Ahh, the holidays. A time to celebrate all the good that has come our way during the previous year. First up: Thanksgiving. What better way to begin the year-end wrap-up than to sit down at a hearty meal with family and friends?
But the holidays are arguably the toughest time of the year to eat healthy—and Thanksgiving is just the start of what can turn into a month-long feast. No wonder the new year kicks off with a resolution to lose weight—usually, that starts with all the pounds packed on over the holidays.
Time for a new tradition: healthier holiday meals.
With just a little extra thought and planning, you can trim the calories from your holiday meal and keep from overindulging when faced with all those tempting cookies and sweets and oversized portions. And even if you’re at the mercy of Aunt Emma’s coma-inducing, ultra-rich feast, you can make healthier choices.
Here are a few tips to have a healthier holiday.
Thanksgiving turkey. A turkey basting in its own juices over one slathered in butter before roasting can really save on calories. Ideally, opt for a free-range, antibiotic- and hormone-free bird for the healthiest choice. Turkey is naturally low in fat and high in protein: three-and-a-half ounces of skinless white breast meat (about the size of your palm) has about four grams of fat and thirty grams of protein.
Stuffing. Here’s a healthier recipe that substitutes olive oil for butter, uses low-sodium broth, and includes healthier ingredients like celery, mushrooms, and walnuts.
Cranberry sauce. Instead of sweetened, processed, canned sauce, consider making your own sauce. Cook one 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries sweetened with a teaspoon of honey, a half teaspoon of cinnamon, and the juice squeezed from one fresh orange in a saucepan for 15 minutes. Then add the zest of the orange for a bit of zing. Make ahead of time and chill in the fridge to save a bit of time on the holiday.
Sweet potatoes. Instead of candied sweet potatoes, consider letting the flavor of this nutritious veggie come through by chopping them into chunks, tossing them with a little olive oil, sliced onion, and chopped garlic cloves, then baking them in a 425-degree F oven for about 30 minutes.
Steamed veggies. Instead of baked veggie casseroles layered with sauces and cheese, consider steaming your veggies and tossing them with a tablespoon of real butter and some of your favorite herbs. Garlic, thyme, rosemary, and basil bring out the flavor of veggies without masking their goodness.
Dessert. Apples baked with just a dab of butter and a touch of cinnamon can make for a delicious sweet treat at the end of the meal. But it’s pretty tough to pass on the pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving—so don’t. But there’s no need to add on calories by piling on the sugar-laden whipped cream. And as tempting as it may be, avoid that second slice of pie. You’ll feel less lethargic and in need a nap on the sofa after the big meal.
If you’re not cooking the holiday meal, when eating at the inevitable calorie-laden family feast, opt for those dishes that seem the most wholesome: fresh veggies trays without creamy dip or veggie dishes without a lot of added ingredients and turkey without added gravy. If you’re sure that healthy choices won’t be available where you’re headed, or you know your willpower won’t let you resist the traditional holiday fare, then eat a small salad or some fresh veggies before leaving home. This ensures you’ll have less room for the unhealthy stuff. If you simply can’t resist the spread before you, do your best to stick with small portions and skip the second helpings.
In fact, eating in moderation, being selective with menu choices, choosing healthier snacks, or skipping the snacks and goodies altogether can make all the difference in your post-holiday health. Remember that eating too much of what looks (and undoubtedly tastes) great can overfill you today, and leave you filled with regret tomorrow.