So, you’re hosting a holiday dinner — and some of your guests are on the health-conscious list.
How are you going to handle it?
Will you make them some special foods of their own?
Or, will you compromise and make foods that appeal to everyone so you don’t have to do as much cooking?
Or maybe your health-conscious guests will bring a dish of their own to share.
Of course, not everyone has access to a kitchen, as holiday gatherings can require long-distance travel and stays at hotels.
And, sometimes a person’s diet isn’t just a matter of preference, but is based on medical issues, such as diabetes or hypertension.
So, what’s your game plan?
First, be sure to communicate in advance with your guests so you don’t have to guess what they want.
The holidays are filled with traditional foods that are creamy this, or buttered that, and, of course, there’s the endless array of desserts, too.
It can be downright difficult to avoid surrounding people with calorie-heavy, high-fat, sodium-filled foods.
But there are ways to make the meal a little bit easier for your guests with special dietary requests.
First, remember that when you alter recipes, be sure to do a practice run. You want to be sure that the changes you make don’t drastically affect the flavor.
You also can make accommodations that reduce calories and fats, without substantially affecting the flavor.
For instance, with full-fat anything — milk, cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, mayo, dressing and so on — consider using a reduced-fat version.
There are 9 calories in a gram of fat, so if you cut back on fat, you instantly cut back on calories.
Instead of using salt to add flavor, consider using herbs and spices, lemon juice, or vinegar.
(This University of Florida publication provides pointers on which herbs and spices pair well with certain foods: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/FS225.)
Also, if you cut back the salt by half, you likely won’t notice a difference in taste.
However, if yeast is in the recipe, don’t alter the amount of sodium you use.
It’s also safe to cut back on sugar by baking with cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla or almond extract instead. But, again, don’t remove all of the sugar in yeast breads.
You also can replace sugar with equal amounts of sucralose (Splenda) and add ½ teaspoon of baking soda for each cup of sucralose you use.
Keep in mind that baking time is usually shorter and the final product is smaller. Aspartame can be used for food that is not baked, according to Ohio State University Extension.
To increase fiber, use whole grains: whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole wheat flour, whole wheat pasta and so on.
Fiber helps to maintain blood sugar levels.
For a meatless option, use beans, peas, legumes or lentils instead.
Consider these meal swaps to go on the healthier side:
- Instead of traditional mashed potatoes, make creamy mashed cauliflower.
- Instead of green bean casserole, simply make sauteed green beans with toasted walnuts.
- Add vegetables to the mac and cheese, such as pureed carrots, butternut squash and cauliflower.
- Instead of creamy vegetable casserole, have roasted Brussel sprouts with balsamic vinegar.
- Instead of apple pie, make baked apples stuffed with cranberries and nuts.
- Swap the chocolate cake for a chocolate mousse made with Greek yogurt.
Also, be sure to have healthy snacks or appetizers available in case there is a delay in dinner.
For those with diabetes that need to manage their blood sugar levels, a delayed meal may cause a low blood sugar reaction. Almonds, cheeses, and a variety of fruits and vegetables can help bridge the gap before dinner.
Of course, we all know the other variable of the health equation: exercise.
Make it a tradition to take a family walk around the block to help burn off all those calories, while simultaneously enjoying the neighborhood lights and decorations.
To get more menu ideas, not only for the holidays but for healthier eating throughout the year, check out recipes on the American Heart Association’s website, or the American Diabetes Association site.
Extension Universities have information, too.
So, gather your family and friends to celebrate the holidays — and keep your guests in mind, when planning your menu.
Here’s to a happy and healthy 2023
Shari Bresin is the Family & Consumer Science Agent for the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Cooperative Extension Pasco County.
Here’s a recipe on Creamy Mashed Cauliflower from University of Florida Extension:
16 ounces frozen cauliflower (or 1 head fresh, chopped)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tablespoons nonfat plain yogurt
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth or milk
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese (optional)
Seasoning to taste: 1 teaspoon dried parsley, herb seasoning blend such as Mrs. Dash
Salt and pepper
Prepare and cook the cauliflower until tender (or a fork can be inserted), according to type of vegetable and cooking method:
For fresh cauliflower
- Wash, trim and cut into florets. Place in a microwaveable bowl with 1 Tablespoon to 2 Tablespoons of water. Cover and cook on high for 7 minutes to 8 minutes.
- For stovetop cooking, place florets in a saucepan and add enough water to cover. Boil for 6 minutes to 7 minutes or until fork is easily inserted. Drain.
For frozen cauliflower
- Place in a microwaveable bowl with 1 Tablespoon to 2 Tablespoons of water and cook on high for 5 minutes to 6 minutes.
- For stovetop cooking, combine frozen florets and one cup of water in a saucepan. Cover and cook on medium heat for 6 minutes to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain.
For steam-in-the-bag cauliflower
- Follow the package instructions for cooking on the bag. Let cool slightly.
Once the cauliflower is cooked, add raw minced garlic and 1 Tablespoon to 2 Tablespoons of broth, or milk, to a food processor or a bowl.
Use a food processor, or hand mixer or potato masher, to blend ingredients until smooth. Add broth as necessary to make it creamy.
Stir in plain yogurt and seasoning to taste.
Turn into a medium serving bowl and serve hot.
Recipe serves four to six.
Published December 21, 2022