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Last Updated on August 8, 2021
The words “healthy” and “holiday” just aren’t words we want to hear together. The holiday season brings comfort in the forms of gatherings, gifts, and food. The creamy, buttery, roasted, fried, and gravy-covered holiday favorites lift us up each holiday season, but those same dishes weigh us down once we return to the gym or step on the scale in January.
With an average weight gain of 12 pounds, keeping weight down around the holidays is something we all stress about. Thankfully, with just a few healthy switches, there are ways to keep both our spirits up and our diets on track without sacrificing taste or tradition.
Families that Eat Together Stay Together
From Friendsgivings to family Christmas dinners, a part of showing love to those we care about is by providing nutrition. The way to most people’s hearts is through their stomachs, which is why the smells, textures, sights, and tastes of specific foods have the power to trigger nostalgia and create deep bonds.
Wanting those bonds to last means a desire to work together to live a healthy lifestyle. Trying new things together is a fun way to make changes in different aspects of life, so why not do something new in the kitchen, too?
To incorporate some healthy choices during the holidays, try out a few of these ideas and challenges.
Pick a Specific Diet
Healthy living is trending, and the flood of hashtags for practically any diet imaginable has taken over the internet. This holiday season you and your loved ones should try making a meal or even just one dish that is diet specific.
For some ideas, here is a list of diets and a summary of what they target:
- Paleo – The big point here is natural eating. Try designing a meal that has zero processed fats. Make everything from scratch and taste the difference.
- Keto – Designed to be a low-carb and high-fat diet, Keto is perfect for holiday dishes. Even when you’re watching your weight, there are good fats. Replacing a few dishes with keto recipes is a tasty way to cut out carbs and learn new ways to enjoy healthy fats that are good for our bodies.
- Vegan – A vegan diet means nothing made from animals or their labors. A large turkey or ham is a holiday staple, but there are great vegan options that can replace both the meat and dairy on any holiday menu. If you’ve never made a vegan meal before, this could be the perfect opportunity to get your loved ones to eat more veggies.
- Intermittent fasting – There are multiple ways to try this one, which limits the hours of the day of which you eat. For the holidays, the 16/8 method is likely best. Pick an eight-hour span where you’re likely to eat, then fast the remaining 16 hours. This is great to keep you from holiday midnight snacking.
These are just a few of the vast diet options out there, but whatever you try, the key is time and consistency in order to obtain long-lasting results. Whatever diet you choose, make sure that you are still enjoying your holiday and the foods you eat while maintaining your routine.
Introduce a New Food
Kitchen experimenting is the best form of science. In the kitchen, there are endless possibilities of what you can do to take something and transform it into a beautiful dish.
Do you have that one thing you always make and despite its reliability, it’s becoming too expected? For me, that dish is asparagus. It’s always a crowd pleaser, but I wanted to serve something different this holiday season.
After searching the internet I realized that I’ve never eaten butternut squash. It’s a native vegetable to the United States, and I had never eaten it. I found a recipe with ingredients I already had, and BAM — I had a new delicious healthy dish that took minimum effort, and each holiday party I took it to, people enjoyed it.
Sometimes you just have to branch out. A list of underrated, healthy, and whole-produce ingredients you should try out this holiday season are:
- Butternut squash
- Taro root
- Bamboo shoots
- Lotus root
Even just one dish that’s new can be an exciting addition to any event. Even if it doesn’t turn out right, new ingredients give everyone something to talk about — or maybe even laugh about.
Substitutes as Good as Originals
With tradition commonly comes a boatload of calories. Sometimes it’s not what you make, but how you make it. To enjoy all your holiday favorites, try swapping out a few ingredients and recipes for healthier options.
The Holiday Basics
Qualities of healthy ingredients quickly get reduced from good for you to only good tasting around the holidays. The health benefits of garlic, spinach, yams, meats, and even salads tend to get diminished in most holiday recipes.
Here is a list of ingredient and recipe swaps you can make to help lighten the load that holiday meals take on your gut and heart:
- Butter – Instead, try cooking with grapeseed oil, avocado oil, vegan butter, or even Greek yogurt. These options help you cut calories and have less trans fats.
- Sugar – What’s a holiday without sweets and caramelized veggies? To get your sweet fix this year, try using sweet alternatives like agave nectar, honey, coconut sugar, fruit-made jams, date paste, and balsamic glazes.
- Flour- For cooking with more substance, replace bleached flour with almond, chickpea, rice, buckwheat, or whole wheat flour. You can even try recipes with flourless options.
- Homemade sauces and dressings – We all love our brands, but with just a few simple ingredients, most dressings we have come to love aren’t too difficult to recreate at home.
- Cheese and dairy – Putting the ‘om’ in comfort is cheese, but too much dairy can hurt our digestive health and even break out our skin. Try using cheese alternatives such as vegan brands, nut-based cheeses and milks, tahini, and silken tofu.
As far the side dishes we all love but tend to overindulge, try these dishes instead:
- Cauliflower mash instead of potatoes
- Vegan mac and cheese instead of the traditional
- Stuffed veggies in place of bread
- Pomegranate bruschetta instead of just tomatoes
- Split pea and eggplant dips instead of spinach, hummus, or cheese dips
- Ginger miso green beans instead of green bean casserole
- Homemade almond or soy milk eggnog versus store bought
- Sweet potatoes instead of yams
- Baked latkes instead of fried
- Baked apples instead of apple pie
Stepping aside from what we know can be intimidating, but many dishes and ingredients we enjoy are just as enjoyable without the added sugars, carbs, and harmful fats. Not every dish on the table has to meet a nutritionist’s checklist criteria, but even replacing two items with healthier options will go a long way.
Keeping the White Elephant Under the Tree
Diets are not meant to give you rushed results, and you should never shame yourself for having foods that you enjoy. You will always deserve food, and healthy eating or fasting are not forms of punishment.
Healthy living is a constant balance. Your diet and traditions should reflect your dietary needs and health goals. The holiday season is a time for enjoyment, but it is also a great time of year to release energy from things no longer serving you while you allow the things you want to manifest.
Try out a few of these swaps and substitutions so that your holiday season brings you into the next feeling uplifted and satisfied. Don’t end any holiday feeling weight down, regretful, or depressed. Use these tools for special occasions and even everyday life to keep the happy in each holiday.
Danielle Beck-Hunter writes and researches for life insurance site, QuickQuote.com. Danielle has loved cooking since she was a child and is always finding ways to improve her life through the kitchen. She studies foods’ effects on chronic and mental illness and believes that food is a main source of medicine.