Under it all, your large holiday meal is made up of real food.
There is no sin to turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, and whole wheat rolls. These are whole foods each with its own nutrient profile that can provide you with a variety of necessary vitamins and minerals. Even pumpkin pie may be argued to provide some level of nutrition.
So what is the catch? Why do Americans gain an average of one pound over the holiday season? (And yes, this has been studied!) Here are two solid reasons why:
1. Cooking method
The tradition is not just sweet potatoes; it is sweet potatoes cooked in Sprite with brown sugar and marshmallows. We do not just stir fry green beans; we turn them into a casserole that is more canned soup than bean. We smother everything on our plates with an inch of gravy. And if one pie is good, then two or three must be better!
The challenge is two fold, therefore.
First, prepare your holiday meals and holiday party food with less added oils, creams and sugars and more spices and herbs. This way, you can prepare fun, delicious party fair without overdoing the calories.
Refer back to Cooking Tips; ATTN Holiday Meal for tips on how to do this.
Then, eat just enough. Try a little of everything you want to try, but keep it reasonable. There can always be leftovers and there can always be another party. There is no reason to have to get it all in now.
So remember: When cooked to its healthiest potential and eaten in regular portions, your holiday meal is simply another family dinner, eaten in celebration!
Here are some fun facts on the nutrients provided in a few of the traditional whole foods we cook with for holiday meals.
Turkey: The American holiday protein of choice, taking the place of wild guinea hen and venison traditionally harvested in the fall. Turkey is a game bird native to the Americas. Turkey, as well as other animal protein sources, provides a significant amount of all B vitamins as well as a power punch of protein. A single serving is 3 oz (size of the palm of your hand), and carries with it 24 grams of protein. Leave yourself enough leftovers for sandwiches, soups, tacos, and other fun leftover creations.
Sweet Potatoes: Native to North America. They are high in vitamins C and A, as well as minerals potassium and calcium. They have the ability to convert their own starches into sugars as they ripen, hence the sweet taste, leaving no need for adding marshmallows!
Cranberries: One of only three fruits native to North America (the other two are cherries and blueberries). They are harvested in the fall, which lends to their traditional presence through the holiday season. Cranberries are high in vitamins C, A and K, as well as fiber. They are also packed full of antioxidants, ranking near the top of all fruits and vegetables.
*Note: Cranberry sauce tends to be high in sugar as cranberries are a bit sour. Suggest making your own (recipe below) and cutting down on the sugar used and replace it with other flavors, such as orange zest, vanilla bean, nutmeg, all spice, pecans, or other berries.
Brussels Sprouts: The signature green vegetable of the holidays! Like the other traditional holiday foods listed above, these vegetables are in season in the fall and winter months. They are in the cabbage family, as they look like tiny cabbage heads. Chalk full of disease fighting plant chemicals, or phytonutrients, and fiber, these little morsels make the perfect side dish, or even main course. Don’t know how to cook them? Google will be able to find you a number of recipes.
And now, some recipes…
Apple Walnut Sweet Potatoes
In a medium skillet heat 1 tablespoon butter. Stir in 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced, and 1 medium onion, thinly sliced. Cook for 7 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add one large sliced apple, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, and a dash of salt and pepper. Cook for 5 more minutes while stirring. Add ½ cup apple cider and bring to boil on medium heat then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat, lightly mash, then stir in walnuts before serving.
Bring to boil in medium saucepan ¾ cup sugar and 1 cup water. Once sugar is dissolved, add 4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries (12 oz). Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. You will know the sauce is done when the cranberries start to burst. For more flavor, optional additives are a dash of nutmeg, ground pepper, allspice, ginger, orange zest, or a teaspoon of vanilla. Let cool and serve warm or cover and refrigerate to serve cool. Note that the sauce will thicken as it cools.
Yanovski JA1, Yanovski SZ, Sovik KN, Nguyen TT, O’Neil PM, Sebring NG. A prospective study of holiday weight gain. 2000 Mar 23;342(12):861-7. Accessed online at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10727591
USDA: Chicken and Turkey http://www.fsis.usda.gov/shared/PDF/Chicken_Turkey_Nutrition_Facts.pdf
WebMD: Foods and Recipes http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/guide/health-cooking-healthy-kitchen
Cooking Light: What’s in Season? http://www.cookinglight.com/food/in-season/in-season-brussels-sprouts