The holidays are fast approaching, bringing with it family gatherings, company parties and get-togethers with friends combined with the hectic days of holiday shopping and preparation. If you’re like me, it’s easy to fall prey to unhealthy eating with quick fixes such as fast food, Chinese take-out or pizza delivery. Virtually any meal can be made healthier with just a little planning and with no change in taste when compared to the fat- and calorie-loaded version. I’ve discovered a few tips on my path to healthier eating that help me and my family stay on track.

  • Lesson 1:  Planning is key. It’s much easier to stick to healthy eating if you plan your meals in advance. I know you’re thinking “who has time for that?”  However, making time to plan will save you calories and precious time during a busy week. All you need is 30 minutes or less. Perhaps plan while having your Saturday morning coffee. You’ll be rewarded with a week of meals and a grocery list.
  • Lesson 2:  The “Try Everything” rule. My son eats chicken, chicken and more chicken, with a bit of broccoli thrown in. However, we have a standing rule that he must try a bite of everything on his plate. In the past, my son would never eat potatoes but once, on a whim, I bought and roasted the cute, tiny versions and he instantly loved them. I’m not sure if it was the cute factor or the flavor, but I succeeded in getting him to eat another vegetable.
  • Lesson 3:  Don’t be afraid to experiment. Most soups that call for heavy cream can be lightened by using fat free half-and-half or skim milk, with no change to the overall taste. Dips that call for mayo and/or cream cheese can be substituted with their lighter versions. You can even try fat free substitutions in dips, although I have experienced a significant taste change when swapping with fat free mayo vs light. Most mayo-based pasta salads can be lightened by using plain Greek yogurt.
  • Lesson 4:  Prep in advance as much as possible. As a working mom, I value the weekends and I don’t want to spend an entire weekend day prepping the week’s meals to freeze for use later. But I do take 15 or 20 minutes to chop an onion since I use it a lot for flavor, chop veggies that are used in a salad or cut a crown of broccoli for a side dish. It will save you valuable time during the week; it’s so nice to just pull out a bag of chopped veggies during a busy week of work, carpool and carting the kids to sports practices.
  • Lesson 5:  If at first you don’t succeed… If I try a lightened up a recipe and I get an “It’s OK” from my husband, I go back to the drawing board. Usually the lukewarm response is because a spice needs to be added and not the lighter version of oil/fat affecting the taste. I have a junk food junkie husband so I have to be able to fool him with flavor so he doesn’t realize he’s eating healthier.

Hopefully, these tips will help you on your way to a healthier meal for your family and a few less calories during the holidays!

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6 Responses to Making Holiday Meals Healthy

  1. Rebecca Pope-Ruark says:

    Great advice, Michelle. It’s just my husband and I, so it’s easy for us to get into a rut or just decide we don’t want to do the dishes for a week – then hit the take-out. Menu planning for us means we have a smaller number of options to choose from (making the decision easier since we are both indecisive) and is pretty good for the budget too because I only buy what we need not what we might want.

  2. Michelle Fleer Michelle Fleer says:

    Rebecca, I have also found my grocery bill reduced significantly since I started planning. Before, I would just fill my cart with the standard items but ultimately wasted a lot food that got freezer burn or expired. An added benefit is that I eat fresher, because I’m buying fresh herbs and vegetables that I actually planned for.

    It’s definitely easier to cave in to a quick fix especially when you don’t have other family members to consider so I definitely encourage you to keep up with the planning, even if it’s not for the entire week. Besides, we all deserve a night off and you can choose healthier options in a restaurant, too. ;)

  3. Anne Boodheshwar Anne Boodheshwar says:

    I agree…having a plan for the week makes a huge difference in your budget. The hardest part of the planning for me is coming up with new ideas…getting in a rutt is so easy…espcially when the suggestions you get from the fam are “I don’t know”, “whatever” or my all time fav…”I’m not hungry right now!” lol

  4. Morgan Blue says:

    To take the “plan ahead” advice a step further, we are “greener” when I make grocery lists based on menus and the calendar. When I shop with just ideas and no focus, I end up throwing way too much food in the trash. Great article, Michelle!

  5. Michelle Fleer says:

    Anne, I know how you feel. I follow my own mother’s method: I plan and cook and the family just has to go with it, unless they want do the cooking. ;).
    Morgan – I’m the same, if I don’t have a planned menu, I also throw food in the trash and I always feel badly about that. I could have bought a new pair shoes instead of wasting food! :) Excellent point about being “greener”.

  6. Cool website ! I’ve just shared it on Facebook.

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