Tips to Keep Your Holiday Meals Safe and Healthy

By Preeti Bansal Kshirsagar, Student Intern; Monica Smith, Community Registered Dietitian; and Ted Talley, Environmental Health Manager 


Just thinking about upcoming holiday meals might make your mouth water…The turkey, stuffing, pies, cookies, hams and casseroles all passed around the table or on a buffet.

Wouldn’t you like to enjoy holiday celebrations without worrying about your waistline?

Wouldn’t you like to ensure that you’re spreading holiday cheer and not illness this year?

Worry less about your waistline and get the nutrients your body needs

In a study published in 2016 in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers from Cornell University found that the participants gained about 1.3 pounds between October and the end of the year. While that doesn’t seem like much, the researchers also noted that the weight gained during the holiday season stuck around until spring—or longer. Some tips to keep your waistline in check without sacrificing nutrition.

Plan out your portions

Aim to fill up on larger portions of low fat and low sugar foods like raw or steamed vegetables without sauces or ingredients. These are high in fiber and have lots of vitamins and minerals and antioxidants.

For other foods and treats, watch your portion sizes. A portion of lean meat, like the white meat from roast turkey, is 4 ounces—the size of your palm or a deck or cards. If adding gravy, just drizzle 1 or 2 tablespoons for a little flavor.

Go for smaller portions of high fat and high sugar foods like pumpkin pie (portion size – one-eighth of a 9-inch pie) or sweet potato casserole (portion size – ¼ cup). Choose pumpkin pie over pecan pie to save calories as well.

Make some simple substitutions.

  • For stuffing, replace butter with olive oil to make it lower in saturated fat.
  • For pumpkin pie, try a lower-fat crust—use crust made out of reduced-fat graham crackers instead. You could also substitute milled flaxseed and water for eggs—flax eggs are high in healthy omega3’s and low in saturated fat. To make the equivalent of one egg, mix 1 tablespoon flaxseed meal (ground raw flaxseed) with 2 ½ tablespoons water in a dish and stir. Set aside for five minutes to let thicken.
  • For healthier cranberry sauce, replace the sugar with no-sugar-added applesauce and honey.
  • For corn casserole, bring down the saturated fat by replacing the sour cream with plain Greek yogurt.
  • For green bean casserole, use reduced fat cream of mushroom soup, replace the sour cream with low-fat milk and or Greek yogurt. For the fried onion topping, sprinkle a few on top instead of mixing into the casserole, and you’ll use less.
  • Substitute the oil in cakes and sweet breads with applesauce of an equal amount for a moist cake or bread with much less fat.

Spread holiday cheer, not illness

The holiday seasons also brings about potlucks and parties, which can increase the risk of food-borne illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 48 million Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from food-borne illnesses each year.

Some helpful tips

  • Do not prepare food when you are sick or not feeling well.
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Thaw food in the refrigerator, not at room temperature or by using hot water.  Make sure thawing meat juices do not drip onto other food or ready-to-eat items such as lettuce.
  • Prepare raw meat, fish, and poultry separately from cooked and ready-to-eat items.
  • After cutting or handling raw meats, wash your hands. Thoroughly wash all surfaces that came in contact with the food in warm, soapy water and then rinse.
  • When serving food, keep cold food cold (41°F or below) by using ice under and around displayed food items. Keep hot food hot (135°F or greater) by using crock pots, warming units, or chaffing pans.
  • Perishable food should not be left out more than 2 hours at room temperature.
  • Place leftovers in shallow containers and immediately place in refrigerator or freezer. Leftovers should reach an internal temperature of 41°F within four hours.
  • Use cooked leftovers within four days, and reheat to 165°F before serving.
  • Do not taste or eat unpasteurized dough or batter of any kind, including those for cookies, cakes, pies, biscuits, pancakes, tortillas, pizza or crafts. Dough and batter made with flour or eggs can contain harmful germs, such as E. coli and Salmonella. Do not let children taste raw dough or batter, or play with dough at home or in restaurants.
  • Cook eggs until the yolks and white are firm. When making your own eggnog or other recipes calling for raw eggs, use pasteurized shell eggs, liquid or frozen pasteurized egg products, or powdered egg whites.


Sweet Potato Casserole
Adapted from http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/sweet-potato-casserole


  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ cup evaporated low-fat milk
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 flax eggs*
  • Cooking spray


  • ¼ cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ to ¾ cup chopped pecans


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. To prepare potatoes, place potatoes in a Dutch oven; cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until tender; drain. Cool 5 minutes.
  3. Place potatoes in a large bowl; add sugar, evaporated milk, 3 tablespoons olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt and vanilla. Beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth.
  4. Add flax eggs to mixing bowl; beat well. Pour potato mixture into a 13 x 9–inch baking pan coated with cooking spray.
  5. To prepare topping, combine flour and brown sugar; stir with a whisk. Stir in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle flour mixture evenly over potato mixture; arrange pecans evenly over top. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or just until golden.
  6. Remove casserole from oven. Preheat broiler.
  7. Broil casserole 45 seconds or until topping is bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

*To make two flax eggs, mix 2 tablespoons flaxseed meal (ground raw flaxseed) with 5 tablespoons water in a dish and stir. Set aside for five minutes to let thicken.

Hot Spiced Cranberry Cider

Adapted from http://allrecipes.com/recipe/32555/hot-spiced-cranberry-cider/


  • 2 quarts apple cider
  • 6 cups cranberry juice
  • 1 ½ teaspoons whole cloves
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced


In a large pot, combine apple cider, cranberry juice, cinnamon sticks, cloves and lemon slices. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove cinnamon, cloves, and lemon slices. Serve hot.