It's that time of the year again, but this year it doesn't have to be about unhealthy eating, tight pants, and stress. The holiday season is the perfect opportunity for you throw that apron on, share time with loved ones, and be thankful for the gift of healthy food! A great way to control what you eat is to prepare your own healthy holiday splurges that are filled with flavor, fiber, and fun and free of excess sugar, fat, and sodium. Get ready to color your holidays healthy and finish this year happier, lighter, and more satisfied than ever!
Stuffing: What's a Thanksgiving dinner without that warm delicious stuffing? Unfortunately, most stuffing recipes are stuffed with tons of calories, sodium, fat, and refined carbohydrates. The best way to "unstuff" your stuffing is to swap 100 percent whole grain bread for white bread, olive oil (monounsaturated fat) for butter (saturated fat), low sodium stock for a regular stock, and fruits, vegetables, and herbs for bacon, sausage, or other red meat. Also, cooking your stuffing outside of the turkey will reduce fat drippings (as well as the risk for food-borne illness). Pair this vegan stuffing with your bird this year.
Mashed potatoes: Believe it or not, mashed potatoes can bring you comfort without the baggage (cream, butter, gravy, etc.). Using almond or skim milk as well as fat free Greek yogurt instead of cream, whole milk, or butter is a great way to make a skinny mash. Want to mix up your mash this year? Put down the white potatoes (or maybe half of them) and consider mashing nutrient-rich root vegetables like sweet potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, butternut squash, and antioxidant-rich purple potatoes and using spices like cinnamon and ginger.
Cranberry Sauce: Cranberries are wonderful for you and can help fight off infection-causing bacteria. Unfortunately, most cranberry sauces consumed during the holidays are loaded with sugar and likely to far exceed the American Heart Association's recommendation of about 6 teaspoons (100 calories) per day for women and 9 teaspoons (150 calories) per day for men. Fortunately, you can sweeten your cranberries the natural way with other fruits like apples and pears or make them savory with rosemary and onions.
Casseroles: Steer clear of casseroles! Casseroles are often a popular way of making a perfectly healthy vegetable side dish unhealthy. Similar to stuffing, casseroles are typically packed with loads of calories, sodium, and fat. Step outside the casserole dish and make a more colorful, nutritious, and delicious holiday side dish like lemon-dijon green beans, cancer-fighting cauliflower, zinfandel chia onions, heart-healthy Tuscan kale and spinach, blood pressure lowering roasted beets, or fruit and nut wheatberry salad. Yum!
Dessert: There are plenty of ways to make your holiday dessert guilt-free! Whole grains like cholesterol-reducing oatmeal and whole grain flour, natural sweeteners like potassium rich bananas, weight-watching apples, and heart-loving dark chocolate are key to making guilt-free desserts. Get ready to sit down, settle in and make one of these recipes your new healthy holiday favorite: apple crisp, chocolate peanut butter pudding, chia banana cake, chocolate bark, pumpkin pie pudding, and chocolate espresso tofu mousse.
Turkey: Turkey is usually the lean, flavorful, tryptophan-rich, high protein star of the show during most holiday meals. To cut back on calories and fat, buy a fresh or frozen turkey that is not pre-basted, limit consumption to 3-4 ounces (about a deck of cards), and avoid eating the skin. An interesting study associated eating tryptophan-rich foods (like turkey) with trusting others in social situations. The researchers commented that this study proved that you truly are what you eat. What better way to promote holiday camaraderie than to enjoy turkey?
Alcohol: Consuming too much alcohol is a sure-fire way to add excessive calories to your holiday meals and lose control at the buffet table. Many holiday drinks like eggnog (on average, about 350 calories for 1 cup before adding alcohol), Christmas ale (225 calories per bottle), and martinis (160 calories for 4 ounces) are loaded with calories. Try mixing 2 ounces of wine with seltzer water (flavored or plain) or a little cranberry juice for a wine spritzer. You'll be able to draw your drinks out throughout the night and keep your head. Another option is to serve these health-boosting holiday cocktails!
Rolls: If you're still looking for a roll after the loads of carbohydrates that the rest of the dinner provides, choosing a whole grain option over a white option is your best bet.
Thanksgiving is one of the most wonderful holiday's ever! It's all about family, great food, and giving thanks. This year, why not toast the holiday season by improving your health!
Christina Fedeli contributed to this blog.