Our Thanksgiving meal is just about complete, so I’m taking a few minutes to voice a few thoughts about making the holiday meals somewhat healthier. I know some people successfully transform the traditional meal into something approaching healthfood nirvana. For the rest of us, it’s about making smaller substitutions. I thought about this when I was planning our meal for our immediate family. If you’re eating with a group that won’t accommodate any changes, you can only take care of yourself.
For our own meal, I traded green bean casserole for roasted green beans. My kids love the roasted rendition, so it wasn’t a heart-breaking exchange. I added a fresh arugula salad with mandarin oranges and goat cheese. Our cornbread for the dressing was made with freshly-ground whole wheat and honey, instead of white flour and sugar. I made fresh cranberry sauce, which is no sacrifice. The canned sauce doesn’t hold a candle to the real stuff.
As for what stays, I still used canned soups (but homemade broth) for the dressing. The sweet potato casserole will always be on the menu no matter what. We would have a serious mutiny on our hands if it was axed. For desert, we made apple pie and sweet potato pie, which is my dad’s favorite. And turkey, of course.
All in all, our own meal is a pretty good mix of good and not-too-bad. I probably won’t be able to say the same for other parties we attend.
Katie, at Kitchen Stewardship, says she takes appetizers to her extended family’s meals, veggie trays with healthy dips, homemade crackers, and deviled eggs. She loads up her kids on appetizers, secretly hoping they ruin their appetites for the unhealthy food that’s coming. Then she sneaks in a few desert options, such as a sugar-free pumpkin pie. She’s a sneaky one, that Katie. I like how she works.
Of course, it’s a different story if you’re faced with food allergies. Then, eating well isn’t a matter of preference, but a matter of life. I have one friend whose young child is deathly allergic to dairy and wheat. They host their own holiday meals and invite family to their house. They can’t even chance cross-contamination at someone else’s home. That’s a hard line to draw, but one I hope their family appreciates and abides by.
One of our younger children has struggled with food allergies (dairy), and while they aren’t life-threatening, they have been inconvenient. She seems better now with less frequent and less severe outbreaks of eczema, hives, and swollen eyes. We suspect the food allergies were combined with some type of environmental trigger since the worst and most prolonged symptoms coincided with the time we lived in an apartment.
If you’re trying to avoid a particular ingredient, such as gluten or dairy, plan on taking something substantial in your safe-eating category, and don’t be afraid to ask the ingredients of anything else. Cutting even one corner when you’re on a cleansing diet can set you back weeks, and even a good holiday meal isn’t worth the extra time.
I know that Christmas and Thanksgiving are all about food, and our society has been mostly conditioned to think that sacrificing all those sugar-laden, gluten-heavy, dairy-rich, fattening foods is akin to blasphemy. But, it’s not hopeless to take a stand and either start or continue to eat better. You might be surprised where you find support for eating right, and your health is more than a gift. It’s a hard-earned prize.
I hope you have a wonderful and delicious holiday season. Do you have a healthy food alternative for your holiday meals? Share your secrets and recipes in the comments.