How to “Eat Clean” During the Holidays

Take Charge on 11.15.12
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Photo: Dinner Series/Creative Commons

When I first suggested writing an article about how to eat clean during the holidays, my editor’s immediate response was, “Why would anyone want to do that?” It’s a fair question; indulgence is a beloved part of holiday celebrations for most families. The purpose in eating clean isn’t to deprive ourselves, but to help us feel good so that we can truly enjoy our loved ones this year.

Eating clean doesn’t mean counting calories or even practicing portion control. The term eating clean refers to the choice to avoid processed foods and chemicals as much as possible, instead focusing on real (or whole) foods. You might be surprised to find that many of your favorite holiday foods already are clean or can be easily tweaked to be chemical-free.

Opt for homemade.

Real food isn’t made in a factory kitchen. It doesn’t require a box or an ingredients list. It’s grown or raised, and then combined with other grown or raised ingredients. These items are usually found along the perimeter of your grocery store. The problem items tend to be stored up and down the center aisles: pre-made pie filling, dehydrated pasta, bottled marinades.

Clean up your holiday table by eliminating the pre-made items. If you make it yourself, you know exactly what you’re eating and feeding to your guests.

Choose clean recipes.

Now that you’ve pared down your menu to only include homemade, it’s time to take a look at the ingredients listed on your recipe cards. Fruits, vegetables, meats and grains can be flavored a myriad of delicious ways with herbs, spices, oils and natural sweeteners like honey and fruit juice.

Where you’re most likely to run into problems is with recipes that call for things like: refined sugars, canned sauces, bottled dressings, candies, and chip or cereal toppings. Look for whole food replacements. Make your own sauce, for example, and use ground nuts to add a crunch to desserts and casseroles.

Add natural color.

We’re trying to teach our kids that a healthy plate is a colorful one – but those colors have to come from the Earth, not a lab. To make a meal that is clean, visually stimulating and interesting for your taste buds, seek out ways to add as many colors as possible.

Walk through the produce section and look for reds, oranges, greens and purples. Use these colorful ingredients as the basis for your side dishes and desserts.

Embrace simplicity.

The beauty of eating clean is that you often get a tastier result using fewer ingredients. Real food tastes better than chemicals, so you have to do less work to create a delicious meal from them. The hardest part is shifting how you think about food and breaking old cooking habits.

Start with real food (something that once lived in the ground or on it). Flavor with other real foods, including real herbs and spices. That’s really all there is to eating clean.

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