Memories are one of the things that make the holidays a special time for us. What are your holiday memories? For me they include nostalgic thoughts of home; magic moments when parents, aunts and uncles tell stories; the delectable aromas from the kitchen filling the house. I remember Mom graciously accepting another dinner guest with the expression, “Please join us. We’ll make room.” After all, the holidays are about the people in our lives. And our holiday foods serve to remind us of these special people and the short time we share with them on this earth.
Don’t allow the holidays to be an excuse for overindulgence. But likewise let it be a time for enjoying small treats that we normally do not eat. Uncle John’s prune cake is etched into my holiday memories. I still don’t care for prune cake. But it’s an example of how foods bring back memories that are dear to us.
It is not necessary to give up our precious memories in our holiday menu to preserve our health. We all create our own barriers to living a healthy lifestyle. “I don’t have time to exercise.” “I deserve this double whammy cheese burger.” “Healthy foods are too expensive.” Let’s choose our indulgences during the holidays and make health minded choices where appropriate. This requires a little planning.
A roasted turkey is a delicious choice and the aroma in the house is one of my favorite memories. Fruit, another low fat choice always goes well with turkey as a side or to add moisture and flavor during roasting. Let’s review that dressing recipe. How can we reduce the fat and sodium and still maintain flavor? Use enough butter to sauté your onions and celery but resist the temptation to add extra “because it’s the holidays.” Moisten your dressing with skim instead of whole milk. Use low sodium vegetable broth. Once you have mixed the dressing and before adding the eggs, taste it. Here is where you are in control of the amount of salt you add. Remember that cornbread leavened with baking powder contributes a lot of sodium on its own.
Our traditional menu has plenty of starches. Let’s balance those with broccoli, asparagus, collard greens or a tossed salad. Try replacing mashed potatoes with purple top turnips or roasted sweet potatoes. These seasonal starches add color, texture, and a bounty of health preserving nutrients. You are going to want to serve gravy with that dressing, so resist flavoring vegetables with cheese sauce or sweetening them with sugar or marshmallows. Let the savory flavors of the vegetables themselves contribute to the overall meal.
Save the sweet for the dessert course. Our holiday feast would not be the same without Uncle Ronald’s chocolate cream pie or Maw Maw’s celebrated coconut pie. These recipes are part of our tradition so don’t exclude them for health’s sake. Rather, enjoy them and remember that serving size matters.
Navigating the “eating season” while maintaining our healthy habits can be daunting. We will probably eat more calories than we burn this holiday. But let’s avoid that uncomfortable full feeling and plan some extra family activities. A group walk after the big meal can stimulate story telling. Get Grandfather to tell his story. Focus on the ones you love this year. They give us so much more than does the menu. Happy holidays and healthful living from our family to yours!
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist with St. Luke’s Health. In cooperation with Sodexo Food Service, The HC Polk Education Center and the City of Lufkin, Tim Scallon teams up with the celebrated Chef Manuel Marini and produces the nationally viewed TV series Memorial Cooking Innovations. The popular cooking show celebrates the joy of fresh food and healthy eating and can be seen on cable in 46 cities and online at http://www.memorialhealth.org. On the website find healthy recipes, past cooking shows and sound nutrition information.