Nutrition educator provides ideas for eating healthy this Thanksgiving


With the holiday season underway tomorrow, some folks are dreading the massive amount of food and goodies laid out to nibble on for the next two months. Not only is there the eating to consider, but also the preparation of the food.


But Kathy Sloan, a nutrition educator with the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service office in Los Lunas, says that by paying attention to labels, making a plan and just letting the little things go, the holidays can be safe and enjoyable.

As a nutrition educator, Sloan teaches ICAN classes, Ideas for Cooking and Nutrition, an educational program funded by a Department of Agriculture grant, which NMSU administers.

“We can go into schools if at least 50 percent of the students receive free or reduced lunches,” Sloan said. “We provide food and nutritional classes for ages pre-kindergarten to 99.”

Sloan said the concept of the ICAN program is to keep things “real” in the kitchen and in people’s daily lives.

“We’re not asking people to never eat fat again. This is based in true, every day life — real accessible and doable cooking,” she said.

In every day cooking, not just the holidays, Sloan says the program stresses making your own food over relying on packaged foods.

Of the daily recommended amount of sodium, Sloan said 11 percent is added by the person eating, while 12 percent is naturally occurring.

The remaining 77 percent is from processed, pre-made, packaged foods.

“Our programs show children and parents good options,” she said. “Have an apple one day, an orange the next and two cookies the next.”

And those good options shouldn’t be abandoned during the glut of holiday feasts.

Most meals take all day to cook, with family and friends waiting around to eat. Sloan recommends putting out healthy snacks such as bowls of nuts and dried fruits such as raisins or cranberries.

A plate of fresh vegetables and dip made with low-fat sour cream is also a favorite, she said.

As you are buying ingredients for holiday meals, Sloan reminds people to read labels.

“You need to pay attention,” she said. “Something might be reduced fat, but has increased sodium that isn’t good for you or a family member. You have to figure out what is best for you?”

Sloan said new nutrition guidelines have shifted away from the pyramid and are now using a plate to symbolize how much of each food group people should have during a day.

“If you look at the plate, you see half should be fruits and veggies,” she said. “We’re showing people New Mexican foods that they see in their own kitchens at home every day. We’re just preparing them with less fat and cutting back on portion sizes.”

Portion sizes are critical to a healthy lifestyle, and during the holidays it’s important to maintain correct serving amounts.

Sloan holds up three spoons — a small teaspoon for eating, a larger serving spoon and an extra large one for cooking.

“But, we are using this one to serve now,” she says, holding the largest spoon up. “And look at our bowls. A serving of cereal might be eight ounces, but we just grab the first bowl we see and fill it up. It could be two times the serving and we’re not even thinking about it. We are super sizing ourselves.”

But before you sit down to eat, the food needs to be prepared safely, Sloan said.

The center piece for most holiday meals is the turkey. Sloan says it’s not a good idea to rely on the pop-up timers that most turkeys come with.

“Invest in a meat thermometer. It should be at least 165 degrees,” she said. “And something most people don’t realize is that food-borne illnesses can stay in a person’s system up to six weeks. So something you eat at Thanksgiving may crop up around Christmas or New Years.”

Frequent hand washing will keep germs to a minimum and proper storage of leftovers will keep future meals safe, she said.

“And if you are worried about eating all the left over food, pack it up safely and send it home with family and guests,” Sloan said.

And one good way to keep holiday stress low is to not take on too much, she said.

“Plan ahead and do what you can. The whole point is to enjoy yourself. If you sit there thinking, ‘If Aunt Hilda serves that horrible salad one more time, I’m going to lose it,’ you aren’t going to enjoy the day,” Sloan said.

“Let Aunt Hilda make her salad and just be glad she’s still there to make it,” she said. “Somehow we all get through the holidays and we’re there again next year. Food is meant to be enjoyed and loved with people you care about. After all, they can’t eat you.”


Contact Julia M. Dendinger