For many people, holidays and family get-togethers are a time for celebration. These celebrations often involve foods that are high in fat, sugar and calories and short on nutrition. With a few minor changes, however, special occasion foods can be both delicious and nutritious. Also understanding and using the rules of food safety during holiday events will make for a happier healthier holiday season.
Safe food preparation
- Limit the time that refrigerated foods are out of the refrigerator to less than 2 hours.
- Wash your hands often!
- Practice safe handling of that holiday turkey and stuffing to prevent food-borne illness.
- Transfer hot leftovers to the refrigerator as soon as you can.
- Put hot food in small containers. For faster cooling, select containers that are no deeper than four inches, and place them side by side instead of stacking them.
- Fill containers to the top, and seal them tightly. Oxygen is what makes food turn sour and smelly, so the goal is to minimize how much air touches the food.
- Don't contaminate your food while it's on its way to the fridge.
Many holiday foods include dairy products. Enjoy these foods during your celebrations, but use skim milk and other 'low' or 'no' fat dairy products in your recipes whenever possible. Look for the growing assortment of low fat cheeses, cheese slices and cheese spreads that are now available in your grocery store. For example, use light or ultra-light cream cheese or cheddar cheese with only 7 % fat. If you use spreads or other products that are high in fat, such as butter, mayonnaise, sour cream, spread them very thinly or use only a small amount.
The Main Dish
Choose leaner cuts of meat for your holiday gatherings whenever possible. Turkey is one of the leanest types of meat. As a general rule, white meat is leaner than dark meat - so choose the breast meat of a chicken or turkey rather than the drumstick. For a healthy turkey recipe click here.
Here are some other tips on healthier meals:
- Trim the visible fat off of meats.
- Remove skin from poultry.
- Choose fish more often. Cold-water fatty fish such as tuna and salmon have 'heart healthy' types of fat in them.
- Prepare meats in ways that reduce the fat content, like broiling, stewing, or baking.
- Drain the excess fat off of meats after cooking.
- Cook meats on a rack so fat can drip away.
- Cool soups, gravies, stews, etc. before serving and then remove the hardened fat that has collected at the top.
- Use vegetable cooking sprays to prevent foods from sticking.
- When preparing a roast, baste with low fat broth instead of the drippings from the pan.
Fortunately, most vegetables contain little or no fat. It is what is added to the vegetables that increase their fat content. Avoid smothering your vegetables with thick creamy sauces or butter. Potatoes, for example, contain no fat. They also contain very little salt and are good sources of Vitamins B and C and potassium. Potato skins are a good source of fiber (fiber may help lower cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of colon cancer). Try leaving the skins on the potatoes when you mash them. When mashing potatoes, rather than adding butter or sour cream, try whipping the potatoes with skim or 1% milk or low / no fat sour cream or yogurt.
Feel free to include two or three vegetables with your meal as long as they have been prepared with little or no fat. This can often be done by steaming, baking or cooking them in the microwave. Flavor can be added by using seasonings such as spices and herbs. Dark green vegetables (such as broccoli) and bright orange vegetables (such as carrots and sweet potatoes) are high in the antioxidant vitamins, folic acid and fiber.
Antioxidants (as Vitamins A, C, and E) can be protective agents against heart disease and cancer. Folic acid may play a role in helping to reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke. When choosing vegetables, pick the ones that are the darkest in color to ensure maximum nutrition. Try this delicious recipe.
Salads are a great addition to any holiday meal. Be sure to choose a low fat dressing or ask your host to let you add your own so that you can control the amount.
Cooking Tip: To prevent loss of flavor and vitamins when cooking vegetables, try steaming vegetables in less water or using a steaming rack. If you do boil vegetables in water, save the water to make gravy.
If you have stuffing and the recipe calls for meat or giblets, replace half of the meat with dried fruits such as cranberries, raisins or apricots. This turns an everyday recipe into a colorful and seasonal dish.
Cooking Tip: Rather than cooking stuffing inside of poultry or a roast, cook the stuffing in a casserole dish or aluminum foil in the oven. This will reduce the amount of fat in the stuffing considerably.
Making gravy from a low fat broth rather than the drippings from poultry or a roast is a good way to reduce fat. If your gravy recipe calls for milk, try to use skim milk.
Cooking Tip: If you choose to use drippings for your gravy, pour or skim the fat off the top of the drippings before using. This can be done easily by letting the drippings get cold and, when the fat has become hard, take it off with a spoon. Or, when the drippings are cool, you can also add ice cubes, to which the fat will stick. Remove the ice cubes before making the gravy.
Cranberries are an excellent source of Vitamin C. Unfortunately much of the Vitamin C content is lost in the canning process. Luckily homemade cranberry sauce is easy to prepare and the nutrients are retained. Try using cranberry sauce on your turkey instead of gravy.
Cooking Tip: When making cranberry sauce, add sugar after cooking the cranberries to maintain the tenderness of the skin. You may also want to substitute some artificial sweetener for some of the sugar in your cranberry sauce recipe.
Dinner may be very filling, but what is a holiday feast without dessert? Here are some healthier suggestions:
- Mix applesauce with mincemeat to reduce the amount of fat and serve with frozen low fat or fat free yogurt.
- Angel food cake contains little or no fat and can make a great dessert when served with fruits such as strawberries, raspberries or a fresh fruit salad.
- If making pumpkin pie - use evaporated skim milk and top with low fat or fat free ice cream or frozen yogurt. Try our recipe for pumpkin pie.
- Try to make 'wise' dessert choices rather than deny yourself, have a smaller portion and savor every mouthful when you have choices, opt for desserts that are lower in fat and sugar.
Courtesy: PA Department of Health