Clean Your Plate - Make Healthy Eating Choices This Holiday Season

by jeanne garber

I can hardly believe that the holidays are upon us.  The bustle of shopping for gifts, writing and mailing holiday greetings as well as neighborhood and office gatherings can leave us all a bit stressed when it comes to planning and preparing holiday meals. 

    In many families, planning and preparing holiday meals is a major part of holiday traditions as celebrations almost always center on food; from cookie exchanges to large family gatherings opportunities to indulge abound. 

    Planning holiday meals can be quite complex when you take into consideration dietary needs of various family members.  Your brother’s new wife has Celiac’s disease and can only eat gluten free foods.  Your Uncle Joe had bypass surgery this year and has since been following a low fat diet.  And then there is Aunt Carol who lost 53 pounds and is trying to maintain her weight.  Is there a way to plan and prepare a great holiday meal which provides healthy lifestyle choices for everyone?

    Take the traditional Thanksgiving dinner: turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, jell-o salad, relish tray, and pumpkin pie.  This year, try an alternative dressing such as corn bread dressing or wild rice dressing.  Pumpkin custard is a great substitute for pumpkin pie and one which your brother’s wife can enjoy. 

    These simple recipe exchanges will also make the holiday meal healthier.

• Use a low sodium, low fat vegetable or chicken broth to make mashed potatoes creamy.

• Roasting vegetables brings out natural flavors.

• Use low fat sour cream or plain yogurt to make dips.

• Add orange juice instead of butter to mashed sweet potatoes.

• Make gravies with low fat broth and drizzle over your potatoes.

• Use canola or olive oil in place of butter and shortening when preparing the meal.

    When planning your “big meal” shopping list, don’t forget to plan and purchase items for other meals.  You’ll need to eat the evening after the long shopping day so make it easy on yourself.  Bring out the crock pot so your meal will be ready after a long day of working and running errands. 

    Never forget that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  With busy schedules during the holiday season, it is easy to rush out the door without eating.  Get up a few minutes earlier to make time for a glass of fat-free skim milk and a bowl of high-fiber, low fat cereal to start the day.  Don’t forget,  Mom and Dad, fruit, trail mix or low-fat granola bars are great pick-me-ups to eat while waiting in lines at the post office, or going past your children’s meal times.  A word of advice…carry and use hand sanitizer before eating your snack!

    Who doesn’t love a holiday cookie exchange?  This is a great opportunity to sample many types of cookies while only having to prepare a single variety.  To save on calories, consider making smaller cookies to give away.  Portion exchange cookies and freeze them to enjoy throughout the holiday season. 

    In addition to cookie exchanges, office parties and other holiday gatherings are ripe with opportunities to over indulge.  When presented with many choices at the buffet line, you still can look for healthful options if you keep the following in mind.

• When going to a potluck, bring a healthy low-calorie side dish.

• Take small portions of foods.

• Eat slowly.

• Fill up on low-calorie foods such as fruits and vegetables.

• While at the party visit with others away from the table.

• Keep a glass of water in your hand while at the party.

• Only make one trip through the buffet line. 

    At many holiday gatherings, adult beverages are served and they are typically loaded with unwanted calories.  For instance a regular eight ounce cup of eggnog without any liquor contains 350 calories.  Changing to lite eggnog saves 140 calories per eight ounce serving.  There are 492 calories in an eight ounce Brandy Alexander and 590 calories in a Mud Slice.  If you are hosting the gathering and want to serve adult holiday beverages, consider serving them in a champagne flute which typically holds less than other glasses.  Other suggestions to keep in mind with alcohol:

• Always eat before drinking alcohol.

• Drink a glass of water between each glass of alcohol.

• Choose lite beer or wine instead of mixed drinks.

    Not only do you need to be mindful of adult beverages, that 16 ounce cup of holiday coffee, such as peppermint mocha or pumpkin spice frappuccino, has 470 calories.  When treating yourself to holiday coffee at your favorite coffee house, ask for nonfat milk and skip the whipped cream.  By doing so, you’ll save 200 calories.

    Watching your portion sizes is another great way to have a healthy holiday and still enjoy a variety of foods.  A six ounce portion (about the size of the palm of your hand) of turkey provides more than an adequate amount of protein.  Use tablespoon size spoons to dish up your foods.  This will cut down on the serving sizes and give you an opportunity to taste other foods. 

    As holiday season is upon us, remember to plan ahead for healthy meal choices.  In doing so, you’ll avoid the extra holiday pounds by avoiding quick and convenient high calorie items you might reach for as the hustle and bustle sometimes gets the best of us.  SFM

Jeanne Garber MS, RD, LN is a mother of a twelve year old girl and a registered dietitian, licensed nutritionist with RiverStone Health.  She provides nutrition education and lifestyle change information by office visits for clients at RiverStone Health Clinic, and home visits with Family Health Service as well as Home Care and Hospice Services.  She can be reached at 247-3366 or Jeanne.gar@riverstonehealth.org