The holiday season is near. That means family gatherings where holiday meals are at the top of the list for entertainment and enjoyment. 

“For Americans, the holidays are also a great excuse to over indulge,” said Cammie Younger, nutrition and health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension in Houston. “We get over-full, then we rest, and then we go back for leftovers. That is why these types of traditions and habits usually add several pounds of weight gain during the holidays.”

Turkey with all the trimmings is a favorite dish this time of year.  Turkey is commonly considered a healthy choice. Younger said it is all the trimmings that can get us into trouble with calorie consumption.

“Trimmings” usually mean things like creamy mashed potatoes and gravy, buttery homemade yeast rolls, green bean and sweet potato casseroles, sugary sweet cranberry sauce, cornbread dressing, pumpkin pie, chocolate cherry cheese cake and about 20 other different desserts.

Younger suggests making this the year you start a new tradition of healthy holiday eating.  Instead of preparing high fat, high calorie dishes, think about making the celebration healthier by incorporating recipes adjusted with less fat and sugars. 

For example, instead of mashed potatoes with two sticks of butter and a can of cream in them, try roasted potatoes with onions and spices such as parsley and rosemary. 

“This could cut the calories of the potato dish in half,” Younger said. 

Find an alternative to the green bean casserole dish made with high fat cream sauces. Try serving whole green beans blanched in boiling water for three minutes, placed in ice water for three minutes and served with a dipping sauce such as Caesar salad dressing on the side. 

“In addition to looking for recipes with lower fat and calories, try to lower the amount of food on your plate by using a smaller plate size,” Younger said. “To control overindulging on desserts, designate one or two people to bring a dessert instead of having 10 different choices.”

Challenge your co-workers to be creative with alternative holiday cheer at the office. 

Instead of making sweets and candy to share, Younger suggests bringing low calorie soup recipes to the office. The dry soup ingredients along with the recipe could also be prepared as a “soup in a jar” gift.

This holiday season would be a good time to begin another new tradition with family by being physical active during gatherings.  Go outside in the afternoon and cut some firewood together, walk around the neighborhood or have some friendly competitions like a three-legged race.

“Modeling the choices of healthier food and being physical active in front of the children at the holidays is important,” Younger said. “It will help develop good habits and traditions for them and will increase their chances of living a healthy productive life for many years.”

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