices
  • Remember to drink plenty of water! Holiday meals usually have higher sodium contents, increasing water intake can help you feel less bloated, and feel better the next day.
  • Be sure to focus on eating the foods you really enjoy and skip the ones that may not bring you joy. Just because it’s there, does not mean you have to eat it.
  • Listen to your body! If you are full before finishing your meal, it’s ok to walk away. These foods will probably be there next year, so you’re not missing out!
  • If the place you’re going to will not have something that’s appropriate for your diet or be allergy-friendly, don’t be afraid to bring your own food or snacks, or inform the host of your restrictions with plenty of time for adjustments.
  • You do not need to earn your dessert by exercising, but if moving your body sounds good to you, walking after dinner can help prevent party fatigue.
  • It’s ok to adjust your traditional holiday recipes to be more conducive to your dietary restrictions. Grandma won’t know if you cut the sugar in half, or used light cream cheese instead of whole fat. It’s also ok to prepare it without any substitutions.
  • Do not feel guilty if you ate in a way that didn’t make you feel good. Learn from how you felt to have a better experience next time.
  • The holidays are for enjoying time with friends and family. Enjoy making memories and try not to stress over what is on your plate—it’s only one meal.
  • The day after a large holiday gathering, return to your normal eating habits, and listen to what your body needs. It may want a slice of pie or a vegetable, both are ok!


Holiday Side Dish Recipe: Harissa-Maple Glazed Carrots with Whipped Ricotta (4 servings)

Harissa is a hot chili pepper paste, made with roasted red peppers and spices. This makes a great combination of spicy and sweet with maple syrup and carrots, with fresh ricotta to balance it all out. Perfect for a holiday side dish!


  • 12 whole carrots
  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 3 tbsp. maple syrup, divided
  • 1 tbsp. prepared harissa paste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 oz. ricotta (can use light or whole milk versions)
  • 4 tsp heavy cream
  • 2 tsp lemon zest, divided
  • 2 tsp lemon juice, divided
  • Parsley (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare carrots by trimming off the greens, washing and peeling.
  2. Whisk 3 tbsp. olive oil, 2 tbsp. maple syrup and harissa until smooth. Coat the carrots with this mixture and lay evenly on a sheet pan. Season with salt and pepper as desired.
  3. Bake carrots for 30-35 minutes, turning half way, until fork tender.
  4. For the whipped ricotta: Combine ricotta, heavy cream, 1 tbsp. olive oil, 1 tsp lemon zest, and 1 tsp. lemon juice in a food processor and blend until smooth.
  5. For the dressing: In a small bowl, combine 1 tbsp. maple syrup, 1 tbsp. olive oil, and the rest of the lemon zest and juice.
  6. To Serve: Spread the whipped ricotta on a plate, lay the roasted carrots on top, and drizzle with the dressing. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley (optional).



  • Maple syrup – honey, agave, brown sugar
  • Harissa paste – chili paste, sriracha, tomato paste (no spice)
  • Heavy cream – whole milk, low-fat milk, milk alternate
  • Ricotta – cottage cheese, dairy-free ricotta