Holidays Turn Diners Into Food Tradionalists

Published: December 22 1997


GAINESVILLE—To many, food is an adventure, a vast territory to be explored by their pioneering palates. Their culinary courage knows no bounds.

Until the holidays.

When the holidays of the season arrive — Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa — we expect them to bring mom’s special dressing, auntie’s latkes or grandma’s collards. And these dishes darn well better look, and taste, exactly like they did last year and all the holidays past.

“They may have tofu every other evening at home, but when it comes to holidays, traditionalists stay with the way Mom did it,” said University of Florida Associate Professor Linda Bobroff.

And don’t tell grandma, but the old favorites can be made without all the fat.

Bobroff, a nutritionist with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, says adapting recipes and using portion control can keep the holidays healthy.

In pies, for example, heavy cream can be set aside in favor of evaporated skim or low-fat milk. Herbs and spices can pinch hit for at least some of the fat in dressings and many side dishes. The fatty skin can be removed before eating the turkey, and when adding butter or other fats to a recipe, you can cut the amount without hurting the taste of many dishes, she said.

“For Hanukkah, for example, it’s tradition to have things fried in oil because oil is an important part of the Hanukkah story,” Bobroff said. “We still may have the potato pancakes, the latkes, fried in oil, but can use less than was used in traditional recipes.”

And if something absolutely must taste exactly the way it did generations ago, a smaller portion is the key, she said.

Bobroff says holiday food traditions in the United States tend to be a mixture of various cultures. You need not be Italian to have seafood on Christmas Eve, or from the South to eat black-eyed peas for good luck on New Year’s Day. Across the country, it’s common to see ethnic foods and “typical” American dishes side by side on the same holiday sideboard.

“For some reason, when we get together with people during the holidays, eating is part of that, in every culture,” Bobroff said. “It varies culture to culture how important food is or how symbolic food is. And here in this country, many of us are open to finding what is great in other food traditions and making them our own.”

While it is fine to have one or two holiday meals that make you unbutton your jeans and wish you hadn’t gone back for seconds, eating like that throughout the season is not healthy and can make you feel out of control.

Bobroff says modifying recipes, exercising portion control and just taking a walk after dinner can keep holiday diners on track.

“It’s very easy to eat this time of year. It’s a really, really easy time to find food. There’s food around, and if you don’t have it people are giving it to you,” Bobroff said. “We’re thinking about food, preparing a lot of food, buying a lot of food, sharing it and eating it, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.

“But try not to obsess about food. Lighten up and enjoy the other parts of the holiday. Food is a part of it, but it’s not all about food,” Bobroff said. “Take time to enjoy your friends and your family, too.”


Cindy Spence