Healthy Eating Tips for the Holidays: 4 Creative Ways to Boost Nutrition

By: Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Eating healthy during the holidays doesn’t have to be a burden. You can set nutrition goals as a personal challenge or make it fun for your friends and family. It just requires practice, diligence, and a little creativity. Creativity is especially important if you have kids around: teaching them to make healthy choices from a young age can set the stage for them to have healthy, active lifestyles as they get older.

Don’t wait for the New Year: the small changes you make today can turn into lifelong healthy habits. Here are my top nutrition tips to try this holiday season:

1. Get Creative with Holiday Leftovers.
Big holiday parties are often extravagant, which not only leads to overeating but also contributes to food waste. Why not use leftovers to make something healthy?

Turkey, for example, lends itself to several uses:
Shred it into meal-sized portions and freeze. It’s great to have it handy to add to salads and soups.

Try this turkey lettuce cups recipe. Heat up some minced leftover turkey with some diced scallions and a little Chinese hoisin sauce, then spoon into iceberg lettuce leaves. It’s a light and refreshing change from the usual turkey sandwiches.

Hands down, my favourite thing to make after the holiday is turkey soup. Once the turkey bones have been stripped of all their meat, I simmer them with onion, celery, carrots, salt, and pepper for a few hours to produce a delicious stock.

Don’t throw away cranberry sauce either:
Cranberry sauce can be amazing on top of plain yogurt or oatmeal or spooned over mixed fresh fruit for a quick dessert.You can blend it with nonfat cream cheese for a tasty spread for your whole-grain toast.I also like to spike my cranberry sauce with some ginger, garlic, and soy sauce and serve on grilled fish or tofu. It tastes like a sophisticated barbecue sauce.
If your original sweet potato dish wasn’t too sweet, you can dice up the leftovers with the leftover turkey, then sauté with some onions and other veggies for a one-dish hash. Serve with a green salad, and you’re all set.

Stuffing and green bean casserole are some of the highest calorie leftovers, so you’ll want to use them sparingly and stretch them out with some healthier ingredients:
Add some canned tomatoes and chopped turkey to your leftover stuffing to make a filling for stuffed peppers.For the leftover green bean casserole, try heating it up with some white wine or broth, then add some garlic and hot pepper flakes and toss with some whole grain pasta.

2. Make a Game Out of Your Daily Fruits and Veggies.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate recommends that half of a healthy plate of food should be made up of fruits and vegetables, or about 5-8 servings every day.

There are many fun ways to incorporate more of those colorful fruits and veggies into your diet:

Do the “eat the rainbow” game: challenge kids to make their meals as colorful as they can. They can use strawberries for red, bananas for yellow, and spinach for green. This will get children excited about eating fresh fruits and vegetables, while also ensuring they get a variety of nutrients.Make a bingo board of fruits and veggies and cross one off each time someone tries a new one and see who can fill up their board first. Prepare healthy rewards for the winners to maintain their interest in eating their fruits and vegetables, such as letting them pick the dinner menu for a few days.Use cookie cutters to make fun shapes with fruits and vegetables.

3. Make SMART Changes to Your Grocery List.
Make Small, Measurable, Attainable, and Realistic Goals over a period of time. For example, switching from whole milk to low-fat or skim milk is one simple choice that can save hundreds of calories over time.

Not only will it be harder to eat healthier if you try to overhaul your diet all at once, but your family will certainly take notice when all their favorite foods or snack items are suddenly missing from the fridge and pantry. Slowly introduce changes, such as opting for sparkling water with slices of lemon instead of soda and fruit drinks.

Doing a grocery run with children can also be fun and filled with opportunities to teach them about nutrition and healthy cooking. Try interesting recipes this season. You can make homemade nut blends, trail-mix, or air-popped popcorn jazzed up with Parmesan to enjoy as healthier snacks.

4. Tweak Your Favourite Foods.
Try as we might to eat healthy during the holiday season, there always seems to be that one guilty pleasure food we can’t stop craving. Rather than feeling like we have to cut holiday favorites out of the dinner rotation entirely, we can make some simple tweaks to add more nutrition to those tasty treats.

Look over the list of ingredients and see if you can make some healthy swaps to reduce fat and calories or boost its nutritional value. Would plain yogurt work in your dish instead of sour cream? Would ground turkey work just as well as ground beef? Could you add more fiber by using brown rice instead of white?

Being able to control the ingredients used and the amount of each will make it much easier to enjoy nutritious dinners that the family will still love. For example, with pizza, try using a whole wheat crust, cutting back slightly on the amount of cheese, or replacing high-fat meat toppings with healthier fresh veggies such as spinach, onions, fresh tomatoes, and peppers.

Families that cook together bond over shared experiences, discover culinary interests and create new traditions. Make holiday mealtime a family affair: the planning, the prep, the clean-up, and the time together sharing the table. The pay-off is priceless, and it creates a warm, supportive environment to help make the healthy choice the easy one for you and your family.