10 Tips for Hosting a Healthier Holiday Meal (Without Anyone Knowing)

  • Holidays: Family and friends gather for dinner at grandma's house
    Holiday Health on the Sly
    Hosting holiday meals can be stressful: You want everything to taste out-of-this-world delicious, but you feel guilty loading up loved ones with unhealthy fats and sugars. On the other hand, kicking off a meal by announcing everything’s sugar-free, gluten-free and fat-free can be, well, fun-free. This year, present your festive meal in a way that encourages health for everyone and maintains that indulgent, seasonal flavor. Everyone else will simply think the meal is delicious, but it’ll be your little secret that it’s sneakily healthy at the same time.

  • Holiday Feast
    Tip #1: Downsize Your Dishes
    We see what’s in front of us as the right amount to eat, whether it’s just right or way too much. It’s easier to fill a plate with reasonable servings when there’s less plate to fill, and plates between 9 and 10 inches in diameter do just that. To prove it, one study secretly refilled people’s soup bowls as they ate. By the end, they had slurped 73% more than those with normal bowls. If the food’s there, we will eat it—small plates simply encourage smaller helpings.

  • Beautiful Christmas Holiday Table Setting
    Tip #2: Color Matters, Too
    A perfect reason to pick up some bright, festive plates before the big day: New research suggests that contrast in color between food and plate may influence how much people eat. Similarly colored plates and food (think potatoes and turkey breast on an off-white plate) may lead people to eat more. Similar colors affect our perception of size—those beige foods seem smaller on a beige plate. Alternatively, plop them onto a red plate, and your guests will likely eat 10% less.

  • sprinkling of salt
    Tip #3: Outsmart Hidden Salt
    To keep our bodies working, we need around 200 milligrams of sodium (salt) per day—much less than the average 3,400 many of us ingest. Salt overload makes the body cling to water (inducing bloating), pushing the heart and blood vessels into overdrive. Help your guests avoid this. In addition to storing shakers far away from the table, limit processed ingredients. Check labels on dressings, cured meats, cheese, and even canned veggies—these are often quietly loaded with sodium.

  • champagne toast
    Tip #4: Serve Smart Drinks
    Eat, drink, and be merry, right? However, sucking 2,000 calories through a straw isn’t going to make anyone merry. (We’re looking at you, peppermint mudslide.) Many “holiday” drinks are total mood-busters, disguised in festive names. Provide guests with beverage choices that are naturally lower in calories. Solid options—all weighing in at less than 200 calories per serving—include champagne, wine, beer or even a classic martini. These will leave guests feeling less like a snowball and more light and bubbly, just like that champagne.

  • Group Of Friends Having Dinner Party At Home
    Tip #5: Strategize With Setup
    Provide yourself, and your guests, with a food layout that makes healthy choices a no-brainer. Serve up the meal buffet style by displaying dishes in the kitchen, or somewhere else away from the table. The additional trip from seat to serving platter may be all it takes to reduce unnecessary third helpings and mindless eating. It also keeps the table less cluttered and shifts the focus toward socializing.

  • Fresh beans
    Tip #6: Smart Ingredient Swaps—Green Bean Casserole
    This Thanksgiving classic is brimming with ingredients that are questionable at best. The chief culprit, traditional canned cream of mushroom soup, is loaded with unhealthy fats, salts and unpronounceable ingredients. Start by switching from canned to fresh green beans, and try covering them in olive oil, hummus, or even some organic half-and-half mixed with flour. If you just can’t give up the soup, check out the organic versions. They have drastically less sodium and are made with real ingredients, like mushrooms and garlic.

  • Mashed potatoes
    Tip #7: Smart Ingredient Swaps—Mashed Potatoes
    Pump up the flavor and nutritional value of your taters by mixing in some parsnips. Chop and boil these carrot-like veggies with your potatoes, and then mash as usual. Parsnips not only boost the nutrient count (hello, fiber, potassium and vitamin C), but they add a faintly sweet, earthy flavor while maintaining that starchy potato texture. Bonus points for using olive oil instead of butter as you whip ‘em up.

  • Silver Gravy Boat
    Tip #8: Skim That Gravy
    Homemade gravy can continue its starring role at your meal—all it needs is a simple, heart-friendly upgrade. Refrigerate pan juices before you mix them in, allowing the fat to harden on top of the liquid. Once this layer has congealed, skim the hardened gunk off, and then mix the remaining fluid into your gravy base. This simple step (no swap needed!) will save you a hefty 56 grams of fat per cup.

  • Mother and daughter shopping for produce
    Tip #9: Pack in the Protein and Veggies
    Holiday meals often lack good-for-you foods that you feel good about eating. Help your guests leave feeling great by providing them with plenty of lean protein and veggie choices. There’s protein in beans, hummus and turkey. In addition to your basic chopped-vegetable appetizer, seasonal veggies—broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower—can be roasted and topped with a little olive oil, nuts, or Parmesan cheese. Protein plays a key role in regulating our appetites, and vegetables are packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals.

  • Making a pie
    Tip #10: Smart Swaps—Pies
    When it comes to your traditional holiday pies, there are a handful of swaps that amp up nutritional value while maintaining flavor. 

    • Use light coconut milk instead of evaporated milk or cream to cut calories, cholesterol and sodium.
    • Substitute whole-wheat pastry flour for bleached white in any crust recipe. Pastry flour keeps crust light, while adding a faintly nutty flavor. 
    • Cut sugar in half. Anything fruit-based, like apple pie, truly doesn’t need a ton of sugar, as the fruit provides natural sweetness. 
10 Tips for Hosting a Healthier Holiday Meal (Without Anyone Knowing)

About The Author

Allison Firestone has been writing and editing professionally for over a decade. She is currently working on her doctorate in education, specializing in disability, learning, and childhood mental health. She has a master’s in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley and a master’s in special education from the University of Oregon.
  1. Serving Size vs. Portion Size: Is There a Difference? Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation. http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=4294967941&terms=serving%20size 
  2. Portion Size Me: Downsizing Our Consumption Norms. Small Plate Movement. http://smallplatemovement.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/portion_size_me_JADA_2007.pdf
  3. Why Should I Limit Sodium? American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@hcm/documents/downloadable/ucm_300625.pdf
  4. Americans Consume Too Much Sodium (Salt). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/features/dssodium/
  5. Healthy Recipes: A Guide to Ingredient Substitution. MayoClinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/healthy-recipes/art-2...
  6. Van Ittersum, Koert and Wansink, Brian. Plate Size and Color Suggestibility: The Delboeuf Illusion’s Bias on Serving and Eating Behavior. Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 39, No. 2 (August 2012), pp. 215-228. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/662615#references_tab_contents
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Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 18
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