Keeping nutrition in mind during the holidays can be a struggle. And frankly, it’s the holidays. I think it’s okay to lighten up a bit on the nutrition focus. Just enjoy the season and all it brings—even if what it brings to your kitchen might not be your typical healthful fare.
That said, you don’t necessarily want to toss nutrition out the window completely. How do you achieve both “healthy” and “holiday” during the next few weeks? My top tip is to keep some healthy basics on hand. It makes healthy choices more of a “no-brainer.” I don’t know about you, but my brain is plenty full of things to think about right now. Taking the “what can I eat?” question out of the mix is helpful to me, especially at this time of year.
The holidays are really just a few days.
While we use the phrase “the holidays” a lot, it really all boils down to just a few days. When you have special, abundant meals, I hope you enjoy those to the fullest—they are such an important part of celebrating the holiday season. But since the rest of the days in the season are not actually holidays, what are you going to eat on those days?
If you fail to plan for those regular Tuesday dinners and weekday breakfasts, you open yourself up to making spur-of-the-moment food choices. What that might end up looking like: the cookies you intended to give your neighbor end up next to your coffee cup as breakfast. The 3-flavor popcorn tin your co-worker gave you at the office suddenly seems like an okay dinner. On their own, these situations aren’t such a big deal, but a couple of month’s worth of munching on holiday treats and random snacks instead of more balanced meals can take a toll on your health. Your nutrient intake, energy levels, digestion, and more may be negatively impacted by such a haphazard diet.
Create a “basics” shopping list for your household.
Lot of us purchase the same basics over and over. That’s okay because having basics on hand is important. (Buying all the same things every week may be a sign that you’re in a food rut, but that’s another topic.) What’s handy to have is a master basic food list that is specific to your tastes and household needs.
Another reason that a basics list is so helpful: it streamlines your shopping. I like a leisurely shop as much as the next gal, but during this time of year, I simply don’t have time to browse around the supermarket. Plus, I find that using a list helps keep my food budget in control. (Check out these budget-boosting grocery shopping tips for ideas.)
Start a household healthy food basics grocery list.
Check out lists online for ideas on how to organize your list
Pinterest has lots of ideas and even printable copies. I like a list that is organized by the way I tend to shop in my store (following my typical path in my particular store), but you can organize it aisle by aisle, or even by meal (put all breakfast-y items in one section of your list, for example). Be sure to put extra spaces in each category for add-ons that are not necessarily staple items, but that you know you want to pick up next time you are shopping.
Choose mostly Guiding Star-earning foods to populate your basics list.
If your staple items earn Guiding Stars, you know that they are just automatically going to be more healthful choices. Not sure if your staples earn stars? Check the Food Finder tool ahead of time (while you’re creating your master basics list) to see if the foods and brands you like earn stars.
Print out a few copies of your list at a time.
Keep a printed copy of the list on the fridge or other handy spot in the kitchen. When anyone notices that a basic food needs replenishing, he or she merely needs to circle or put a check mark next to that item. You can even be specific about brands and sizes of things when you are making your own list. Here’s a place to go to get ideas about what to put on your healthy basics list.
If you prefer to use a phone-based app for your list, there are quite a few to choose from. I don’t happen to like them, but lots of folks do. Look for one that lets you share the list with others in your family, so you aren’t the only one who has to do all the shopping just because the list is on your phone.
Make one big-batch entrée each week.
On Saturday or Sunday, I like to make an entrée that is large enough to yield at least one other meal later in the week. (It’s even better if there’s enough for another meal plus some to freeze!) In some circles, this is called “meal prepping.” This time of year, that often means stew, soup, or something in my slow cooker or multi-cooker. Eliminating the need for last-minute food decisions is the goal, and this is one easy way to help accomplish that goal at least a couple of days a week. Make sure you do it safely—giant bowls of stew sitting around for hours to cool is a food safety hazard. Oh, and any leftover food prep scraps or produce bits can be turned into a delicious stock to use for your next soup—win-win!