Have a healthy holiday with the UConn Dietetics Program

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As part of their Healthy Holiday Eating Series, the Dietetics Program provides advice to make holiday meals lighter without sacrificing taste. Photo courtesy of Gino Giansanti.

With the holidays just a few weeks away, it’s almost time for families across America to pull out old recipes, start making their lengthy shopping lists and prepare for the decadent feasts that soon await. Of course, the holidays are about family, friends, and being thankful, but many people would agree that food takes center stage every November and December. 

While many traditions have to be put on hold this year, holiday menus are traditions we can continue in our new socially distant world. We may have to share these dishes with family members over Zoom, but that familiar bite of turkey, mashed potatoes or pecan pie can bring a sense of normalcy to our very atypical holiday season. 

As part of their Healthy Holiday Eating Series, students in the Allied Health Sciences Dietetics Program partnered with Human Resources to present what they called, “Remake Your Holiday Dishes Healthier,” where they provided advice to make holiday meals lighter without sacrificing taste. Presenters included Caroline Thiede, Josie Hare, and Anthony Duong, all of whom are second-year graduate students in the MS in Health Promotion Sciences and Coordinated Dietetics Program at UConn. 

Here are some tips and tricks they shared to make Grandma’s famous stuffing a little less stuffing on your stomach: 

To cut down sodium content in your mom’s mashed potato recipe, try using half the amount of potatoes you usually use and replace the second half with rice cauliflower. Photo courtesy of Gino Giansanti.

Tip Number 1: Try to make your holiday dishes from scratch. 

“When you make your food from scratch, you have more control over what ingredients you use,” Thiede said. “Some hidden items in ready-to-eat foods include sodium, fat and sugar. It takes you looking at the label to realize how much it adds up over the meal.” 

Thiede recommended switching some ingredients with healthier alternatives, using half of the original favorite and half of the new option. For example, to cut down sodium content in your mom’s mashed potato recipe, try using half the amount of potatoes you usually use and replace the second half with rice cauliflower. By including the original ingredient, you can still enjoy the traditional taste without the high sodium content. 

Swapping salt for herbs and spices. Photo courtesy of Gino Giansanti.

Tip Number 2: Swap salt for herbs and spices. 

While it’s hard to part with the savory taste salt brings to our holiday favorites, replacing salt with herbs like garlic, basil and oregano can significantly reduce the sodium content. 

“At the table, there’s hidden sodium areas that we want to watch out for.” Hare said. “For example, mashed potatoes and gravy can be a hidden gem of sodium. You can always try sweet potatoes instead, or they even sell low sodium gravy.” 

Low-sodium gravy can actually reduce your sodium intake by 100 mg per serving, providing a healthier alternative to a dinner table staple. 

Dishes can still be enjoyed without over-eating so it is important to keep portions in mind. Photo courtesy of Gino Giansanti.

Tip Number 3: Keep portions in mind. 

“On average, Americans consume about 3,000 calories during their Thanksgiving meal,” Duong said. “Drinks, appetizers and desserts can bring the total calorie count to 4,500.” 

While it’s great to indulge, especially during the holidays, dishes can still be enjoyed without over-eating. The proper portion size for holiday meats like turkey is approximately 3 ounces, about the size of a deck of cards.  

With that being said, the team reminded audience members that it is okay to eat your holiday favorites in moderation. 

“At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that at the holidays it’s okay to indulge,” Thiede said. “Being mindful about it, and making sure you are eating for enjoyment while maybe taking a brisk walk after is great for digestion and your mental health. It could be a very different holiday this year for a lot of people, so do what makes you happy and celebrate those traditions.” 

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