How to Make Your Holidays Healthier

Everyone always asks for ideas and/or recipes to help them get through the holidays with more healthy fare.  I hesitate to send out a long list of healthy recipes for several reasons.  One, because there are so many wonderfully healthy recipes that it is very difficult to discern what people would call holiday fare – and I hate to limit myself.  And two, because everyone’s idea of holiday meals are so different it’s very difficult to make suggestions which fit everyone’s family table.  Is holiday eating turkey and all the fixings, ham with gooey side dishes, homemade lasagna and bruschetta or perogis and sausages?  Every family has it’s own cultural background and traditions and trying to change them completely during the holiday season just doesn’t seem – well, “holidayish”.  Eating healthy in my house during the holidays has several different aspects.

  1. For our family, it’s not about changing our traditional extended family favorites – it’s about finding ways to prepare the recipes that have been handed down for generations in a more healthy way.  I have found that many recipes can be quite easily changed to remove the added fat and animal products and incorporate more fruits and vegetables.  Click here for a large substitution chart which will help any cook in making the changes they desire to their old-time favorite dish.  The only word of caution is that you may want to take the new and revised recipe out for a spin before the big day.  There’s nothing worse than having a dish fall flat on its face at the holiday table.
  2. Our family has also learned that it is the traditional side dishes that we find enjoyable at the holidays.  The time-honored traditional turkey isn’t what we love the most – it’s the sweet potato casserole, bread and celery stuffing, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie that we love the most.  The first year we eliminated animal products from our diet, I went ahead and prepared a turkey on Thanksgiving.  Everyone nibbled politely, but we were left with a large amount of leftover turkey and almost no side dishes.  The second year, I prepared the smallest turkey I could find, and again, lots of turkey left and no side dishes.  The following year, we eliminated the turkey all together and made more side dishes.  Everyone was happy and we had plenty of healthy leftovers for the next several days.
  3. Some dishes aren’t worth the trouble to try and make them healthier.  Every once in a while I run across some traditional, ethnic dish that is almost impossible to change.   These recipes normally contain so many high fat and animal ingredients that by the time all of the substitutions are made the new dish doesn’t even resemble the former.  If you have a favorite recipe in this category, you probably know it.  The best solutions for this type of dilemma is to make a much smaller amount of it or to eat a small quantity and then freeze the remainder in little, tiny quantities to have as a treat throughout the year.
  4. Remember your margin.  If you aren’t eating at home and/or don’t have access to healthier recipes, what do you do?  Remember that healthy eating and healthy living is about more than just eating and exercise habits on any particular day.  If you know that a day and Aunt Mary’s house will be full of old fashioned, diet busting, gut wrenching food – plan ahead.  Be hyper vigilant about your diet and exercise activities for days or weeks both in advance and after the fact.  Also, try to incorporate some extra physical activities on that day.  Plan family strolls through the neighborhood to look at everyone’s holiday decorations, make a new holiday tradition of family activities and competitions, or break out the host family’s Wii and challenge other family members to boxing, balancing and bowling – virtual of course.
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