Many Thanksgiving foods and traditional holiday fare get a bad reputation for being unhealthy.
Every year at this time, the conversation becomes how to limit weight gain and what foods should be avoided.
Let’s change the dialogue.
Healthy holiday foods do exist!
Oftentimes, it’s more productive (and less stressful) to focus on the positive, so here are some of the best foods to include at this festive time of year.
These little gems are full of antioxidants, which gives them their rich red color. These work to keep your cells healthy and decrease inflammation.
Cranberries contain vitamin C and work as a prebiotic, both of which help to improve immunity. They’re a low sugar, high fiber fruit so they help with digestion of other holiday treats without adding to a rise in blood sugar levels.
Cranberry sauce is an easy way to add some color, tartness, and nutrition to a holiday meal. The catch is you have to make your own. The stuff in the can just won’t cut it since there’s 28 grams of sugar per ¼ cup that’s coming from high fructose corn syrup.
When you follow a recipe, always add less sugar than it says, and then add to taste. Remember, it should remain tart to complement other sweet (and rich) foods at the meal.
Check out this recipe for an easy version: Naturally Sweetened Cranberry Sauce Recipe And click the cranberry crostini link in the notes for an easy appetizer. Trust me!
Turkey is a great source of lean protein. It’s lower in sodium than ham and lower in fat than most red meat.
Turkey contains niacin and B6, along with immune-boosting zinc. It also provides the amino acid tryptophan, which some research shows can help to boost mood since it helps with the production of serotonin.
While dark meat has more fat than white meat, it’s not a big enough difference to avoid dark meat if you like it. It reduces fat content more to take off most of the skin.
Be sure to use a meat thermometer, not just the pop-up timer in the bird, to check that the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
Sweet potatoes are high in potassium, which is essential for regulating blood pressure. They also supply a good amount of fiber at six grams per cup.
We end up with more potassium and fiber if we leave that skin on! That same one-cup portion supplies half of our vitamin C needs for a day and all of our vitamin A, which is important for healthy skin and eyes.
Because of the fiber content of sweet potatoes, and the fact that they contain resistant starch, these brightly-colored tubers don’t spike blood sugar levels like many other carbohydrate sources. Just leave out the brown sugar and stick to cinnamon as a flavor enhancer.
Check out this Sweet Potato Breakfast Bowl recipe to use up any leftovers for breakfast
GREEN BEANS (OR ANY OTHER VEGETABLE THAT IS NOT IN A CASSEROLE)
Healthy eating is all about balance and when a meal has some hearty options, we need something light to balance it out. Veggies are the answer!
They are a big contributor of fiber, which helps us to avoid overeating other dishes that may not be as nutritious. No reason to skip all the fun and traditional holiday dishes.
Just be sure to add a colorful and simple vegetable to break up the heavier stuff. Your palate will thank you.
One cup of green beans has only 44 calories with almost four grams of filling fiber. They’re low in fat and salt, while providing vitamins K, C, and A, plus minerals like magnesium, calcium, and manganese.
Ditch the casserole and try fresh green beans with almonds and a burst of citrus for something new!
I’m a firm believer that a special occasion is the time to indulge in dessert. I always encourage choosing the option that provides at least some solid nutrition benefits. (Cheers to dark chocolate!)
Pumpkin is definitely one of those options. It’s low calorie on its own, loaded with fiber (seven grams per cup!), is full of vitamins and minerals, and contains antioxidants.
Now, of course, we end up with some fat and sugar when we put it into a pie, but it’s still 100 calories less than a slice of apple pie and 200 calories less than a slice of pecan pie.
It’s also pretty easy to make the filling and satisfying to tell your family “yes, I made it.” If you buy a ready-made crust, check to make sure the ingredient list does not contain hydrogenated oils or go crustless.
YOU CAN DO IT
Go ahead and add more of these healthy options to your holiday menu. Try a new recipe or put a new spin on an old one. It’s fun to change things up every so often, and you never know when you might like a new dish better than the old one.
Feel good about taking time to cook with/for your family and enjoy yourself.
The holiday season is meant to be joyful, after all.