Holiday Meal Planning: The Plate Method

Cari Coulter Thiede, RD, LD

Meal Planning

Last month we talked about strategies for sticking to a healthy lifestyle over the holidays.  At our summer camps for teens and young adults, we encourage them to find holiday traditions and activities that did not revolve around food, such as a 5k Turkey Trot or gift exchange.  You can do this too. Even if you do modify some of our holiday events, however, the fact is that special meals with friends and family are still probably going to be a part of your season. 

SO… let’s plan for this eventuality by discussing ways to create a healthy, delicious, colorful, wholesome holiday meal!

The Plate Method

Keeping the Plate Method in mind when selecting which dishes to serve and which to include on your dinner plate is a simple way to ensure that your holiday meal is filled with a balance of healthy options.  If you’re following this strategy when planning your holiday menu, you can divide up the dishes you plan to make by the same ratio you’ll use when filling your plate:

    • ½ non-starchy vegetables
    • ¼ each of protein
  • 1/4 starchy foods. 

By doing this, you’ll make it much easier to create a balanced plate filled with nutrient dense foods when it’s time to sit down and eat. 

Holiday Menus

Menu Idea #1

Cranberry Glazed Turkey Breast

Gremolata Green Beans

Caramelized Brussels sprouts

Roasted Root Vegetables

Maple Bacon Figs

Menu Idea #2

Savory Roasted Brisket

Sweet Potato Latkes

Market Basket Vegetable Soup

Lemon Garlic Broccolini

Cherry Cheese Blintze

The next easy step towards creating a healthy holiday meal involves ramping up the color factor.  A plate with plain turkey, a dinner roll, and roasted cauliflower may fit into the guidelines of the plate method but it’s definitely boring to look at and won’t provide you with the full spectrum of flavor and nutrition that a more colorful meal will. 

On the other hand, using recipes that creatively utilize a variety of colorful whole foods will make the meal both most exciting and more nutritious. 

For example, rather than making traditional potato latkes topped with sour cream, you may consider using sweet potatoes instead and topping them with a slice of avocado.  Or, if you traditionally serve green beans as a side dish think about adding some bright red or yellow beets. 

In addition to adding new ingredients, also consider which less healthy foods or ingredients you want to consider reducing or eliminating. 

You can replicate the consistency of a cream-based soup by replacing it with one that utilized pureed veggies.  Or, you may decide that you have enough starchy vegetables on your menu and decide that the dinner rolls are a less healthy option that’s not necessary.  Veggies that have been embellished with lemon and garlic will be flavorful with much less oil and salt. 

And finally, a dessert that’s mostly fruit based can allow you to reduce the “crust” to a small crumbled topping.  The options are endless!

Let us know what strategies worked best for you this holiday.  And if you discovered or created any new healthy recipes that you think others would enjoy, please share!