24 Valuable Tips & Techniques for Healthy Family Holiday Meals

I’m a dietitian and always mindful of making every meal healthy for those who share my table. During the holidays we share our time and our traditions with loved ones including unhealthy eating habits.

Unfortunately, sometimes holiday traditions and family recipes cause many of us to forget our yearlong healthy ways. We might get caught up in all the holiday food we encounter or simply take a “holiday pass” from good eating habits.

Many people tend to put on a few unwanted pounds – research says one to two pounds is normal gain but others report up to 8 pounds gained during the holiday! The bad news is that we don’t often lose it during the year.

For healthy adults, overindulging isn’t as crucial to health during the holidays as it can be for our senior loved ones. Eating too much food, too much salt, too many sweets and too much fat can have a severely negative impact on their healthy aging.

Some seniors who haven’t been eating very well in the months before the holidays could benefit from a healthy weight gain and few nutritious meals. However, many seniors with chronic medical diseases especially heart disease and diabetes may need help from caregivers to bring a healthy meal to the gathering that is still nutritious and in keeping with family traditions.

Healthy Modifications for Family Recipes & Menus

Yes, some of those traditional family recipes can be tweaked to be healthier for the family.

  1. Look closely at your family recipes. Some recipes that have been handed down lovingly through generations call for ingredients that we now know are not the best choices. There are other items that will work in the recipe as a substitution to items that are not very healthy. Each ingredient should be checked for a replacement and substituted whenever possible to reduce unhealthy fat and calories.
    1. Low fat dairy instead of whole fat ingredients
    2. Unsaturated fat instead of saturated items
    3. Limit amount of fat drippings used in gravy
    4. Use unsalted chicken broth instead of regular broth and butter in stuffing
    5. Switch to lower calorie versions of your holiday desserts, such as apple crisp instead of apple pie
    6. Try unsalted canned green beans in the casserole
    7. Consider recipe modifications with other ingredients
  2. Experiment with different versions of your traditional meal item to see which one tastes most like what your family and senior loved one will be expecting. It’s likely your goal to please everyone at your table! You can substitute ingredients and still keep the flavor!
  3. Serve appropriate portion sizes, especially when you are preparing a calorie laden favorite! If you cut back on the amount your senior eats, it will have less of a damaging effect on their waistline and blood pressure.
  4. Limit alcohol with the meal to reduce calories.
  5. Serve other items with the old traditional favorites that will help reduce the amount of foods the family eats that might not be as healthy as they could be. An example is to serve salad as a first course to help fill everyone up. Add a veggie tray with a variety of fresh cut vegetables and low fat dipping sauce to add fiber and crunch with few calories that will also fill your families’ bellies.
  6. Don’t forget cooking technique also can impact the nutritional content of your meals. Bake, broil, poach or roast your favorite family foods instead of deep fat frying, coating and fat laden gravies.

 Healthy Recipe Substitutions Throughout the Year

  1. Substitute applesauce or fruit puree (like prunes or apricots you can purchase in baby food aisle) in amounts equivalent in your recipes for baked items that call for oil. It will add natural flavor and sweetening as it reduces fat and calories.
  2. Use sugar substitute in place of white or brown sugar in recipes.
  3. Use half whole wheat flour and half white flour.
  4. Use low fat milk or yogurt/Greek yogurt in recipes in place of cream or sour cream.
  5. When a recipe calls for chocolate chips, add dried fruit like raisins or cranberries instead.
  6. Use vegetable oil instead of butter; limit solid shortening.
  7. Use herbs and spices instead of salt, infuse the flavor!
  8. Bring your own ‘safe’ dish when you go to pot-luck dinners so you can be sure there will be one dish you can eat safely while you are at the party!
  9. Use butter sprinkles instead of real butter to top off favorite dish.
  10. Try egg substitute instead of whole eggs.

Wellness Reminders for the Holiday Season

  1. Don’t take seconds! Encourage your senior to take a small serving of each of the favorite foods and enjoy but don’t go back for more. If it won’t fit on the plate, it won’t fit into your senior’s healthy meal plan.
  2. If your senior is struggling to manage his weight, use a dessert plate instead of a meal plate to help him control portion sizes.
  3. Drink water before and with the meal to help curb appetite and also avoid high calorie refreshers.
  4. Remind your senior to put her utensil down during the meal and take a deep breath. Give her body a chance to realize when it becomes full.
  5. Don’t skip a meal. If your senior goes for long periods without a meal, they may be more likely to overeat out of hunger than what is healthy.
  6. Stay physically active to help burn off any excessive calories.
  7. Get plenty of sunshine! Holidays can be a hard time emotionally for many people and getting a little sun on your senior’s face could help keep a smile from fading!
  8. Enjoy the company and conversation of others to stay engaged!

Incorporating these tips into your family holiday gatherings will help keep everyone well all year long!

We hope you will share with us strategies you have used to keep your family healthy in the New Year!

2 thoughts on “24 Valuable Tips & Techniques for Healthy Family Holiday Meals”

  1. Thanks so much for this blog. I work at an assisted living facility in the Bay Area in Northern California and I am definitely going to pass this blog along to our employees. Especially with the holiday season coming up, this blog post is essential reading. Thanks!

Comments are closed.