As November begins, many of us already have the holidays on our minds. You may be a veteran hostess-with-the-mostess who wants to up your healthy cooking game this year. Maybe it’s your first time to prepare a holiday meal for your loved ones. Or you might just be doing your best to get your family fed in between the non-stop events that fill your calendar. Either way, there’s a few easy ways that you can help ensure your guests enjoy a delicious but good-for-you meal.
Here are five secrets for healthy cooking.
1. Make a plan.
Without the proper ingredients and a clear-cut plan, it’s easy to draw a blank when dinner rolls around and reach for a takeout menu. Instead, figure out what sort of meal planning works for you and set yourself up for success. Maybe you pick three recipes to make throughout the week and prepare them whenever it fits into your ever-evolving schedule. You might like themed nights, like Taco Tuesdays or Spaghetti Sundays. If you want to get creative in the kitchen, challenge yourself to Meatless Monday each week and cook with vegetarian proteins like chickpeas or quinoa. Or maybe you write down three meals a day, five days a week and never waver from it.
2. Add color to your side dishes.
Let’s be honest: Nobody feels inspired by a two-ingredient salad. Instead, dress up your leafy greens with vibrant carrots, crunchy pumpkin seeds, melt-in-your-mouth feta cheese, creamy avocado, and dried cranberries. Whip up a homemade dressing with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper — and voila! You’ve got a beautifully colorful and heart-healthy side for your table.
Struggle to get your kids to eat fruits and vegetables? Challenge them to eat the colors of the rainbow! Offer them red strawberries, orange peppers, yellow squash, green cucumbers, blue blueberries, and purple grapes.
3. Don’t go into a holiday meal with an empty tank.
Sure, it can be tempting to “save up” calories in preparation for a Thanksgiving feast, but you’re more likely to overeat if you arrive at the table absolutely famished. Of course, you’re more likely to snack in the kitchen as you prepare that delicious meal too! Instead, try to eat pre-party snacks of complex carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, like apple slices with peanut butter or turkey and cheese on pita bread. Remember: To keep your blood sugar steady, you want to eat within an hour or two of waking up and then every four to five hours after that.
4. Pay attention to your serving sizes.
You may want to double-up on your aunt’s corn casserole, but be mindful of serving size and take a small sampling of each dish. Pay attention to how much meat you serve yourself too. For instance, a serving of protein should be about three ounces cooked or four ounces raw — roughly the size of a deck of cards. The rest of your plate should be filled with fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.
5. Keep it simple.
Healthy cooking doesn’t mean recipes that take all day to prepare or elaborate, three-course meals. Look for flavorful, easy meals, like a chicken tortilla soup in the crock pot or a four-ingredient sheet pan recipe. Mix frozen items (like peas and carrots) with pantry staples (like chicken broth and egg noodles) and fresh ingredients (like celery, pre-shredded rotisserie chicken, and Parmesan cheese). And yes, you can combine those ingredients for a homemade chicken noodle soup!