FORT KNOX, Ky. – The holidays are a time for gathering together with loved ones, oftentimes around a table to share a meal.
According to Fort Knox chief of Nutrition Care Services Laura Bottoms, enjoying delicious holiday foods doesn’t have to mean sacrificing nutrition. She hears many of her clients tend to make the same mistake.
“A lot of times what I see happen is people will kind of throw their hands in the air and think, if they can’t be perfect and strict with their diet since it’s the holidays, they go for a free-for-all,” said Bottoms. “I encourage people to find the middle ground.”
Worrying about healthier dishes to eat or serve for holiday meals doesn’t have to be stressful, according to Bottoms.
“Often, there’s a lot of anxiety about eating over the holidays,” said Bottoms. “If we’re able to think about it in a different way – as just another meal – we’ll see holiday foods are not bad; they’re just food. It’s when we classify them that we mentally feel restricted and develop shame or guilt about them.”
For those preparing to host a gathering this year, Bottoms recommends one thing she does that makes it easy for all her guests, whether they have specific dietary needs or not.
“If I’m the host of a meal, I make sure that I offer options so there’s choices,” said Bottoms. “You can always have the sweet potato casserole and green bean casserole but also have a salad or other vegetable, too.”
Bottoms said the key is not to overthink things, but rather to keep the meal plan simple. That’s especially the case when thinking about holiday treats.
“One of my favorite strategies for the holidays is instead of having a bunch of different desserts, I just highlight one,” said Bottoms. “Just make one the star and put extra effort into that instead of offering multiple varieties, which is what drives consumption.”
Bottoms explained choosing to prepare a dessert with lots of fresh fruit or even a cake made with applesauce is one way to make the meal healthier: another is opting to use lower fat and sodium products in recipes. She said foods are still delicious this way but don’t come with all the guilt.
“You can make healthy swaps in your dishes to reduce the amount of saturated fats or added sugars,” said Bottoms. “Swaps can make the food more nutritious, but I encourage not to do so at the sacrifice of taste.”
There are a number of websites to find healthier holiday recipes for everything from appetizers, to entrees, to desserts, Bottoms said. A few she recommends include:
Since it can be difficult to narrow down a healthier option, to include in the meal, said Bottoms, she has one foolproof dish that serves as her go-to when a guest at holiday gatherings.
“My favorite thing to bring to any holiday meal is a fancy tossed salad,” said Bottoms. “Have things like chopped apples or cranberries, maybe some walnuts or pecans in there, maybe some goat cheese or feta cheese, and really make it a salad that has the holiday feeling to it to add to the meal and help make that balanced plate.”
Though Bottoms said not to feel the need to avoid any foods over the holidays, she did point out one thing that should not be done.
“A big mistake I see people make is to restrict themselves leading up to the special meal, like skip breakfast in order to indulge later,” said Bottoms. “What that ends up doing is set you up for failure, because you end up eating more than you would normally instead of more responsible portions.”
Bottoms encouraged everyone – whether adhering to certain dietary restrictions or not – to simply enjoy the holiday fare and not see it as a setback.
“One meal, one dessert or even just a few of those things is not going to undo a year’s worth of good eating,” said Bottoms. “Make progress, not perfection.”