The word “tradition” gets tacked onto holiday festivities year after year because – well – it’s tradition. We dump two sticks of butter and some marshmallows into a perfectly simple bowl of mashed sweet potatoes – or candied yams, another tradition alert – in order to make them taste just like mom’s sweet potatoes. We take our plates – which we shamelessly wiped clean of crumbs and brown gravy with our last bite of dinner roll – back for seconds because it’s tradition to stuff ourselves during big holiday feasts. And, then, we unbutton that top button on our pants that fit fine just minutes earlier to lounge around groaning and watching football (or holiday parades for those of you who don’t know the difference between a first and fourth down) until we doze off because that’s just the American way.
At the risk of raising eyebrows during this season of indulging, you are allowed to make a healthier version of the sweet potatoes. You can exercise restraint when faced with five dozen varieties of holiday cookies. You can remove mayonnaise-based “salads” from your holiday spread, and – stick with me on the last one – you CAN move around before and after holiday dinners instead of taking up residence on the couch or in front of the pumpkin pie.
I know what you’re thinking, “You’re crazy, Kristi. You obviously don’t know my family, Kristi.” And you’d be right. Wait – only on the second accusation. Anyway, I do know my family, and I feel like we’re a fairly traditional bunch. So much so that when my brother and parents came to visit me one holiday season while my husband was deployed, I tried to substitute ground turkey breast in my favorite chili recipe. I felt it was an easy trade and that my steak-loving family wouldn’t know the difference. My brother took one bite, asked what the heck I was trying to do to him and then asked to borrow my car so he could drive to the fried chicken place to pick up some dinner. I offered to make the same dish the following year, and my dad respectfully said that he and my mom would just eat at the airport before I picked them up.
Changing the way you eat is no picnic – especially when you try to justify it to the people who raised you and think they know you better than you know yourself, but you can make a few healthy decisions and swaps that can keep family traditions alive and well, and keep you from getting booted to the kids’ table or uninvited to that yummy cookie exchange. And, who knows, maybe your healthy – or at least, healthier – suggestions will encourage some new traditions.
A healthy holiday doesn’t have to mean drastic changes; try one or a few of the following to “healthify” your family’s holiday celebrations:
Make some substitutions when preparing some of the traditional holiday recipes. One of my favorite substitutions is unsweetened applesauce in place of butter, oil or eggs in sweeter dishes, like holiday cookies and quick breads. It also works beautifully in my family’s tried and true sweet potato soufflé. Non-fat Greek yogurt is another simple solution for ingredients like mayonnaise, cream cheese or sour cream. Both applesauce and Greek yogurt are equal substitutions.
Balance your plate. I’m not insisting you perform circus tricks at the family table; balance your plate nutritionally speaking. According to ChooseMyPlate.gov, half of your plate should be reserved for fruits and vegetables – bonus points for any fruits and veggies not slathered in gravy, creamy sauces or covered in sugar.
Skip your second helping and have small portions of leftovers instead. Sometimes the leftovers are better than the dinner itself – just throwing that out there.
Get active before or after dinner. Sign up for a holiday race, take a brisk walk with your family or head to the backyard for a little family football game.
Give yourself a break. If you live a healthy lifestyle 364 other days out of the year, understand that indulging one day won’t undo all of your hard work. You have waited all year for these dishes and treats, so you should enjoy them! As long as you’re responsible with your portion size you should have nothing to worry about!
Make the holidays about family, not food. True story, you don’t have to eat a crumb to be thankful for what you have or enjoy the company you’re in, which is what holidays are all about. Whether you’re celebrating with family you haven’t seen in years, a few close relatives or your military family, make the focus of your holidays about enjoying the company of people special to you.
As this year winds down, remember how much we all have to be thankful for. Enjoy your family, friends, great food and a little fun and fitness. Happy Holidays!