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Eating Healthy in the Holiday Season from an Expert on Food Decision-Making

Nov 18, 2022
Kelly Haws offers 3 tips for how to make healthy choices this holiday season

By Lacie Blankenship

Kelly L. Haws

Kelly L. Haws

Stuffing, mashed potatoes, fudge, and eggnog… these are just a few things that come to mind with the holiday season on the horizon. Traditional celebrations usually center around comfort food, served family-style, and recipes passed down through generations. These meals are often indulgent and can threaten personal health and dietary goals. Kelly Haws, Anne Marie and Thomas B. Walker, Jr., Professor of Marketing, has advice for those aiming to eat healthy in the holiday season.

Keep Balance in Mind 

Haws’ recent research explores the relationship between consumer perceptions and eating habits. The study, part of a special edition of JACR, finds that taste is the lead consideration when making eating decisions, followed by hunger, cost, nutrition, and health.    

“It’s important for consumers to not put too many restrictions on themselves, and to instead think carefully about approaching eating in a way that allows them to balance pleasure and indulgence with fueling the body to feel healthy, energetic, and strong.”  

“I think that perception drives [food] decision-making more than any kind of actual nutritional profile,” says Haws. Consumers can check in with themselves by asking, ‘are you eating to fuel your body?’ 

Slow Down 

Taking a moment to consider the meal when fixing a plate or picking up a fork can reevaluate the meaning of the food. For many, the season is less about the food itself, and more about who prepared it and who’s sitting at the table. 

“(By) slowing down, while selecting foods and actually eating, we might find that we are able to achieve the pleasure that we are looking for out of our holiday favorites without eating it in an excess quantity.

“People can ask themselves, ‘Am I truly enjoying this experience? Sometimes that experience is enhanced simply by those around us eating, or even who prepared the food for us,” says Haws. 

Don’t be Afraid to Make a Mess

If your eating plan includes portion control, don’t be afraid to play with food and make a mess on the plate. A study co-authored by Haws and Freeman Wu, Assistant Professor of Marketing, finds that degrading the visual appearance of food can accelerate the rate of fullness, meaning that a messy plate can make you fuller faster than an aesthetically pleasing presentation.

“Eating messily, although it doesn’t align with proper etiquette, is an easy strategy for consumers trying to combat overconsumption, especially when presented with a buffet of festive foods,” says Haws.   

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