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Planning Healthy Holiday Meals

It is so exciting to look forward to the holidays! All the shopping, preparing, decorating, and cooking... Anticipating spending time with family and friends, looking forward to vacation from work and school... Holidays are meant to be a wonderful time. As the holidays approach, many people think about planning healthy meals for the holidays.


pan with wooden spoon over the stove cooking holiday food

Thinking about Your Holiday Food


If you take part in the food preparation, you might be wondering about what to prepare. Maybe you are wondering how to--and if it is possible--to make healthy food for the holidays. Holiday food is very special. Often we make dishes that our families have made for years and generations. There are traditional desserts, meats, and sides. And many people think about the nutrition of the foods they will eat over the holidays.


Food serves many roles. The two primary roles food fills are nutrition and pleasure. Most foods fill a combination of those two purposes. Some foods are primarily for pleasure. It is OK to have foods whose main purpose is for the enjoyment of the eater.


Nutrition never has to be distilled to the nutritional quality of any particular food you eat. People eat multiple foods every day. The nutritional quality of a diet is the sum total of everything you eat. It is not the one special treat you made for the holiday, the one time you overate and felt uncomfortable, or even that time you got a green shot at the juice bar.


Planning for Healthy Meals for the Holidays


So make all those foods that are important to you. That is an important part of your holiday. Then, while planning your meal for the holidays, you can also focus on the other healthy foods you want to make. There is still the rest of the holiday meal and also the other meals eaten during the holiday season.


Every meal we eat, not just holiday meals, should feel plentiful and abundant. Think of that mindset as you plan your holiday meals. The foods you want to prioritize for your health during the holidays should be part of that abundance mindset. That can mean making more than one vegetable side for the holiday meal, preparing both cooked vegetables and salads for your holiday meal, finding a few recipes that use whole grains, and thinking of how you can have plenty food on your table that you would like to be eating. Keep that in mind while planning healthy meals for the holidays.


When planning the foods you usually think of as the health foods, plan recipes and dishes that make them also double as pleasurable and enjoyable foods! It should not have to be one or the other--either healthy or pleasurable. Think about using spices and flavors you don't usually use, getting a cookbook for a cuisine you don't usually prepare, and spending the time to make your food look beautiful. Some people like to buy a new serving dish or table cloth, and for others, a pretty table scape will add pleasure to the meal. Remember that who you eat with also plays into the pleasure from the meal!


Healthy and Enjoyable Holiday Cooking


Here are some tips for your cooking day. Make sure you wake up rested by getting plenty sleep the night before. Dress in lighter clothes, as the kitchen can get hot. Eat breakfast before you start cooking to start out with plenty energy. If you tend to get swept up into the cooking, set a reminder to sit down to eat lunch. Drink plenty while you are cooking to stay hydrated and cool in a warm kitchen. Turn on music or a podcast to listen to while you are on your feet cooking. If the cooking day does not end with the holiday meal, cook a bit extra of your main and some sides so you can sit down and enjoy your efforts for dinner.


Food at the holidays is part of the holiday. Make sure you really allow yourself to enjoy what you have cooked. At the holiday meal, plan a mindful moment for the first bites of every dish you taste. Relax and sit calmly while you taste the flavor of the food in your mouth, enjoy the scents, and notice the mouthfeel of the food on your tongue. It's hard to keep that mindfulness for a long meal, but even a few moments is worth it!


It takes intention to plan a healthy meal for the holidays. Remember that meals are not all or nothing! Not every food needs to rate 100% for good nutrition for your meal to be completely suitible! There is more to the holiday season than your main holiday meals, and nutrition that entire time counts.

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