Special thanks for all the kind comments I received from readers on last month’s column about healthy eating with diabetes. Now, to play off last month’s issue of HLN—which was packed with great articles on preparing for the holidays, ranging from avoiding overindulgence, to coping with grief, to preparing the perfect turkey—let’s discuss how to make the holidays healthy and happy by eating smart.
We all know eating smart during the holidays can be a challenge, especially since many of us kick off the holiday season with Halloween candy and don’t consider the season officially over until we’re munching on Super Bowl wings. That’s a long stretch of time and a lot of celebrating that sets in motion nothing but weight gain.
For many of us, the holidays evoke fond memories of delicious family recipes, such as Grandma’s homemade pies, Aunt Ruby’s candied yams, and Uncle Bill’s homemade sausage stuffing. But eating too much of these holiday favorites can leave you feeling stuffed, bloated, and discouraged on the bathroom scale. To help minimize the impact of all those holiday food temptations, it helps to have a plan. I usually encourage people to think ahead and decide whether their goal is to continue with weight-loss, maintain their current weight, or even allow themselves to gain a few pounds.
What else can you do to cut back and still enjoy good food and good times with family? First off, you don’t have to go all in with a plant-based vegan meal (although vegan roasts have come a long way). Rather, you just need to make some modest healthy changes to your holiday food choices and recipes. Making just one or two healthy changes to recipes will not make a noticeable difference to your guests. You can serve many of your holiday favorites with fewer calories and less fat without skimping on flavor. Also, try to make just enough food for the meal so you’re not eating leftovers for days.
Meat or your protein dish is usually the main centerpiece of the meal. Try serving leaner, healthier cuts of beef or pork. Choose cuts with words like “round,” “loin,” or “leg” in the name, such as tenderloin, top round roast, loin roast, flank, and boneless ham.
When planning side dishes, always provide a fruit tray as one of the options. Also, try to limit dishes made with sour cream, heavy cream, butter, cheese, and added sugars like brown sugar and honey. Whenever possible, substitute fat-free or low-fat dairy products in recipes calling for the regular version. For example, vegetable side dishes such as green bean casserole, creamed corn, and cheesy potatoes should be made with skim milk. You can also eliminate or reduce salt and/or use half the recommended amount of butter in sides.
The beverages you serve at holiday gatherings matter just as much as the foods when it comes to the impact on your health. My advice is to “think your drink.” Keep plenty of non-alcoholic drinks on hand and alternate them with any alcoholic drinks served. For a signature cocktail that even the kids will love, mix low-cal cranberry juice with calorie-free lemon-lime soda. Also, be sure to drink plenty of water on the day of and the day after the celebration (you didn’t think I’d forget to mention water did you?).
To prevent those delicious pies and other desserts from sabotaging your healthy holidays, consider precutting them and serving them in small “shooter” cups. Sometimes all you really need is a little taste of something sweet at the end of a big meal. Of course, fruit always makes a nice, guilt-free dessert—try pomegranates, pears, cranberries, and other fruits, boiled, frozen, or baked.
Most importantly, try to stay positive about the changes you’re making. Remember, you don’t have to compromise on flavor and your guests don’t really need to know they’re eating healthier versions of their old favorites. And as far as your own holiday eating is concerned, remember to practice portion control. When dining somewhere else, always look at what’s being served first and then decide what you really must have and what you can do without. Perhaps you can pass on the dinner rolls or forego the eggnog or ice cream in favor of a single sliver of pie. Anything you can do to cut a few calories, grams of sugar, and grams of saturated fat will make a difference. Do, however, continue the culinary traditions of holidays past—just with healthier versions.
So, go ahead and enjoy the flavor of eating right. Happy holidays!
Laurie Syring, RD/LD, is Clinical Nutrition Manager at ProMedica Flower Hospital. ❦