We all know that food is a focal point of holiday celebrations. And, high-calorie, carb-rich side dishes are without doubt main staples in virtually every household. But, if you’re watching your weight, trying to cut back on sugar, or even just trying to make healthy choices, eating too much of these foods can certainly be problematic, especially when they’re eaten in excess.
This holds particularly true for breads, pastas, potatoes and corn, as many people diminish the overall nutritional value of these foods by adding excessive amounts of butter, salt and sugar during preparation.
Believe it or not, there are plenty of tasty alternatives. So, if you’re looking to avoid all the unnecessary calories over the holiday season, here are some simple tips for preparing healthier sides.
Create Low-Sodium Versions of Beans and Peas
Dried beans and peas are naturally low in sodium and saturated fat making them a healthy side option for holiday eating. They’re also incredibly rich in fiber with over 50% of a day’s worth housed in just one cup. Due to their high fiber content, eating beans and peas can help reduce the urge to overeat by helping you feel fuller, faster and for prolonged periods of time.
For heart-healthy, low-sodium cooking, you can prepare these sides with all-natural seasonings like celery, onion, and healthy spices like marjoram, oregano and turmeric.
Enjoy Lightly Cooked Kale or Collard Greens
You can substantially boost the nutritional value of any holiday meal by including a pot full of kale or collard greens. Like most leafy green vegetables, kale and collards are very low in calories, packed full of fiber, and high in vitamins, minerals and potent antioxidants. Although these greens can be quite nutritious when cooked it’s important that you don’t overcook them, especially during boiling.
Overcooking greens passed the point of lightly steamed can greatly reduce the presence of many essential micronutrients. If you truly like the taste of boiled greens, I highly recommend preparing them using a pressure canner/cooker, as doing so helps to preserve the important nutrients they contain.
Opt for Baked Yams Instead of Candied Sweet Potatoes
The holidays are always a popular time to indulge in buttery, sugary candied sweet potatoes. While sweet potatoes are exceptionally rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and carotenoid antioxidants, “candying” them can greatly reduce their nutritional quality. To avoid this, opt for yams instead of sweet potatoes, as they house the same nutrients but are naturally sweeter in taste.
Since yams also tend to liquefy easily due to a higher moisture content, baking them with a little cinnamon and pure maple syrup produces that candied taste without the added calories and fat.
Go Raw by Incorporating Hearty Salads
If you know me, you know that I’m an absolute sucker for a good salad. Luckily, a hearty salad makes for a quick and convenient holiday side dish—And, I’m not talking about preparing a big bowl of lettuce with a heaping scoop of fat-free dressing on top. Go for a colorful, nutritious salad blend by including fresh ingredients like spinach, carrot, broccoli florets, cucumber, tomato, avocado, berries, apples, nuts and seeds.
To maximize the overall nutritional value of your holiday salad, choose oil-based dressings over creamy ones and limit your portion to 1-2 tablespoons.
So, hopefully I’ve provided you with some valuable strategies for incorporating healthy side dishes into your holiday meals.
But I’ll be the first to admit that the big challenge comes when you’re not in your own kitchen. With all the decadent sides that surround you during the holiday season sometimes it can be difficult to abstain. That said, if you must include holiday favorites like macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes or corn pudding on your plate, know that one serving of each is about half of a cup, which yields about 200-300 calories.
Portion control is the key to healthy holiday eating.