The holiday season is for cozy gatherings with friends and family. After all, this is the time of year when we celebrate the hard work and the closing of the year.
Typically, this is done with food around a festive table which can get a little excessive if we are not careful! My wife Christina and I are small business owners, parents of two wonderful little girls who are involved in many activities, and we have many adult activities ourselves.
If we are not careful, the time crunch can lead us to eating out instead of preparing a home cooked meal. While we try to make good choices when eating out, we don’t have strict control of what goes into the meals. This, combined with the excesses of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, leads to a slow erosion of our eating habits, and a general loss of vitality for the entire family.
When we are eating right (which can be somewhat strict) and getting regularly adjusted we all feel better. Our kids’ behavior is even better. We also don’t get the colds, allergies, and the blues that sometimes accompanies poor diet.
Cooking food that is healthy and nourishing is important to us. The food is responsibly sourced (avoiding the chemicals used by most conventionally farmed crops), sustainably produced and reasonably priced.
Being busy makes it challenging to find the time to research products and ingredients for our meals. I recommend Natural Grocers, Whole Foods Market, Hy-Vee, and even CostCo for their alternative products, organic items, and increasing standards.
Each regular grocery store has a section with foods that are “health related.”
It begs the question that if that section is the health market, what are the foods in the rest of the areas?
I want my family’s food to be as clean as possible. This means the food doesn’t contain any artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners or preservatives, hydrogenated fats or high fructose corn syrup. It is grown without harmful chemicals like herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, or sprayed with coloring agents.
A little pre-planning goes a long way to keeping us on track diet wise during the holiday season. Here are some strategies I use to keep us on track and for a homey, healthy, fun holiday season:
1. Prep other meals ahead of time.
We make a concerted effort not to overcommit our weekends. Weekly meal planning, grocery shopping and even some weekend meal prep really saves us during a busy week.
When it comes to the holiday meals, shopping well in advance helps spread out the cost and de-stress the whole process. Many dishes can be made in advance and in most cases, they taste better this way! We typically begin shopping in October for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.
2. You don’t have to do everything yourself!
In our fast paced lives, there are sometimes some healthy ready-to-serve starters. I’m finding more and more options each year as the demand for healthy quick foods increases.
From my daughter’s school lunches, to the holiday dinner table, there are a wide variety of pre-prepared items that can save you time. Be careful though; in addition to costing more, they can sometimes cut corners on the quality, so keep your standards high!
During the holidays, we like shrimp platters, smoked salmon with cappers, olives, organic cheeses, and gluten free crackers and bread. These ready to serve items help you spend more time relaxing with family and friends. They also free up your time to make family recipes that make the holidays special!
3. Make a list but don’t be afraid to deviate!
Sometimes we stumble on ingredients that inspire us while shopping, like turmeric, fresh citrus fruit, or a nice red wine. Don’t be afraid to add it to your family recipe or create a new dish!
It’s fun to be adventurous and experiment. You just might end up with a new favorite flavor! Many people get stuck in a rut and serve the same things each year which can become boring.
4. Goof around and enjoy the moment.
My wife Christina, always makes sure the family has holiday pajamas for Christmas morning. It is one of the few times that I can say I look forward to getting out of bed early!
Seeing everyone all decked out puts us in a good mood and sets the tone for opening presents. We also bring out our family’s competitive side by including some family board games in the presents. This gives us all something to do while the food is still in the oven and brings the entire family together!
5. Resign yourself to not “sweat the mess.”
I do the dishes an average of three full dishwasher loads the day of our holiday party. That is prior to anyone coming by the house and doesn’t include items prepped in the prior days or the items too big for the dishwasher!
Presents, discarded wrapping paper, discarded boxes and maybe that burnt casserole, are all a part of the fun. Without them, there could be no holiday! The holidays are about being with everyone, so try not to let it bother you if the place is a mess.
6. Going to a holiday party? Keep the hostess gifts simple!
If you’re invited to a holiday party or will be spending the holiday at someone else’s house, you usually can’t go wrong with a great bottle of wine. It’s standard, but classy and most grocery stores have trained experts to help select something for any pallet.
If you know the person well, offer to bring a family favorite dish that is special to your holiday. Perhaps it might become a part of their future holiday celebrations! I have recipe cards from my grandmother which always records where they came from.
Every time I make something, I am reminded of friends and family long gone and it warms my heart to know that they are still a part of my family’s celebration’s. As the kids often “help” with the cooking, I explain about why we make each of the foods and where they came from. They really like knowing about our family traditions!
7. Love your leftovers now and in the future!
When making a truly great meal, you can go the old turkey sandwich route or make up plates that can be frozen and enjoyed weeks later. In the past, we have enjoyed an unexpected holiday meal in January.
Soften the post-holiday letdown with a fantastic forgotten family meal! Just heat it back up and the “what’s for dinner” debate ends with a surprisingly good meal.
Any other ideas you have during the holiday season? Be sure to share below!