by Claire Lang
One thing I don’t necessarily believe in is following a strict diet during Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, that doesn’t mean that one needs to just gorge and completely disregard a healthy lifestyle altogether.
Let’s begin with the preparation of the meal. If you are the lucky person to have that task, I feel for you. Nothing is quite like trying to prepare a large meal that needs to taste good and look pretty for a large group of people. We won’t even touch on the special requests that seem to come to you faster than the offers of help.
If you are preparing the food and want to keep your food healthy. my first suggestion is to do so, but warn the family. The truth of the matter is that so much of what you change can be undone, by those wanting the “full flavor of the holidays,” at the table.
For appetizers you can have crudités instead of deviled eggs. You can offer a fruit and cheese platter instead of cheese puffs. Little bits of dark chocolate half dipped in almond butter and rolled in dry cranberries offers a nice sweet treat.
Turkey is pretty easy to keep healthier simply by trading the usual spread of butter and herbs for olive oil. Yes, this takes a little more time, but the flavor and lack of guilt are well worth it. I use whatever spices and herbs I would normally use, minus the salt, and mix them in a jar with olive oil.
The best thing is to do this a day early and let the olive oil become infused with flavor. I then loosen the skin from around the turkey and use a baster to squirt the flavored oil under the skin. Now, you’re going to think it doesn’t work, but it does. Roasting bags also help you during the cooking process.
Ham? I’m not touching ham. I’m not changing it. I’m sorry; this girl has to draw a line somewhere. My line rests firmly with ham.
Mashed potatoes are one of my guilty pleasures (most any kind of potato makes me happy) and I am really not happy unless they are dripping in butter. However, instead of using butter and cream (yes, CREAM) one can make some substitutions. You can use olive oil (about 1 tablespoon per 3lbs. of potatoes), buttermilk (½ cup) and pepper.
I’ll be honest though; I don’t personally like olive oil in my mashed potatoes. This is one of those areas I meet half-way. I put very little butter into the potatoes during the mashing, no salt, and 2% milk. How does this work? As we discuss the other dishes, you’ll find out. Remember, it’s your responsibility to let your guests know that you’re being healthy.
Stuffing is one of those dishes that I refuse to leave the butter out of. I simply refuse, although there are ways that you can make that calorie-laden goodie good for you. Use a low sodium chicken broth; stuff it full of flavorful, healthy ingredients like cranberries, walnuts, and green apples. Something I like to do with stuffing is toss in a couple of tablespoons of flaxseed meal. No one will notice and it adds some healthy omegas. Remember, food is fuel. Making a good stuffing can be about adding in some great things more than eliminating the not-so-great.
I do not do the green bean casserole. It scares me. This is an easy fix for me. Just make steamed green beans.
Yams are my favorite and can be made in so many different ways. My mother uses pineapple and pineapple juice in hers with a topping of marshmallows. She also uses a lot of butter (are you seeing a theme here?). The joy of yams is that they are packed with vitamins and can be cooked in so many different ways. I like them a bit on the sweet side and baking them with some olive oil and brown sugar (just a touch) tastes great. You can cut them into cubes to do this, or even make them more like a baked potato. Even my mother’s recipe isn’t so bad if you leave out the butter and sprinkle just a little brown sugar across the top. Some people like nuts as well.
Most of all don’t forget to have a salad. Make it rich with color and flavor. Dark greens, carrots, a sprinkle of feta, some purple cabbage, walnuts, cranberries, tomatoes, and a few green herbs. Offer a balsamic vinegar and olive oil in a pretty decanter. Have separate salad plates to invite people to make it more than just as an afterthought.
Desserts? We have to fix dessert? I stand as firm on dessert as I do ham. It is perfect in all its forms. I am a fan of cutting smaller slices and eating only what you like. I love chocolate cake, but what I really like most is the frosting. My solve: I just cut off the bottom half of the cake. Yes, I’m eating the unhealthiest portion of the cake, but I’m also not eating a lot of extra calories and sugar just for the reward of the frosting. Let’s get real, it’s cake. I do the same with pie; I take off a lot of the crust and just eat the parts I love.
Making your own whipped cream ( make sure you put the mixer heads and a metal bowl in the freezer for an hour before trying to whip the cream, and whip until you get peaks) is another great help. When you make your own, you can control how much sugar is used, if any at all. It’s easy and tastes so much better than anything from the store.
Now, for the magic of trying to make your holiday meals healthier and not alienating those who are more old school when it comes to their holiday feasts, simply have the salt, sugar, and butter available on the table. Now is the perfect time to find those pretty individual salt and pepper shakers that never made sense to me until recently. It’s also a great excuse to purchase those whimsical little sushi dishes (even if you don’t eat sushi) to use for mini butter dishes.
In having these items plentiful and individualized, you are giving your guests the ability to add flavorings without them worrying about hurting your feelings. Who of us hasn’t desperately wanted to reach for the salt shaker but were afraid of it becoming a silent, if unintended, commentary on the chef’s culinary skills?
Another great trick is to purchase inexpensive storage containers and send the leftover food home with family and guests. They’ll think you’re fabulous, and you will not find yourself eating that last piece (and who are we kidding, it’s really two) of pumpkin pie “before it goes bad”.
That covers the cook. What if you are simply a guest? Moderation, planning, and some self talk. Remind yourself that when you get to the party the first tray you will hit is the vegetable platter. Make half your little plate vegetables and use the rest for a couple of the mouth-watering goodies. Remember that food is fuel and you’re fueling your body. I suggest going ahead with a small appetizer to avoid being overly hungry
As much as I’ve mentioned that food is fuel, I will completely acknowledge that we celebrate, connect, and bond over food. I believe we can have our cake and eat it too, in this department. Truthfully, there is no reason to not enjoy the holiday meals.