8 Healthy Holiday Food Tips for Families on a Budget
The winter holidays are in full swing. If you’re in charge of your family’s seasonal menus, keeping things on a budget and as healthy as possible is probably a priority.
Try these tips on for size when you hit the grocery store this season.
When it comes to the main event—the turkey—the most budget-friendly way to go is a frozen bird, versus a fresh-from-the-farm bird. And basting is a key area you can up the health factor—look for canned poultry broth that’s low in sodium to keep your family’s salt intake low.
As far as mashed potatoes go, you can’t really go wrong with a bag of russets. They’re typically the least expensive of the varieties. As far as the health factor, it’s all about what you add to it. If you’re a family that likes to add butter, sour cream and maybe even cheese to the mix, look for low-fat cheeses and creams, and continue that low-sodium trend. It’ll reduce stomachaches among your guests.
This classic favorite seems like the opposite of “healthy”—just look at the name! But there are ways to make stuffing a little better for you without breaking the bank. Look for whole-grain bread to use as your base—there are plenty of inexpensive brands, and it makes for heartier stuffing.
And thankfully some of the primary veggies you add to stuffing are fairly cheap in their fresh (versus canned) state—from mushrooms to celery to onions. If you can swing it, it’s always a good idea to go with fresh over canned, as there’s typically a much lower sodium, cholesterol and fat content that comes from preservatives.
Pan drippings are often the go-to for making turkey gravy. But if you want to avoid the grease and fat that comes with it, look for some canned (or cartoned) low-sodium, low-fat turkey stock. There are several store brands and low-cost name brands available. Use skim milk for creaming the gravy, and throw in some herbs or finely diced veggies for an added health kick.
This goes without saying—introduce vegetables as finger food for your family gatherings this holiday season. Some vegetables are surprisingly inexpensive when bought fresh, including broccoli, cauliflower and baby carrots.
Bonus tip: If you’ve just got to have that ranch dipping sauce for your veggies, try this much healthier alternative—grab some plain Greek yogurt (the store brand will do just fine) and add a packet or two of ranch seasoning mix. It tastes the same, boosts the protein count and cuts back on the fat and calories significantly.
It’s a novel idea, but not something you necessarily always see at the holiday dinner table—try a salad! Leafy greens like spinach and romaine lettuce not only offer a satisfying crunch, but also have extremely healthful nutrients to boost immune systems and keep guests in tip-top shape during their stay. (And for dressing, try vinegar-based varieties first, as cream-based ones like ranch and blue cheese have higher fat and calorie content.)
Those seasonal beverages are hard to pass up. But they also can be very sugary and packed with extra stuff you just don’t need. Pre-packaged and premade cider might have preservatives and added sugar, so try making your own. Apples are relatively inexpensive this time of year, and a cinnamon shaker and a large pot later, you could have your homemade batch without harmful levels of sugar.
For those afraid to venture into the world of homemade cranberry sauce (or who just prefer the canned stuff), you’re in luck—not all cheaper, canned cranberries are necessarily terrible for you. A tip to keep in mind—sometimes “whole cranberry” sauces will have lower sugar and carb levels than the “jellied” kinds. Keep tabs on those nutrition labels and compare.
Not everyone is up to the challenge of a homemade pumpkin pie, but if you’re ready to take the plunge, a few words of wisdom for you—if pumpkins are a little steep or pricy for you, inexpensive varieties of squash, like buttercup or butternut, might make a good alternative. They taste virtually the same, and your guests likely won’t know the difference.