The holidays mean family, friends, gifts and food. But with the holidays people don’t just eat – they feast. Between big family get-togethers and office holiday parties, the possibility of expanding your waistline at the end of the year increases sharply. But believe it or not, most people only gain a pound or two during the holidays. The issue is that those pounds are rarely shed and tend to add up over time.
Fortunately, you can enjoy the holidays without packing on the pounds this holiday by watching what you put on – and take from – the table. Even small changes can give you healthier results during festive winter weeks.
People love shoveling mashed potatoes onto their plates and then garnishing those spuds with either gravy or butter. The problem is that every part of that equation means a lot of carbs and calories, which stick around to haunt you long after the holidays. To really cut down on calories and sodium, ditch the salt and butter that drip luxuriously from your pile of spuds. But if you want to enjoy the taste, try cutting your salt down to half what you might normally use, and take the same approach with butter. You could also swap out sour cream for plain Greek yogurt when whipping up a batch, which will cut down on bad fat and increase the protein content of your potatoes.
Instead of standard white potatoes, give sweet potatoes a try. The darker, sweet variety has less carbs than regular potatoes, and they complement holiday main dishes like turkey and ham really well. For something really different, you can try a cauliflower puree that includes buttermilk, garlic and a small amount of real butter. Cauliflower can be an acquired taste, so try blending pureed cauliflower half and half with white potatoes to reap some benefits without losing your traditional creamy potato dish.
The Main Event
There are two changes you can make to your turkey-eating habits that will make your holiday dinner more nutritious. For starters, eat the white meat without the skin and avoid the dark meat completely. White meat has fewer calories and less saturated fat than dark meat, and if it’s prepared correctly, it shouldn’t be too dry to devour with the same enthusiasm as your favorite drumstick.
Second, make the gravy yourself instead of buying a flavored packet or a jar of the readymade stuff. These might seem like timesavers, but they’ll definitely make up for any time saved by adding unneeded salt and bad fat to your diet. Whip up an easy homemade gravy by whisking together equal parts fat (butter) and flour, then slowly whisking in a cup or two of the turkey juices from the pan. Dole out your homemade gravy conservatively for added benefit.
The fact that holiday stuffing is not so great for your health is no secret. But you don’t have to skip stuffing – or dressing, as it’s called when it’s prepared outside the bird – if you want to keep your carbs and calories in check. Preparing your own from-scratch stuffing is easier than it seems. Just sauté some onions and celery, cube the vegetables of your choice, add in whole grain bread and low-sodium chicken broth, and mix the whole thing together with one or two tablespoons of olive oil on the stove top. You could also avoid those drizzles of olive oil by baking it in the oven, but olive oil can be a good source of fat and nutrients when used appropriately. Homemade stuffing is high in fiber and low in sodium, a winning combination that doesn’t skimp on taste. Be generous with the fresh herbs, too, and you’ll benefit from added flavor without any added salt.
Once again, little changes will make a big difference in transforming classic holiday meals. Instead of standard dinner rolls, put whole grain rolls or whole wheat bread on the table this holiday season. How about some oven-roasted squash instead of potatoes to lower the carb and calorie counts? Cranberry relish has one-fourth the carbs and sugar content of cranberry sauce, and fresh green beans make a great alternative to your aunt’s classic casserole. If you like to put holiday drinks on the table for everyone to enjoy, then put out fresh apple cider instead of eggnog for a healthier holiday drink option. A kale salad can be substituted for any of your regular sides, and sliced pecans offer a sweet taste without the calories.
There are even options for making holiday desserts a little better for everyone. Substitute whole grain or whole wheat flour in baked goods, especially those like muffins where the taste won’t be affected. Use fresh fruit in your pies instead of readymade pie fillings, and serve fresh fruit glazed with honey as an alternative to heavier sweets. There are lots of ways to trim down desserts without compromising the taste, so experiment with your favorite dishes to see what works.
To many people, good food and the holidays go hand-in-hand. But as the years pass by, that good food can start to become detrimental to your health. The best solution is to investigate healthier options this holiday season and give your family the gift of feeling great about themselves. You don’t have to give up all of your favorites. Hone in on a couple of dishes that could benefit from some adjustments, and splurge where it really counts instead. You’ll still feel like you’ve feasted without adding to your waistline.