Ask the Dietitian: How Can I Have a Healthier Holiday Meal?

Expert tips to keep your meals flavorful and healthy during the holiday season.

Holiday meal photo via shutterstock

Holiday meal photo via shutterstock

I get asked this question every year:

Q: Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for our family and friends with a celebration through food. Copious amounts of food. How can we try to make the Thanskgiving table healthier and tastier?

A: Here’s my advice to clients when they want to lighten up the traditional dishes that have been passed on through the generations:

Spice it up.
Herbs snd spices are a great way to add flavor without adding extra sodium. The average American eats about 3000mg of sodium per day (well over the recommended 1500mg). Herbs and spices are also an overlooked source of antioxidants. Try fresh basil or dill on salad, cinnamon sticks in your favorite tea, or fresh sage in a butternut squash dish.

Take advantage of the season.
Fall is prime season for root vegetables, squashes, greens like kale and spinach, and cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower. Seasonal produce often tastes better. Have you ever had a fresh carrot straight from the ground? It is pretty fantastic (and blows those baby carrots out of the water when it comes to taste). This year, choose fresh over frozen, bagged, or canned. Your taste buds will thank you. Plus, you’ll be more likely to fill your plate with tasty and nutritious vegetables.

Put a healthy twist on traditional dishes.
Many Thanksgiving staples are high in fat and added sugar (think pies, casseroles, and sweet breads). Instead of eliminating the traditional foods all together, try substituting healthier ingredients in your favorite traditional dishes. This will help cut back on fat and sugar without taking away the special dishes we all enjoy. Try low fat Greek yogurt instead of full-fat sour cream, applesauce instead of oil in breads, avocado instead of butter, and whole wheat flour instead of white flour.

Switch up the buffet table.
A simple adjustment to the way your food is presented can make a huge difference. A recent study found that the first foods on the buffet table are the foods people fill the majority of their plates with. (That’s 2/3 of their plate to be exact). This Thanksgiving, set-up a healthier buffet by putting the vegetables and fruits first. Filling the majority of your plate with vegetables and fruits is an excellent start to a healthier meal.

Make a new tradition.
Thanksgiving is about catching up with family and friends and you don’t have to sit inside to take full advantage of the time together. Enjoy the crisp, fall air and do something active like going for a long walk or a jog. If you can’t make it outside then plan a game or other activity that isn’t centered on food. This will help you cut back on the amount of calories you eat so you aren’t grazing on leftovers all day.