Friends, family, football, and delicious food – all things people want to enjoy during the holiday season. Maintaining healthy habits and keeping food safe during a season where food is around every corner can be difficult, but not impossible. With balance and moderation, and by following a few simple food safety rules, you can enjoy the holidays the healthy and safe way.
The following tips can help you make healthy food choices and limit tempting, high-calorie foods during the holidays to make sure that the turkey is the only one that ends up stuffed this season.
One easy way to cut calories on your favorite holiday dishes is to swap out the normal ingredient for a healthier one. Most of the time you can’t even taste a difference. Below are some swaps to try.
• Use healthier versions of the regular ingredients such as low-sodium broth, fat-free yogurt, light cream cheese, low-fat milk, or low-fat cheeses.
• Try substituting applesauce for oil or butter in muffins and breads.
• Reduce cholesterol by using two egg whites in place of one egg.
• For dressings, use less bread and more vegetables and moisten it with low-fat or low-sodium broth or applesauce.
• Top the green bean casserole with almonds instead of French Fried onions.
• Opt for skim milk, garlic powder, and Parmesan cheese in the mashed potatoes instead of butter.
• Replace heavy cream with evaporated skim milk in cheesecakes and cream pies.
• For dessert, choose pumpkin pie over pecan pie to save some calories or make a crustless pie.
You can also make slight alterations in your favorite dishes to make them healthier.
• To reduce the fat in gravy, refrigerate it to harden fat and then skim off the excess.
• Eating turkey without the skin can cut down on the saturated fat.
Some other useful strategies to limit food intake during the holidays include:
• Put the focus on people, not food. Make the holidays a time of socializing and having a great time with friends, family, making new friends, and having fun.
• Plan activities. Wreath making, gingerbread house decorating, holiday art projects, or taking a tour of decorated homes puts the focus on people and activities instead of food.
• Plan before you eat. When you arrive, check out all of the food options available and decide what foods you really want and what foods you can live without. Eat more of the dishes with lean protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and limit the foods with little or no nutrient value. Eat slowly so your food has time to digest and so you are better aware of when you are full.
• Do not arrive on an empty stomach. Eat a light, healthy meal or snack before parties so you will not be as hungry and will be less likely to overindulge.
• Leave the table and kitchen when you are done. If you keep hanging out around the food, you will be more tempted to eat more even though you are full. Out of sight, out of mind!
• Make exercise a priority. Set a personal goal to squeeze in at least one workout a week, no matter how busy you get. Plan an after-meal walk with family on Thanksgiving before busting into the desserts. Everyday errands and activities such as parking farther away in parking lots or taking the stairs instead of elevator can also make a big difference.
Another thing to keep in mind is food safety. Foodborne illness can definitely ruin holiday cheer. Foodborne illness is a common and costly, yet preventable, public health problem. Each year, about one in six Americans gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. Most of these diseases are infections - caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites spread through food. Symptoms may occur within minutes or take up to weeks and often present with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or fever. Immune systems in people vary, and some people may become ill after ingesting just a few harmful bacteria while others may ingest thousands before they feel the unpleasant effects.
Most foodborne illnesses can be prevented with proper cooking or processing to destroy harmful pathogens. You have the power to fight foodborne illness and keep food safe by following these four simple steps: clean, separate, cook, and chill.
Clean: Make sure you keep your cooking area clean, and wash hands and surfaces often. Always wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food. After cutting raw meats, wash the cutting board, knife, and counter tops with hot, soapy water before preparing other foods.
Separate: Separate your cooked and ready-to-eat foods from raw food in order to avoid cross contamination. Germs in raw meat and their juices can be easily spread to other foods by juices dripping from packages, hands, or utensils. Never use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat. Be sure there are plenty of clean utensils and platters. Also, make sure to keep raw meat securely wrapped. This keeps their juices from mixing with prepared/cooked foods or foods that will be eaten raw, such as fruits and vegetables.
Cook: Use a food thermometer to make sure your foods are cooked to the proper temperature. Be sure to clean the thermometer between uses. Cooking foods to the correct internal temperature can destroy harmful bacteria.
After cooking meat and poultry, keep it at 140°F or warmer until served. When reheating fully-cooked meats, make sure the food reaches 165°F or is reheated to steaming hot. These foods should not sit out for more than two hours. If food is left out longer, throw it away to be safe.
Chill: Chill foods that are not being eaten and leftovers quickly to 41˚F or below to avoid bacteria growth. Leave any foods that are supposed to be cold in the refrigerator until you are ready to leave, and then place them in the cooler for travel right before you go. Refrigerate any leftovers promptly in shallow containers. Discard any food left out more than two hours. Store cold foods in the refrigerator (41˚F or below) or the freezer (0˚F or below).
Keep up normal routines as much as possible during the season and don’t let a couple unhealthy meals throw off your entire diet. Stay as active as possible to help balance out the extra food. If you have a suspected case of foodborne illness, there are a couple of important steps to follow. Seek treatment as necessary. Contact your local health department as soon as possible; this is especially important if the food was consumed at a large gathering, restaurant, or from another food service establishment. For further information on foodborne illness prevention, contact the Independence Health Department at 816-325-7803 or visit http://www.cdc.gov/Features/BeFoodSafe/
-- Andrew Warlen, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.