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Creating a Healthier Holiday Spread

Aspirus dietitian shares tips for a nutrient-rich celebration


Ashley Chrisinger, Aspirus Registered Dietitian

When we think of holiday gatherings, images of decadent feasts often come to mind. However, it's crucial to be mindful of the choices we make during these celebrations, as they can have a significant impact on our health. As Aspirus Registered Dietitian Ashley Chrisinger points out, “one of the biggest red flags that stands out on holiday menus is the prevalence of refined carbohydrates and ultra-processed foods.” These foods are enjoyable, but they often overflow our plates, and leave little room for healthy green vegetables.


Our holiday dining habits tend to mirror the standard American diet, which is characterized by an overabundance of refined carbohydrates and ultra-processed foods. Chrisinger adds, "We in general have way too many refined carbohydrates, too many ultra-processed foods, and we miss out on vegetables."


Vegetables, the nutrient powerhouses of our meals, can be easily forgotten in the midst of our holiday feasts. The lack of balance in holiday meals can result in nutrient gaps, as we miss out on crucial vitamins and minerals that fruits and vegetables provide. While this may be just one meal, it’s a meal that everyone is paying extra close attention to. It’s a missed opportunity to teach others what a healthy, nutritionally balanced and beautiful meal could look like. To address this issue and create a more balanced holiday menu, planning ahead and coordination among those contributing to the meal can be immensely helpful.


Chrisinger advises, "What works really well when planning holiday meals ahead is to, whether via email or some of the fancy new apps, get everybody that's providing food to commit to what they're making ahead of time. This way, you can assess whether you've overdone the pasta or potatoes and whether there's a need to add more vegetables.” This approach allows you to have a well-rounded holiday spread that includes not only the festive favorites but also the essential greens.


Ultra-processed foods, those that undergo numerous transformations from the fields to the grocery store shelf, have become all too common in our diets. These foods are processed for convenience, appealing to our fast-paced and busy lifestyles. Chrisinger points out, "We love convenience. We have very busy lifestyles. We need things quick and easy. And so we're really drawn to those ultra-processed foods to be able to put things on the table quickly. However, during the holiday season, we have the luxury of time, a day off work, and extra hands in the kitchen. This is the perfect opportunity to slow down, prepare vegetables through slow roasting, and make stuffing from scratch instead of relying on convenience items.”


When gathering with friends and family during the holidays, it's essential to keep nutrition and body-size discussions off the table. Chrisinger emphasizes, "I think the holidays are definitely a time to celebrate with food and to enjoy eating." Instead, she advises, "Be the one to bring the vegetable dish. Be the one to make sure our green veggies are covered. Compliment people on things they can control, such as their stylish sweater or lovely hairstyle, rather than making remarks about their weight.”


She also encourages people to continue to keep their own health journey in mind. “The holidays are a time to celebrate and enjoy food, and indulgence is perfectly acceptable. However, there's no need to feel pressured into overindulging.”


In addition, Chrisinger says to be cautious about high-sodium sources during holiday meals, as they can lead to fluid retention. She also suggests staying active over the holidays. "Taking a walk, going for a hike, or engaging in outdoor games with family can help rebalance your digestion and appetite, making it easier to enjoy the festivities without overindulging.”


Remember that moderation and enjoyment can go hand in hand, and the holidays are a perfect time to appreciate the work you've put into improving your health. This holiday season, focus on good food, good company, and good health.



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