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December 22, 2020

Tips for safe eating and drinking during the holidays

Healthy Eating Holidays

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Holiday Meal on Table Nicole Michalou/

‘Tis the season to be jolly — late November thru January —from the big turkey dinner on Thanksgiving to the brunch that opens the new year…with holiday parties at the office and celebrations with family and friends in between, that’s a lot of eating and drinking.

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Marianne Ritchie, MD

Though this year’s restrictions will lead to smaller gatherings, it’s still a good time to discuss tips for safe eating and drinking during the holidays.

Our most recent guest on “Your Radio Doctor” was Registered Dietician and Director of Clinical Dietetics for Jefferson Gastroenterology and Hepatology Emily Rubin, who offered listeners some great suggestions. Listen to the podcast on

Our first topic was the safe handling of food. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), it doesn’t appear that COVID-19 is passed by handling or eating food, but we should still adhere to the guidelines:

  1. Limit contact with people outside your home
  2. Wear a mask
  3. Wash your hands for twenty seconds often, especially before eating

And even if COVID-19 weren’t an issue, avoid sharing eating utensils, cups, drinking glasses—even with your nuclear family.

Now let’s “talk turkey.” Here are suggestions to prevent you and your guests from contracting Salmonella food poisoning:

  1. Thaw your turkey in the refrigerator in a container or using a sealed bag in a sink of cold water (change water every 30 minutes).
  2. NEVER thaw by leaving it on the counter—room temperature for longer than two hours is unsafe.
  3. Wash your hands with soap/water for 20 seconds BEFORE and AFTER handling food.
  4. Do NOT wash raw turkey (chicken). Juices might contaminate the counter, sink, and other foods. Also, use a separate cutting board.
  5. Cook stuffing in a separate dish. Check for 165° F in the center of the stuffing and a deep part of the bird (breast, thigh, wing). Do NOT depend on the POP-UP thermometer.
  6. Roasts, chops, fresh ham – should rest for 3 minutes after removal from oven/grill so they can continue to cook.
  7. LEFT-OVERS; Bacteria grow in cooked foods sitting at room temperature, most often in November and December. Refrigerate at 40° F or colder ASAP or within two hours of preparation. REHEAT all left-overs to 165° F before serving.
  8. Do NOT eat raw dough or batter (cookies, cake, pie, pizza). Most people know that raw eggs in batter can lead to Salmonella food poisoning, but uncooked flour can also be an issue. E. coli is a bacterium that can cause very serious illness, especially in young children. If you decide to make “edible” cookie dough, be sure you find a recipe that includes directions for heat-treating the flour before you use it.
  9. WASH your hands – before, during, and after preparing food; before you eat and definitely after using the bathroom!

What about watching the scale? The average weight gain over the holidays is only about 1-2 pounds, but if you retain it and gain the same 1-2 pounds each year, it can accumulate. For starters, do NOT try to diet during this time.

The magic word is PORTION. It’s usually not what you eat, but how much. Think of it this way. The average calorie count for a Thanksgiving dinner can be as high as 3500 calories with 200 grams of fat at one sitting! 3500 calories = one pound of weight gain.

Here are some helpful suggestions:

  1. Don’t starve/fast all day. Eat a small breakfast and lunch that include protein and fiber; salad, fruit/cottage cheese, nuts, yogurt
  2. Save carbs for dinner.
  3. Eat one favorite food and save the rest for left-overs. 
  4. Eat slowly – It takes 20 minutes to feel full. Take a bite, then chat with family/friends.

Think about your choices:

  1. Dark turkey/gravy has almost twice the calories of turkey breast or ham
  2. Choose stuffing. You can eat potatoes on other occasions. Or have both, in smaller amounts
  3. Holiday drinks — calories: light beer (90-100); regular beer (up to 230); wine (150); rum/coke (220); egg nog (343)

When you’re the chef:

  1. Dips – use fat-free sour cream or Greek yogurt.
  2. Steam vegetables – add herbs or lemon, low fat salad dressing, olive oil.
  3. Fat-free chicken broth.
  4. Evaporated skim milk (not cream) and whip it for sauces, casseroles, pies.
  5. Cookies, cakes, breads – apple sauce or pureed fruit instead of oil.

When it comes to drinking, remember the word “moderation.”

  1. Drink water between alcoholic beverages to stay hydrated and to slow your intake.
  2. Use low calorie mixers (tonic, diet soda); low fat milk in egg nog.
  3. Remember that most beers and flavored vodka contain gluten.
  4. If you’re the host, offer non-alcoholic beverages.
  5. Have a designated driver
  6. Choose your number of drinks ahead of time and stick to it.
  7. Remember the reason we’re celebrating – the people!! Don’t become a drunk driving statistic.

Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all. We can’t celebrate with our extended families as we usually do, but let’s hope we can all be together sometime soon in the new year. Try to reach out to someone who has had COVID-19 or has suffered the loss a loved one or a job.

Tune in every week to “Your Radio Doctor” on WPHT, talk radio 1210 when more great guests will bring you the information you need to stay healthy, and always remember that “YOUR HEALTH is YOUR WEALTH.”

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