Start Healthier Habits for the Holidays

by Brittany Lightsey, MS, RD, LD

December Health Eating This holiday season is one of traditions, a time when families get together and enjoy the company of one another. Encourage your family to start new traditions this year – ones that will lead to long, healthy lives together!

One way of incorporating new traditions is by focusing on physical activity. Challenge your family to be active for 60 minutes every day this season. Bundle up and take after-dinner walks or bike rides.  Go hiking or take a trip to the park as a family. Take the stairs while holiday shopping at the mall.  Family yardwork even counts, too!

You can also try to make more than half your plate fruits and vegetables this month by going meatless! One of my favorite health campaigns right now is Meatless Mondays, a movement toward plant-based proteins on Mondays. This is a great tradition to start this holiday season. There are lots of recipes out there needing no meat at all. Thinking your children won’t be huge fans of going meatless? Take them into the kitchen to help prepare dinner. You will be surprised at what effect this has on getting children to eat vegetables and other foods they may be picky about.

Why go meatless? Incorporating more plant-based foods into our diets allows us to get more of the nutrients we need most – including potassium, dietary fiber, and calcium’ which are three nutrients of concern’ according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  Also, reducing our intake of meats, which are sources of saturated fat, may in turn reduce our risk for heart disease. Getting more vegetables keeps our weight in check, provides antioxidants for preventing cancer, and reduces our risks for certain diseases including heart disease and diabetes.

December FamilyHow do I go meatless?  Remember ChooseMyPlate that I’ve mentioned previously? MyPlate tells us that only ¼ of our plate should be protein, so going meatless is relatively easy! Plant sources of protein include beans and peas, soy products and unsalted nuts and seeds.

Breakfast is an easy time to go meatless. Mix nuts and fruit into oatmeal or make a breakfast roll-up with a whole wheat wrap, a banana, and peanut butter. You are sure to be satisfied.

Did you know all elementary schools in Savannah-Chatham County have already started Meatless Mondays? Your child may choose from choices such as a peanut butter, cheese and fruit plate or even a lasagna roll-up! Ask your children how they feel about going meatless at lunch.

Dinner options for going meatless are abundant! There are staples such as rice and beans and soup with grilled cheese. Challenge yourself to be creative this month by trying bean or veggie burgers and tacos, or even the sloppy Joe recipe accompanying this article. You will make a difference in the health of those you love most.

Meatless Sloppy Joes
Courtesy of Meatless Mondays

Try this take on an all-time kid favorite for your first meatless Monday. Lentils are great sources of protein and are delicious, too!

Servings:  4 (1 cup lentil mixture with 1 bun)

1 cup lentils, green
1 tablespoon oil, olive
1 medium onion, yellow, diced
1 medium pepper, green, bell, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt, kosher
1 can tomato sauce, (8 oz.) preferably no-salt-added
1/4 cup tomato paste
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
4 100% whole-wheat buns, toasted (optional, for serving)

Combine the lentils and 4 cups water in a large saucepan. Cover the pan and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 25 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Drain and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and pepper and sauté until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the cooked lentils, chili powder, oregano and salt.

Add the tomato sauce and tomato paste and mix well. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the maple syrup and mustard and heat through.
Turn off the heat and let the lentil mixture sit for about 10 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld (or go ahead and eat immediately if you can’t wait!). Spoon the mixture over toasted buns, if desired.

Per 1 cup serving, this recipe contains 400 calories, 7 grams total fat and less than 0.5 grams saturated fat.

Be sure to check out our articles monthly on the “Parent Resources” section of SCCPSS’ School Food and Nutrition Website found on These articles will highlight tips, tricks, and recipes to keep your family happy and healthy!