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Healthy Eating During the Holidays

Healthy Eating During the Holidays
Posted on December 8, 2016 by CHS

We all look forward to the holidays. It is a time to visit with family and enjoy delicious food. When you think about the food that is traditionally served – turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, corn, stuffing, rolls, salads, fruit, pumpkin pie, and cookies – it’s easy to see why holiday meals are often referred to as feasts. The question is, can you enjoy the feast and be healthy at the same time? The answer is yes!

The first step to healthy holiday eating is to plan ahead. Whether you are cooking the meal or family members are all bringing dishes to share, know what the menu is going to be in advance. Then consider if there are small changes that can be made to make dishes healthier. For example, try steaming vegetables instead of sautéing them in butter, reduce the amount of sugar in fruit desserts as the fruit itself contains sugar, or choose light/non-fat versions of spreads and salad dressings. Making just a few small changes can reduce calorie, sugar, and fat intake for everyone.

Another thing to consider in planning ahead is what time of day the meal will be served. Holiday meals are often served in the middle of the afternoon, which is probably not your regular time to eat. This can be especially difficult for young children who are accustomed to eating at regular intervals. Consider planning to serve two or three light appetizers at your normal meal time, and let guests know they are welcome to arrive early. Having a light snack to nibble on will help keep you and your child, from over-eating when the main meal is served.

The second step to staying healthy is to be mindful of what you choose to eat. Serve yourself one helping of each dish you want to try and drink plenty of water. Take your time eating and really savor your food. Before you put a second helping on your plate, think about how you feel. Are you really hungry for more, or do you feel satisfied? If you are not really hungry, then serve up a plate of food for the next day and put it in the refrigerator. If other people are still eating, you can continue socializing while you finish your beverage. After the meal, suggest everyone play a game or do something active before serving dessert.

Journaling about what you eat can also help you be more mindful about your choices. You can write down your meals in a notebook, or choose an app for your phone that allows you to electronically journal about your meals and automatically records calorie and nutrition information. Your goal during the holidays should be to maintain your weight rather than lose weight. For a list of weight management apps you can download on your phone or tablet, click here.

The third step to healthy eating is making time for some exercise. Take time for a brisk twenty minute walk in the morning, or schedule in an activity the whole family can do after the meal. Physical activities are not only healthy; they are also a fun way to spend time together. Some ideas to try are:

  • Dancing to music: This can be done inside or outside. Invite family members to teach kids the different dance styles they know. This is a great way for kids to connect with parents and grandparents.
    • You can also play freeze dance. Dance to music until it stops, then freeze. Take turns being the music controller who stops and starts the music.
  • Lawn Bowling: This is an outdoor activity. Set up some empty plastic containers or buckets at one end of the lawn, grab a ball, and invite everyone to try to knock over the containers.
  • Freeze Tag: This is best done outdoors. Invite everyone to play a quick game of freeze tag outside. To learn how to play freeze tag, click here

    • If you choose to play tag after dark in the safety of your backyard, you can switch to flashlight tag. For directions on how to play flashlight tag, click here.
  • Toss the Ball: This is best done outdoors; however, it can be done indoors if you use rolled up socks or sponges instead of balls. Gather laundry baskets and large boxes or tubs. Place them in the same area, but use chairs or tables to make some higher than others. Use a paper and pen to assign each basket a point value. Use whatever balls you have and allow everyone three tries at making a basket. The person who wins the most points gets to choose the next activity.

Food Safety Tips for the Holidays

Food safety is always important, but during the holidays schedules are hectic and sometimes we forget about how important it is that the food we serve be safe as well as healthy. Here are a few safety reminders for cooking the perfect holiday feast:

  • Wash Hands: Wash your hands for twenty seconds with warm, soapy water before and after preparing food. You should also wash your hands between preparing the turkey and preparing the vegetables and fruit to prevent cross-contamination of bacteria.
  • Clean Surfaces: Make sure the counters where you prepare food are cleaned before and after preparing food.
  • Keep Food Separate: Keep meat, eggs, and produce separate from each other. For example, meat and produce should not be cut on the same cutting board. This keeps bacteria from spreading to other foods.
  • Rinse Produce: Thoroughly rinse your vegetables and fruit before cooking in order to remove any bacteria. Use produce that is in good condition.
  • Thawing/Defrosting a Turkey: If you have chosen to use a frozen turkey rather than a fresh one, make sure you thaw it properly before cooking. You can defrost it in the refrigerator. It will take twenty-four hours per five pounds. This means a fifteen pound turkey will need seventy-two hours in the refrigerator to defrost.
  • Cooking Temperature: Use a cooking thermometer to determine that food has been cooked long enough to kill bacteria. Turkey, side dishes, and leftovers should be cooked to 165° and kept at 140° while it is being served. The rule of thumb is: Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. To read or print a chart of cooking temperatures for various meats, click here.
  • Leftovers: All food, including the turkey, should be refrigerated after it has sat out for two hours. Leftover hot food should be re-heated to 165° before serving again. To read or print a chart that shows how long leftovers will last in the refrigerator or freezer, click here.
  • Cider and Egg-Nog: Be mindful that many people are sensitive to unpasteurized foods. To be on the safe side, use pasteurized apple cider and make your Egg-Nog with pasteurized eggs.

Following these tips will help your family stay safe and healthy during the holiday season.

Additional Resources:

Holiday Healthy Eating Guide from the American Heart Association:

Holiday Meal Planning Tips from the American Diabetes Association: 

Using a “Hunger Scale” to Prevent Overeating from My Fitness Pal: 

“Food for Health” healthy recipes from Kaiser Permanente: 

“Recipes and Cooking” by KidsHealth (Includes recipes for specialized diets): 

Healthy Eating Tips for Dining Out from the American Heart Association:

To find restaurants that serve healthy food options, click here.

Holiday Food Safety Video in English and Spanish: 

Ten Holiday Food Safety Tips from WebMD: 

For a list of apps that teach children about healthy eating, click here.

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