Have a Healthy Holiday

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but we often get distracted by many of the events that surround the holiday season. I want you to take a moment and reflect on the meaning of the holiday. Chances are that quality time with friends and family is more important than a fancy holiday meal or an expensive gift. Keep this in mind when you are planning for events to help reduce stress that may be lingering during the season. Below are some tips to help you have a healthy holiday!

Stay Mindful of Food-Related Illnesses

It’s also important to keep your family and friends safe during holiday events. Nothing can put a damper on your holiday like a bout of food poisoning. Keep your family safe and healthy during the holiday season by following these food safety tips:

  1. Wash your hands often, and make sure your children do the same!
  2. Always prepare food in a clean, and sanitized, kitchen.
  3. Always thaw frozen food in the refrigerator, never at room temperature. Place raw meat, poultry, and fish below ready-to-eat foods, and in a container to catch drippings.
  4. Separate raw meat from ready-to-eat foods during storage and preparation. Do not use the same cutting boards or knives unless they have been washed and sanitized.
  5. Heat foods to proper temperature when cooking. The best way to know if a food is done is by checking it with a digital thermometer. Foods should read:
  • Eggs and egg dishes: 160°F
  • Ground turkey & ground chicken: 165°F
  • Ground veal, beef, lamb, and pork: 160°F
  • Fresh beef, veal, lamb (steaks, roasts, chops): 145°F
  • Chicken: 165°F
  • Pork and ham: 145°F (if ham is precooked, heat to 140°F)
  • Leftovers & casseroles: 165°F
  1. Follow the 2-hour rule! Refrigerate foods within two hours to reduce bacterial growth.

Maximize Those Leftovers!

If you end up preparing a big meal for your loved ones, chances are that you’ll have leftover food. Don’t underestimate the power of leftovers to help save you stress and money this holiday season! Most people agree that turkey dinner leftovers is just as good the second or third day. Most guests will be appreciative that you are feeding them, and will not criticize you for serving them leftovers — especially if they were present for the original meal.

To use your leftovers “as is,” follow these tips.

  • Remove any meat from the carcass or bone, cutting it into small pieces and storing it in shallow containers in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Use all leftovers within 4 days or freeze for later use.
  • Reheat leftovers to 165° F, or until hot and steaming.

Do you have a lot of extra leftovers? Get creative and turn them into a new low-cost meal!

Soup: Add 2 cups of chopped meat, 4 cups of chopped vegetables, and 2 cups cooked rice or wild rice to 3 cans low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth. Simmer until veggies are done to your liking and flavors have blended. Add parsley, bay leaves, or garlic for extra flavor.

Salads: Add leftover meat or roasted vegetables to any green salad. Try almonds and dried cranberries for a great taste. Add cooked meat to a pasta or wild rice salad with chopped broccoli, peppers, onions, carrots, and celery.

Sandwiches: Allow guests to create their own sandwich creations, layering leftover meat and veggies in a sandwich, with additional sandwich toppings like lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, shredded carrots, cranberry sauce, and/or apple slices. Instead of bread, try a whole-wheat pita or tortilla.

Casseroles: Layer leftovers (for example, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, and gravy) in a casserole dish. Do you just have leftover meat and vegetables? Combine 2 cups chopped leftover meat with 2 cups cooked rice, 1 can low-sodium broth or chopped tomatoes, and a selection of chopped vegetables in a 2-quart casserole. Cover and bake the casseroles at 325 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

Skillet meals: Add 1 or 2 cups of chopped leftover meat to sautéed onion, mushrooms, and broccoli. Add cooked rice or pasta. Sprinkle with shredded parmesan cheese before serving.

Breakfast dishes: Add leftover meat and/or vegetables to scrambled eggs, quiche, or omelets. For a fun twist on a classic, serve this for dinner and ask guests to come in their pajamas for “breakfast for dinner”!

Tex-Mex dishes: Add shredded or chopped leftover meat to burritos, enchiladas, and tacos.

This article was adapted from Jordi Nordlund, SNAP-Ed Educator University of Minnesota Extension.

** Editor’s Note:  Sydney Johnson is an Area Family & Consumer Sciences Extension Agent, with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. She can be reached by calling the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Sampson County Center at 910-592-7161 or by email:  Sydney_Johnson@ncsu.edu