Here are my favourite tips and recipes for healthy holiday cooking. Presented not as a sermon on what you should eat over the holidays, but in response to questions from people looking for how they can lighten things up.
Let me be clear, I indulge in and enjoy all the holiday foods and bevies the season has to offer. But there are a few strategies to keep me feeling good and going strong throughout the season. If they help you in some way, great.
For me, a tray of fresh veggies with an amazing homemade dip, access to fancy water to stay hydrated and lighter alternatives allow me to enjoy everything even more. I like having a drink in my hand, but I can party longer if I can alternate between fancy water and cocktails. I absolutely adore breads, cookies and cheese. But I know it’s best when I enjoy them with a good mix of fresh fruits and veggies.
No one says it, but I know there are others at the party that are like me. Be the unsung hero – be the one to bring an amazingly delicious, light and refreshing dish to the party.
Here are some ideas.
- Choose dips like hummus, guacamole, bean dip, salsa or tzatziki instead of cheese or mayo loaded dips.
- Serve vegetables for dipping instead of or beside breads, crackers or pretzels.
- Use vegetables as the vessel instead of breads – eg. fill a hollowed out cucumber with hummus, put crab meat on a lettuce boat, etc.
- I love this Christmas tree veggie tray by Pillsbury
- Have plenty of low sodium club soda or sparkling water available at all times for mixing with fruit juice or alcohol or just having on their own.
- Make tap water fancy by adding various fruits and/or herbs and serving it in a pretty pitcher. Consider lemons, oranges, cucumbers, mint, rosemary, pomegranates, cranberries, etc.
- Make broth based soups instead of cream soups when serving soup as part of a larger meal.
- If making cream soups, use evaporated milk instead of cream or make soups thick and creamy with pureed potatoes or squash.
- Make salads, festive and bright. Pomegranates, oranges, colorful peppers, cranberries and nuts add color and extra nutrients.
- Choose homemade dressings made with oil and vinegar instead of mayonnaise based dressings.
- Make mashed potatoes with low fat Greek yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk, broth or milk instead of cream. Season with Parmesan cheese or herbs to reduce salt and some of the butter. Oh and if you happen to have leftovers, make these mashed potato patties.
- Roast sweet potatoes with a drizzle of oil and fresh herbs instead of adding marshmallows, sugar and butter.
- Stuff traditional stuffing with something new. Consider whole grain bread or skip the bread and make stuffing with brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, wild rice pilaf or other grains. If your favorite stuffing includes sausage, try turkey sausage instead. Or simply increase the amount of aromatics (celery, onions, carrots), toss in a handful of diced mushrooms and decrease the amount of bread or sausage.
- Use fresh herbs for vegetable side dishes instead of creamy, cheesy sauces.
- Use a fat separator to skim the fat off pan drippings before making gravy.
- Use whole grains when you have the option.
- Go easy on yourself and your guests. You don’t need to offer ham, turkey, meatballs, perogies and vegetarian lasagna all at one meal. Really, who on your guest list wouldn’t appreciate the opportunity not to overindulge?
- Offer more vegetable sides – the less sauce involved, the better. These green and white cauliflower and peas are pretty or maybe this roasted cauliflower.
- Use fresh or dried herbs instead of salt to boost flavor.
- Serve small portions and enjoy!
- Make fruit the center attraction. Try serving it with this super easy chocolate avocado dip you can make the day ahead.
- Replace some of the fat with applesauce or other purees in baking.
- Make chocolate desserts with cocoa powder instead of chocolate if possible. You’ll reduce fat and calories by doing so.
- Don’t buy or serve chips, candies or other junk food. Seriously, no one is going to miss a bowl of chips, pretzels, skittles or caramels with everything else you have to offer. Your home baked cookies, appetizers, nuts and bolts are what make this season special.
- Set out bowls of fruit, mandarin oranges or nuts in the shell for little nibblies in all corners of the house.
Whatever you do, whatever you serve, the most important thing of all is to simply enjoy!
Like Getty’s approach and practical everyday recipes? Sign up and get articles by Getty delivered to your inbox. You’ll get recipes, practical tips and great food information like this. Getty is a Professional Home Economist, speaker and writer putting good food on tables and agendas. She is the author of Manitoba’s best-selling Prairie Fruit Cookbook, Founder of Fruit Share, a mom and veggie gardener.