Lighten Up Over the Holidays: Healthier Holiday Eating

Gisselle Marie Rosa, UGA M.S. student

With the holiday season here, many Americans are faced with a very difficult decision: should I dive into that second serving of glazed ham and mashed potatoes delicately covered with a blanket of gravy or put the rest away for later? At this time of year, family and friends often gather together around the dinner table, sharing comfort food and stories while celebrating the holidays. But, let’s face the facts, many holiday foods aren’t the healthiest options. According to a recently published study, most Americans gain 0.5 kilograms, or about 1 pound, of weight during the holiday season.Overweight and obese individuals gain more than than those who are healthy weight.

But, if it’s only 1 measly pound over the holidays, then what’s the big deal?

While it seems that gaining 1 pound isn’t a big deal, the same study showed that most individuals don’t shed that pound over the next year. So over time those measly pounds tend to add up, increasing the individual’s risk for becoming overweight or obese.

Does this mean that you can’t eat your favorite holiday dishes?

Absolutely not! This is a special time and it is OK to enjoy the foods you love. However, there are some ways that you can modify your favorite dishes to make them more nutritious but still keep the familiar flavor that you love. Here are some tips to lighten up your holiday favorites:

  1. Appetizers/Dipping Sauces
    1. Chips, creamy dips, fried cheese sticks, potato skins, buffalo chicken poppers, you name it. These tasty snacks are one of the biggest calorie-packing culprits during the holidays. If appetizers are on the menu, opt for fresh vegetables dipped in a light ranch sauce or whole wheat pita chips dipped in a low-fat yogurt dip. Plenty of flavor, fewer calories.
  2. Mashed Potatoes
    1. This creamy dish is the quintessential holiday companion to any entrée, but many people make mashed potatoes with cheese, heavy cream, and plenty of butter. Try substituting the heavy cream for skim milk and chicken broth or roasted garlic for extra flavor while keeping the creamy texture of the potatoes.
  3. Latkes
    1. Potato Latkes are an essential part of every Hanukkah celebration, but these fried pillows of potatoes can really add a lot of fat to the holiday meal. Try mixing white and sweet potatoes to add extra vitamins and minerals to your dish. Also, make sure to use healthy oils such as olive oil to sauté the latkes instead of butter!
  4. Vegetable Casseroles
    1. While delicious, these creamy concoctions are typically filled with extra cheese, creamy condensed soups, and overcooked vegetables. Upgrade your favorite vegetable casseroles by substituting canned vegetables with frozen vegetables to decrease the sodium. Additionally, substituting some of the fried onions with slivered almonds keeps the familiar crunch while switching to low-fat cheese cuts out some of the fat and calories (or use less of a more flavorful cheese).
  5. Baked Goods
    1. Dessert during the holidays is definitely a must! A great way to cut the fat and the calories from your favorite baked goods is by substituting the oil with applesauce. Applesauce adds lots of moisture and becomes almost flavorless, making it a versatile ingredient.

Making healthy choices during the holidays may seem like a sacrifice, but it does not have to be! Done right, you can enjoy your favorite holiday comfort foods without packing on the calories or the pounds.

References

Schoeller DA. The effect of holiday weight gain on body weight. Physiology and Behavior 2014;134:66-69.

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