Many people get nervous around the holidays because they think they need to avoid everything and won’t have any fun if they are trying to eat healthy. The good new is, healthy eating around the holidays can also be delicious eating! It’s also less expensive than you’d think. Sure, there’s a little more elbow grease involved in making your own food, but it saves you money and it’s fun at the same time…plus it’s a good way to spend time with your family or friends.
- Make holiday planning fun. Whenever you see a holiday recipe you like, make a note of it. Subscribe to a food magazine or two and tear out recipes as you browse through it, bookmark or pin your favorite recipes online on sites such as Food Network or Pintrest, or scribble down your favorite dishes at restaurants and look up recipes for them later. That way, you’ll always have a stack of appealing dinner or appetizer ideas. When it’s time to plan out meals and go shopping, you can pull out your recipe stack, pick a few, and make a list of what you’ll need. Done!
- Shop smart. Choose your stores wisely—produce markets, independent grocery stores, and farmer’s markets are more likely to offer fresh produce, whole-grain (or gluten-free) items, unrefined oils, and better-quality animal products (like grass-fed beef and pastured eggs). You can also usually ask for small portions of things—say, a half-pound of ham or a small wedge of cheese—rather than having to buy too much and having it go to waste.
- Stick to the perimeter. Mainstream grocery stores are organized with single-ingredient unprocessed foods—produce, meat, seafood, fish, dairy items, etc.—along the perimeter of the store. The heavily processed items tend to be in the center aisles. (Canned beans, tomatoes, whole grains, and broths being exceptions to this rule.) It’s much easier to stick to buying unprocessed ingredients if you stay out of the aisles dedicated to cereals, snacks, and commercial baked goods.
- Stock your pantry. If you keep some staples on hand, it’ll be easier to find ways to prepare perishable items like fresh produce, meats, and herbs for a party or event. Canned seafood (tuna, crab, sardines, herring, etc.) and canned beans add heartiness to any meal—look for BPA-free cans—while whole grains like quinoa and brown rice are ideal for including in soups, stir-frys, and pilafs. Nuts and seeds are welcome garnishes with any dish; olives and pickles are great garnishes, too, or you can enjoy them as easy appetizers. Jarred or boxed diced tomatoes are endlessly useful. Herbs and spices, vinegars, tamari, and various kinds of mustard are instant flavor solutions. Make your own master pantry list packed with the ingredients you like best, and then occasionally check to see if you need to restock any items throughout the season.
- Make enough to have leftovers. Even if you’re not into the idea of eating the same dish twice in a row, you can freeze your leftovers and have a freezer stocked with your own high-quality frozen dinners. Just label them with the dish and date for future reference. Odds are, though, if you like what you made, you won’t mind having it more than once or better yet just wait and serve it to a different group of friends at the next party you go to!
- Have cooking parties. Rather than always going out to eat during the holiday season, brainstorm a short menu and invite friends over to cook together. Everyone can bring the ingredients for a dish (or chip in for groceries), and then you can divide the work and have fun making a delicious dinner to share. Or go shopping as a family and prepare a meal together with the kids helping with age appropriate tasks. Don’t forget the festive music!
- Choose snacks wisely. When you’re at holiday parties, keep an eye out for tasty and healthy options like cheeses, olives, meats, nuts, pickles, and fresh fruit. Dips like hummus and guacamole are great with cut-up veggies. And remember what the best part is about any party: spending time with friends and family.