A Mindful Approach to Holiday Food: Are Americans ready to shift traditions?

As food perspectives evolve, and we face food waste challenges, will the usual approach to holiday food shift just a little?

November 27, 2017

It’s always this time of year we witness a barrage of articles, blogs, and news reports on how to handle massive amounts of food you will be faced with throughout the holidays at home, office celebrations, holiday parties, and while you’re out there shopping. Yes, the tempting sugar, salt, and fat-laden, high calorie foods and beverages are ubiquitous, and the assumption is that many will give in, overdo it, and maybe even gain a few pounds. We think consumers are ready for a change.

What if with the help and guidance of food retailers, dietitians, and food makers, the normal perspective of holiday food was shifted just a little, and we all tried to change our approach to food even if that means altering our traditions slightly? That would be progress in health and nutrition awareness as well as conscious preparation of food. 

What we are suggesting is that we change the conversation from how to keep from overeating or how to handle a food hangover, to how to celebrate the holidays with mindful eating, serving delicious, healthy foods, wasting less food, and encouraging others around you to do the same. 

Here are some ideas on how to do this:

1. Don’t cook for an army. You’ve probably heard your mother say it, “I only know how to cook for an army!” And this rings true even more this time of year when people have the tendency to make too much food. Sure, you’re making something special that you only make once a year, but try making enough to serve you and the people at your table for one meal. No leftovers. Or how about instead of making four dozen cookies, make two dozen? The more food you have around you, the more you will indulge. In addition, we are in a food waste crisis, and it’s now more important than ever that we are conscious about how we use and consume food efficiently. 

2. Seriously consider swaps. There are lots of resources on the Internet where you can find great recipes that swap out unhealthy ingredients for ones that are better for you and just as tasty. For example, turn your sour cream dips into yogurt dips. You can use olive oil as a substitute for butter in some recipes. Instead of buying cranberry sauce, make fresh cranberries, so you can avoid the added sugars. Don’t use sugar in your sweet potatoes. They taste naturally sweet all on their own. Instead of a green bean casserole, why not try something like fresh green beans sautéed with herbs and spices and olive oil? 

3. Serve food when it’s time for everyone to sit down together. For many people, food sits out on tables all day long. Not only is this a food safety no-no, but it’s also creating an environment for overeating and taking away from the special fellowship of sitting down together and celebrating a special meal together. Nuts and veggies are great, healthy snacks if you want to have some snacks out before mealtime, but after everyone leaves the table, it’s time to put the food away! 

4. Choose beverages with care. Design your holiday meal with care and a little sophistication by not choosing more than three beverage options. In other words, you don’t need to stock the bar with mixers, liquor, sodas, and juices. Also, you’ll save money and be able to splurge on a nice wine or champagne to compliment your meal. Serve sparkling water to add an extra zing. Unsweet tea is also a great option - serve with fresh lemon and mint as both are refreshing and good for digestion!

5. You don’t literally have to break bread. Usually holiday tables have enough dishes to choose from that bread isn’t necessary. It’s just there because it always has been. You don’t need it.

6. Limit meat and celebrate a healthier you and planet. Ham and turkey are popular centerpieces for American holiday meals, and often times, both are served. Much of the advice we are receiving these days about our eating habits includes eating less meat. Not only because it’s better for our health, but it’s also better for our planet. Consider only serving one meat, and remember that meat doesn’t have to be the main course. It can be served as a side dish. Or consider fish as an alternative. Splurge on some fresh, wild caught fish that you wouldn’t normally consider in your budget. 

7. Make real food. We know avoiding or limiting processed foods is a good practice to stick with year round. So this year, don’t go for the box stuffing. Get creative and brave in the kitchen and try something new…a recipe with fresh apples or cranberries and nuts. And fresh vegetables are not only enjoyable to consume, but can be simple and enjoyable to prepare. 

8. Teach your children well. Remember the traditions you set up are usually the model your children will follow throughout their lives. All the more reason to serve as positive role models for mindful eating. Invite them to help with food preparation, setting the table, and making seating cards. Have them use smaller plates, and don’t pressure kids to have something of everything being served. And if you are serving multiple desserts, offer them the choice of one or a bite-size serving of more than one. Or you could offer to share a dessert with them like people often do in restaurants.   

9. Take family and friends walks. How about start a new tradition where you and your loved ones all take a walk together following a meal, or this can be done in the morning, any time of the day. If you have access to a neighborhood with many holiday lights and decorations, this can be even more fun! You’ll enjoy the togetherness, the fresh air, and less time will be spent sitting around the TV overeating. And if it’s too cold to get everyone outside, how about a dance party? Yep, get everyone moving and smiling with some fun music! 

10. Donate food. Many of us have much to be feel grateful for as we enjoy lovely meals and gatherings with our loved ones this holiday season. Keep in mind those large numbers of people out there in need, and find ways to help through your local food bank, churches, synagogues, schools, and community centers. 

As we are faced with the crisis of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease as well as food waste and environmental issues related to our practices with food, we are more than due for a paradigm shift in how we approach food as a culture. You can be a part of this revolution by implementing this holiday season new traditions that are better for you and your loved ones and inspire healthy and conscious eating throughout the new year.

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