Most families have holiday traditions, big and small — such as a certain dish for a special meal or an activity in which the whole family partakes. Unfortunately, not all of these traditions help create a healthy holiday for you and your family.  Certain activities can adversely affect your health.

“Stress is inherent during the holidays, which can raise cortisol levels and stall fat loss,” says J.J. Virgin, a certified fitness and nutrition expert, speaker, and life coach based in Rancho Mirage, California. “People adopt a ‘let-it-all-go’ attitude as they attend holiday parties, family gatherings, and buffets where food and drink flow. And then on January 1, we scramble to erase the damage we’ve done over the previous few months.” But it doesn’t have to be that way. Check out the following ways that you and your family can create healthy holiday traditions for years to come.


Outdoor activities aren’t just for kids. Outdoor activities are a great alternative to sitting around the house because they include some form of exercise and, at the same time, encourage spending time with your loved ones.


When your holiday traditions involve baking foods like cookies, cakes, or breads, simple swaps can turn cooking into a healthy holiday activity. You can go online to find healthy holiday recipes for all types of dietary restrictions. Many of these recipes do an excellent job of replicating traditional holiday favorites. Taking some time to identify and test recipes that have been modified to meet your dietary requirements will allow you to enjoy your holiday goodies without feeling restricted. Even if you aren’t trying to lose weight or follow a particular diet, trying healthy new recipes can be a fun way to expand your baking or cooking repertoire.


There’s no better way to blend good old-fashioned tradition with exercise than to get out the lights and ornaments and decorate the house with your family — you can burn up to 250 calories every hour of decking those halls.  Just make sure to give kids safe jobs on the ground while you tackle the ladder work.  Decorating the house can be fun and a great way for the family to spend time together.


Another great way to put the holiday in perspective and not get bogged down in the commercialism of the season is to spend time helping others. This can be a healthy activity like participating in a local 5k or another charity fun run, or helping those less fortunate by volunteering at a community dinner. It’s important for people and families to establish meaning in their own holiday celebrations as opposed to getting stuck on the material aspect.  This helps families re-establish ‘tradition’ from the standpoint of quality time put in relationships and how that time is spent.


You’re outside, you’re walking, you’re singing, and having fun — when it comes to healthy holiday family traditions, it’s tough to beat good, old-fashioned caroling. And this holiday activity is sure to raise others’ holiday spirits as well.


If family is the focus during the holidays, then zoning out in front of the TV isn’t much of a bonding activity. Try switching it off for a few nights and reading aloud some Christmas stories instead. This is a great tradition to have, especially with smaller children. Besides being a healthy holiday activity, it’s likely to become a great family tradition.  Kids will remember this for the rest of their lives and will be more likely to pass this tradition down to their own children.


Big dinners are a staple of family holiday traditions, so why not make the most of them by having a meaningful conversation at the dinner table? You can tell stories, talk about important events, or simply go around the table and say what you’re thankful for. Prolonging the meal can make for healthy holiday eating too, as eating more slowly means you’ll typically eat less.  Eating too quickly can lead to indigestion, weight gain, and other health problems. Slow down and you’ll be calmer and digest your food better.


Keep traditional foods on the menu, but make them in a healthy way. Replacing foods and ingredients with low-fat or fat-free counterparts is a great way to reduce the fat and calorie content of your meal without feeling deprived, because you don’t necessarily need to give something up. For example, use reduced-fat instead of regular sour cream on your baked potato or in your veggie dip, pureed vegetables or fat-free evaporated milk to thicken a soup, or pureed pumpkin or applesauce in your baked goods instead of butter.


Rather than settling into the couch with a hot toddy or a glass of eggnog, create a healthy holiday tradition by heading outside for a walk, a game of football, or another activity that your family chooses. Otherwise you’re more likely to head back into the kitchen for seconds and thirds.

Remember: the holidays are about enjoying time with family and friends. Slowing down the pace of life, eating and drinking in moderation, and fitting in physical activity can all help you and yours enjoy the spirit of the season in a healthy way!