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Healthy Holidays

The holiday season is a time to celebrate with food, family and friends. Your friends may not make you gain weight but the food might, as holiday meals often tend to be high in fat, salt and sugar.

By: Kelly Atyeo, B.A.Sc., M.H.Sc., P.H.Ec. 

The holiday season is a time to celebrate with food, family and friends.  Your friends may not make you gain weight but the food might, as holiday meals often tend to be high in fat, salt and sugar. 

According to the Calorie Control Council, a holiday meal can be upwards of 4,500 calories and 220 grams of fat!1 Considering a sedentary Canadian adult male requires between 2150-2500 kcal/day (depending on age) and females require 1650-1900 kcal/day – that can really add up!2

Perhaps it’s time to think about having a healthy holiday?  That doesn’t mean only serving your guests lettuce and plain chicken breasts.  Rather, it’s simply about being conscious of how your planning your holiday meals and cutting back on the fat and sugar where you can. 

Appetizers

The word “appetizer” translates to “a small portion of food or drink served at the beginning of a meal to stimulate the desire to eat”.3 Yet, sometimes after the appetizers you’re too full for the main meal...but don’t want to miss out on that food! 

So – when you’re making appetizers for the holidays, don’t make them too heavy.  Keep in mind – your main meal is likely going to be rich enough.

Try the following light appetizers to cut back on fat and calories:

  • Vegetable platter with low-fat sour cream dip
  • Bocconchini and grape tomato skewers with basil and a drizzle of olive oil
  • Stuffed mushroom caps with parsley and parmesan cheese (not too much cheese!)
  • Pita chips with hummus

Only make 2-3 appetizers for your holiday party and make the portions bite sized.  This will help limit the amount that people are eating before their main meal. 

Main Course

Of course, you can’t have a holiday without indulging in a delicious feast.  During this time of the meal, the motto doesn’t need to scream “healthy”…but you can still be aware of what you’re eating and where you may want to cut back on the fat content of traditional recipes in the future.

Try this unique roast chicken recipe for the holiday season.  Then, if you’d like to make it a bit healthier for another event, you can easily modify a few ingredients to reduce the fat/calories.

  • Don’t bother adding the butter as a baste; instead coat the chicken with herbs and garlic.
  • Cook chicken with the skin on and then remove the skin to eat.  This will keep the chicken moist but cut back on the saturated fat.
  • Instead of stuffing with bread, make a medley of roasted vegetables to serve on the side

Side Dish

Maybe it’s the butter or maybe it’s the salt…Whether it’s carrots, green beans, Brussels sprouts or sweet potatoes, side dishes just seem to taste better at the holidays.  Try to make them with a nutrition savvy mind for future holiday inspired meals by:

  • Focusing on herbs and low sodium spice blends to add flavour
  • Adding crunch with slivered almonds or pecans versus bacon
  • Baking, boiling or grilling your vegetables vs. frying

Desserts

The grand finale – the dessert!  This is the course of a holiday meal that really puts your guests into the food coma!

Similar to the appetizers, try to only have a couple desserts available, as it will make people less likely to just “eat for sport”. 

Make sure that fruit is always offered for those who want something sweet, but also light and refreshing.

Here are some options for desserts to finish your holiday meal:

  • Dark chocolate cake, brownie or cookies: interestingly, research shows dark chocolate may help promote fullness quicker than milk chocolate!4
  • Fresh fruit with frozen yogurt, sorbet or gelato: the freshness of the fruit and cool treat will be a nice final palate cleanser
  • Angel food cake with berries: this is a very low calorie cake because it’s made with egg whites and no butter…yet its still satisfying.  Add a dollop of low-fat whip cream and some shredded chocolate and you’ve got a winning dessert!

Whether you’re eating a holiday recipe during the year, at Christmas or New Years – remember these simple tips that you can use to make your holiday meal that much healthier!

References:

  1. Calorie Control Council: Healthy Eating & Exercise For Life. (2015). Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain in 2012. Retrieved August 11, 2015, from http://www.caloriecontrol.org/articles-and-video/feature-articles/avoiding-holiday-weight-gain-in-2012
  2. Health Canada. (2014). Estimated Energy Requirements. Retrieved August 11, 2015, from http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/basics-base/1_1_1-eng.php
  3. Dictionary.com. (2015). Appetizer. Retrieved August 11, 2015, from  http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/appetizer
  4. Sorensen, L.B. & Astrup, A. (2011). Eating dark and milk chocolate: a randomized crossover study of effects on appetite and energy intake. Retrieved August 11, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3302125/

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