Special Occasions

Healthy Options for Special Occasions

Food is an important part of special occasions, and sharing meals with family and friends is an important part of our social being. 

But special occasion meals need not be unhealthy, nor do they need to be the focus of the occasion. 

Here are some hints to keep special occasions, happy and healthy!

Planning a Healthy Menu

We all like to ‘wow’ our guests, but sometimes, all that ‘wowing’ can add up to misery.  Keep meals simple and keep healthy options top-of -mind.  Here are some tips:

  • When entertaining, offer vegetable-based and lower-fat appetizers
  • Make lower-calorie or healthier versions of favourite recipes.  Most recipes can be altered slightly to make them healthier, but you may want to experiment first.    

Here's how:

- reduce half the salt in a recipe and add herbs and spices for more flavour
- substitute whole wheat flour for half regular flour
- in baked goods, substitute fruit or vegetable purees for half the oil in a recipe
- reduce sugar in recipes by ¼ - add cinnamon, vanilla or almond extract instead
- for more ideas see Recipe Makeovers

  • If you are serving a buffet, use smaller plates.  Smaller plates can help guests control their portions, and calories!  
  • Include more lower calorie, healthier options at the buffet table – vegetables, fruit, whole grain salads
  • Have a large pitcher of ice water available for your guests.  Dress it up with slices of lemon, lime or oranges.

Reducing Stress

  • Keep holiday menus simple.  With everything else on your to-do list, major holidays are not the time to make an overly extravagant meal.  Keep fancier meals for birthdays and anniversaries. 
  • Keep a detailed list – that way you won’t keep worrying about what you’ve missed. 
  • Prioritize your to-do list.  Decide what you really need to do and let the rest go. 
  • Get enough sleep.  Being well rested gives you more energy so you can actually enjoy your planned activities more. 
  • Plan some physical activity into your busy day.  A brisk walk, run or stroll around the neighbourhood can do wonders for your mental health. 
  • Don’t overbook yourself.  It’s okay to say ‘no’ to that last minute invitation or request
  • Stock the kitchen with healthy snacks like fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, yogurt and dried fruit.  Having regular meals and healthy snacks throughout the day will help you feel your best. 

Healthy Party Strategies

  • Don’t skip meals the day of a party.  The idea of starving yourself for a big meal later on is not a healthy strategy. Skipping meals often results in eating more overall. 
  • Savour the flavour of holiday treats.  During the holidays, sweet treats are everywhere.  Be selective, but don’t always deny yourself –  take a small portion and eat it slowly!
  • Don’t go to a party hungry – have a healthy snack before you go.
  • If the dinner plates at a buffet are enormous, use a salad plate for your dinner instead.  Studies have shown you’ll likely choose less if your plate is smaller.
  • Survey the buffet table first, then decide on which items you’d really like to enjoy,  rather than tasting them all. 
  • Don’t hang around the food table.  Once you’ve made your choices, step away from the table. 
  • Monitor your alcoholic drinks.  Choose non-alcoholic beverages like sparkling water with lemon, lime or a splash of cranberry juice. 
  • After dinner, invite guests to get up from the table.  Hanging around the table encourages nibbling.  Plan a fun game like a Christmas/Hanukkah trivia game or a ping-pong competition. . 
  • Before or after a holiday meal plan a family walk, skate or scavenger hunt. 

Healthy Special Occasion Gifts

Consider giving these healthy gifts:

  • Cookbooks – choose ones that have a heart-healthy focus or a healthy specialty, like bean-based recipes
  • Basket of unusual spices – entice your friend to try some new flavours and provide a few interesting recipes. 
  • Crock Pot – this helpful appliance will help your friend or family member with the harried ‘what’s-for-dinner’ dilemma
  • Rice cooker/steamer
  • Vegetable steamer
  • Kitchen gadgets – a local kitchen supply store can help you choose some great gadgets that will make healthy cooking easier.
  • Athletic wear or gear – water bottles, exercise ball, small weights or athletic socks
  • Rather than chocolates give mixed unsalted nuts, dried fruits or popcorn.