What would you say if I told you that you could still enjoy a full, glorious, holiday meal with none of the guilt? Well, it’s possible. Leftovers? No guilt there either. The phrase “healthy holiday food” is not as shudder worthy as many people think… In fact, quite the opposite!
I know when many people think of healthy holiday food it conjures up mental images of tofu turkey and other substitutes that are just not the same. And believe me, I’m with you on the thought of that tofu turkey #nothanks! But, if you think about it, the main holiday foods are all healthy. It’s what we add to them that puts on the weight and makes it unhealthy.
Take Thanksgiving, for example. The classic dishes have the potential to make Thanksgiving dinner the healthiest meal you’ll eat all year.
However, what Thanksgiving has turned into is how to make food as unhealthy as possible with the justification that it’s “just the one meal”. But, it’s not just the one meal. I personally don’t know anyone who doesn’t have at least a day or two of leftovers.
In addition, all these things we’re putting in our food keeps us from tasting the actual food. Instead, we are tasting sugar, salt, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and who knows what else.
So Let’s get to it!
Healthy Holiday Food Swaps
I bet a few of you thought that I would say that meat should be off the menu. Nope, I’m not going to suggest that. But more power to you if that’s something you want to try.
One of the main reasons I’m not suggesting giving up meat is because one thing that people tend to do when they cut lean protein is they load up on carbs. That isn’t exactly waistline friendly. Plus, meats actually do have some nutritional value beyond protein
- Red meat: Contains iron and various vitamin Bs -These nutrients coming from a meat source are more readily absorbed into the body because there aren’t certain other nutrients that inhibit absorption.
- Fish: Contains heart healthy fats and various essential minerals including iron, zinc, potassium, iodine, and magnesium. Fish also was believed to be a main course at the first Thanksgiving.
- Turkey: low in saturated fat, and a good source of selenium, zinc, riboflavin, phosphorus and potassium.
A few tips to make your meat dishes healthier.
- Stick to a proper portion size. 3-4 oz, or about the size of the palm of your hand.
- Use simple and natural seasonings. Salt, pepper, lemon, fresh herbs, etc.
- Mind your added fats. Olive oils, coconut oils, and grass fed unsalted butter are all acceptable, clean eating additions to your dishes.
- Avoid frying, opt for roasting or grilling instead.
- If your dinner party is small, you can opt for quarters of the bird such as just breast meat.
Gravy is the main part of a holiday meat course that makes it unhealthy. Most people thicken their gravies using a roux (butter and flour) or a cornstarch slurry. Instead, try an arrowroot powder slurry, or opt for an “au jus” or pan juices topping.
This is where people really get themselves into trouble with added marshmallows, creamy soups, maple honey coatings, sugar, and tons of butter and fats. These additives turn your vegetable servings into a serving of veggies PLUS a serving of carbs.
First let’s talk serving sizes. A serving size of potatoes and grains is only a 1/2 cup! A serving size of vegetables and fruit is 1 cup. Meat servings are about 3 oz according to the American Heart Association
Sweet Potato Casserole
This is probably one of the worst offenders of the too-many-additives. The reality is sweet potatoes are incredibly healthy and naturally very sweet on their own.
Instead of the classic casserole with the marshmallows and sugar, try this version with carrots and apples instead! (Even my toddler LOVES this!!)
Cranberries are a major powerhouse of nutrients and health. Because they are naturally very tart, the added sugar in these recipes counteract a lot of the good that they do.
Instead of sugar this year, try stevia. Stevia is much sweeter than sugar, so start with about 1/4 of what your recipe calls for in sugar. Stevia is also the only know sweetener that doesn’t spike your blood sugar like cane sugar and artificial sweeteners, which makes it an ideal healthy substitute for diabetics. If it needs some extra thickening try arrow root. Make a slurry, the same as you would with cornstarch, and add it right in.
Carrots are a great dish not to be missed at your holiday dinner. There are a gazillion healthy ways to cook them.
You can try steaming them with a squeeze of lemon juice. Alternately, roasting gives you so many more options when it comes to seasoning. Avoid sugar and maple syrup. Just keep it simple and fresh and you can’t go wrong.
It’s no secret that the classic green bean casserole is not the healthiest. Creamy soups, fried onion topping….delicious, but not healthy in the slightest.
A simple sauté of green beans, olive oil, roasted garlic, salt and pepper, and top with some slivered almonds or a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.
Or, if you just have to have the classic, here is a clean version of the classic green bean casserole. I’ve tried it first hand. It’s amazing!
It seems like you can’t have a holiday dinner without mashed potatoes. Unfortunately due to their extra starchy nature, they require quite a bit of butter and milk to get them to that creamy texture. And then, of course, what are mashed potatoes without a touch of gravy? You can see where those calories can really add up.
So my suggestion here is instead of mashed white potatoes, mash your sweet potatoes, OR do mashed cauliflower. both of these options are not as starchy and can turn into that beautiful rich creamy texture with infinitely less additives. Instead, roast or pan fry your white potatoes with some olive oil and herb seasoning.
Stuffing and Dressing
Homemade Dressing is not as unhealthy as you might think. It’s the boxed kinds that calls nutritional value into question.
The homemade recipes have a lot of varieties for flavors and fruit and veggie additions. Try starting with a mix of plain ol’ dried cornbread cubes, and add in whatever veggie, fruit, and seasoning mix-ins. Then use low sodium chicken or vegetable broth to make it juicy and moist.
- Swap out one of the carb-ier sides for something like roasted beets, or brussels sprouts topped with crunchy bacon (turkey bacon is acceptable here too).
- All the green veggies are in season! Saute some Kale or spinach with garlic. Or add some broccoli into the mix.
- Don’t forget a salad, with a simple homemade vinaigrette.
- Like with most clean eating styles – simple, real ingredients make the easiest and tastiest dishes.
Desserts are not to be missed on special occasions. The balance of having a little something sweet after a big savory meal creates this beautiful, well rounded, satisfaction for your taste buds.
You may find a wide variety of personalities at your table when it comes to desserts. Some people just want that small something sweet, some people want something fresh. Or, you may have a few that save plenty of room for dessert because that’s their favorite part. It’s hard to please everyone and keep it healthy.
So, try these little tricks:
- Don’t forget the power of fresh fruit! It’s always popular.
- Take on the european tradition of serving a digestif. They can help settle your stomach and help you digest your food (hence, the name).
- Make mini bite sized versions of your pies. Put that mini muffin pan to good use! This will help you eat smaller portions and you can freeze any left overs.
So, this year, don’t be afraid to try healthy holiday food. After all that, don’t you think that’s a lot less complicated than what you might have thought?
Try these swaps to make your holiday meals healthy and satisfying! Come new year’s resolution time, you’ll be so glad that “losing the holiday weight” or needing “a detox” isn’t on the list!